Friday, July 10, 2009

Climbing Dante's Ladder

This post is not about musical influences and experiences as much as it is about what experiences influenced the music.

C. S. Lewis entitled his autobiography Surprised by Joy. An early encounter with an inexplicable delight led him, ultimately, to the source of true joy--God. In my case it wasn't joy, it was love that was the great mystery and desire. It's difficult to explain why. I grew up in a household full of love, so it wasn't a sense of deficiency that drove me; it was a sense of wonder. I learned in elementary school that there was something magical in infatuation. Even as an adolescent, I found the emotional sensation more alluring than the physical. I'm not suggesting that the physical drive wasn't there--I was a boy, after all--just that the "in love" feeling had something transcendent, something spiritual, about it. I like the way Lewis said it in The Four Loves: “Sexual desire, without Eros, wants it, the thing in itself; Eros wants the Beloved.” So, I thought about love a lot. I had crushes. But I had no girlfriends. I had a few friends who were girls, but I had no girlfriends. I had what we called in those days an inferiority complex. I didn't think any girl I was interested in would be interested in the likes of me. I never dated in high school. But I thought about love a lot. I began to experience some real relationships (not many by most standards). Love seemed to offer both exhilaration and suffering, the stuff poems and songs are made of. I began to write poems and songs.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, it wasn't the direct love of God that I felt in that small prayer group that turned me to Him; it was the indirect love of God these people were showing each other. I began to see that all love comes from, and leads to, God. Yes, there are perversions of love just like there are perversions of every good thing. But love, like every good thing, comes from God. Again, Lewis: “Love ceases to be a demon only when he ceases to be a god.” Anything flowing from the Source that we put in the place of the Source, we make a god, and we pervert. Anything. It's a violation of the First Commandment. But God isn't just full of love, He is love (1 John 4:8). Seeking love, to know what it was, what it felt like, what it cost--these things were leading me to a deeper understanding of the nature of God and his intentions for human relationships. Looking around at our culture, I couldn't help but notice the absolute stupidity of a society that made sex and romance it's religion and left behind broken-hearted people who could not understand how some guy or girl could not make them whole. But I was finding love. I had friends and family I could trust. I had a few romantic relationships that I didn't have to feel ashamed of: you love, you lose, you hurt, but you didn't do anything wrong; you just weren't a match. We really were "brothers and sisters in Christ." Sometimes the boy-girl relationship would border on romantic. So? Sometimes it crossed the border. So? It was sweet and fun and, well, innocent. Not innocent as in naive. Innocent as in not guilty. Anyway, know of a better pool of potential mates? Beats dating.

So the mysticism and mystery of love drew me into grace. Grace drew me deeper into love. My music reflected that journey. I was no good at writing a "praise" song (as we called them then) unless it was about something I had experienced. I wrote the simple little chorus "Gather Together" because I had found it profoundly true that we need each other in the Body. I would not have survived without my brothers and sisters. I had tried before and failed, but plugged into an organic body, I could thrive. I wrote "How Could You Be So Good" right after Jen and I were engaged to be married. I was used to God the Mighty, God the Teacher of Life Lessons, Jesus Lover of My Soul, but meeting, getting to know, and falling in love with Jennifer was the fulfillment of years of hopes and desires. I met the Lord Who Loves the Lover.

Not everything I have written has been about love per se, but it's at the core of what I have written because it is at the core of me. For the first three decades of my life I was a discoverer, a sojourner of love. Since then I have been learning how to put love into everyday practice. That's a bit more prosaic, so there hasn't been much poetry or music about it. Except maybe the best song I ever wrote, "Moment of Wonder."

Once all my life was visions
And all my friends musicians
We would spend those fertile hours waxing wise
With the syncopated drumming
And the air conditioner humming
In the innocence and glory of the guise

We were the things we had to be
As refugees from reality
But purer hearts a man could never find
If I knew then what I know now
I know I'd have done it all anyhow
'Cause no one can hear the music like the blind

Wasn't that a moment of wonder
Weren't those the days that saw us free
How could we have ever come closer
To being the hungry artists we wanted to be

Now all our wives are women
And our skill is in our living
We've seen a certain change, a change of heart and mind
And as my dreams become reality
And reality more clear to me
I can see that only love can outlive time

I know there is temptation
In reliving a situation
Where you hold the past like you'd hold a dying friend
But living friends grow older
And only the living can shoulder
The things our dreams give rise to in the end

Isn't this a moment of wonder
Isn't love worth learning how to see
How could we have ever come closer
To being the contented lovers we wanted to be
Tobeing the contended lovers we needed to be

(Copyright 1983 H W Finlayson Jr)


  1. This is the best post I've ever read. Thank you for putting it out there brother.