Our turning instincts
People who get to know me generally laugh at some of my sources of theological insight. I never know where I am going to see a reflection (image, mirage?) of God in my day-to-day life, but sometimes things just strike me. My tendency to see something of God might be a bit of a chicken/egg problem as I cannot assign definite causality to things, but occasionally things strike me. One pretty reliable source of some God-centered musing has been Florence and the Machine. I have a running joke that Florence Welch is my favorite secular theologian.
Lately, I have been thinking about her song “Howl” Give it a listen:
I’ll freely admit this particular track was not my favorite on the Lungs album when I first got the CD. The rhythm section rocks; yet lyrically, the song disturbed me right at “Drag my teeth across your chest to taste your beating heart.” The song depends entirely on the image of the violent animal… yet there is some deep assertions about the human condition as well: “The saints can’t help me now” and “Be careful of the curse that falls on young lovers.”
And I’m not going to lie; the lustful, violent, consuming character of human interaction strikes me. The theology of this song comes out in highlighting the antithesis of what is usually portrayed in theological discourse. This song is about us and that of which we are capable. The extreme possessiveness that turns violent stays with me.
So often, we allow what we love to consume us to the point where we lose recognition of ourselves. We embrace our animal instincts and move towards the extreme case of losing our humanity. Desperate grasping overtakes us. We lose the way forward. And we make choices that distance us from the person we loved to the point where we inflict violence on their person.
It’s all so natural, all so understandable, all too common.
And as we find ourselves in this Holy Week, I am struck by the overflow of emotions around the Last Supper. I think one could make an argument that a fit of animal madness takes over Judas. If I were in Judas’s shoes, then I can easily see myself moving towards envy and jealousy as Christ takes notice of other’s extravagant love. I can see myself misjudging and misrepresenting another’s motives to try to make myself look better. I can imagine going elsewhere where I can be important, valued and perhaps even paid. All too often I engage in an exercise of missing the point in a truly cosmic fashion. And I find myself tearing apart myself inside where I can see where Judas might have gotten the idea to hang himself.
See the interesting thing about Howl is that the song clearly reflects the status of an individual. You have to listen to it closely to figure out what the issue behind the song actually is. The song centers on the person of the self, not the other. Our tendency to turn away from the other to focus on our self exclusively invites destruction within relationship. And so there is something about practicing our humanity that requires us to balance between healthy awareness of ourselves while making ourselves fully present to someone else.
Lord, in Your mercy, awaken my humanity and call me back from animal madness.