Papa was a Rollin' Stone..
Rock 'n Roll, Match.com and the Art of Lament
Welcome to your random dose of digital Spiritual Direction, or what I like to call “therapy for your God baggage.” There’s two sections here, a podcast on prayer and a reflection that pairs with the pod. You can read or listen in any order.
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Like any good 80’s Christian teenager, I quoted U2 in my Senior High School yearbook.
I knew my parents would be disappointed that I didn’t quote John 3:16, but I also knew U2 was the next best thing. My dad worked in the music industry his whole life. He started stacking boxes of records at WLS in Chicago and started playing records on the air in 1968 at the age of 22. His DJ name was Spoke, the flesh that holds the wheel of life together. He was the first person to play all 17 minutes of In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly on the radio, and he brought in Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and CSNY to Chicago. Pretty good for the son of a Baptist preacher. (One of the best things about the internet was finding a sound check of Dad’s show well into my adulthood.)
Dad left radio and started working for Columbia Records in Chicago, one of CBS’ four flagship labels.
In 1974 we moved to the East coast where Dad’s job at CBS brought him to Epic Records in Manhattan, and we moved into a white four bedroom colonial in Connecticut. Dad commuted into the city each day and worked with bands like Heart, Cheap Trick and the Clash; and acts like Meat Loaf and Sly and the Family Stone. I don’t know all the stories, but I know there were Saturday nights when dad would go to Studio 54, but by the next morning he’d always be sitting in the pew next to mom.
He navigated two worlds. The sacred and the profane, and he loved them both.
I think part of my dad’s spiritual journey has always been to try and figure out how to integrate these two parts of himself. In the conservative Baptist house he grew up in he was given lots of love but not much grace to navigate modern life as a Christian kid coming of age in the 60’s. It must’ve been exhausting.
In the early 1980’s there was an uproar in Christian churches around the idea that bands were using backmasking to embed satanic messages in rock music. There were some people at our church who were outspoken about the evils of rock music and would only let their kids listen to Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith, but my dad was going to work everyday promoting Ozzy’s Bark at the Moon. I know it annoyed him to no end to hear people making ridiculous claims. Years later when he was in the studio with a band, as a stunt, he embedded his own voice backwards on a song saying, “worship the pig god.” We all thought it was hilarious, and I thought he was the coolest.
But there weren’t words around “deconstruction” back then and so Dad looked for glimmers of overlap in his two worlds where Jesus played guitar. And I don’t mean he was a fan of Christian Rock, on the contrary I never saw a Petra or a Stryper album in my house - ever. But in 1979 when Bob Dylan put out his first of three gospel albums, Slow Train Running, based on his recent conversion, Dad bought Dylan biographies, books of poetry, the whole shebang. He won the Grammy for Best Male Vocal Performance for You Gotta Serve Somebody off the album. Dylan was also mocked for his conversion and criticized for the albums. (Can you imagine someone criticizing Bono for Gloria?)
Which brings me back to U2 … and to Christmas 1984. Because my dad worked in the industry we never bought record albums, which meant my musical tastes had to be limited to the CBS catalogue. So I was shocked to open a gift wrapped shoe box that Christmas and find the only music my dad would ever buy me - 4 cassette tapes. U2’s Boy, October, War and The Unforgettable Fire. I don’t know if I even knew who they were yet. But Dad knew and, though he was never a huge fan, I think of that gift as an attempt to give me the grace he wasn’t afforded. A gift that said, “You can be both. You don’t have to choose.” 💚
Hence my senior quote and why Bono’s lyrics ranked just under that of divine scripture. “So what was my quote?” you ask. First, I have to admit I was chicken. I selectively quoted the song, like a weaponized Bible verse.
“I have scaled these city walls only to be with you,
(But what I left out was the next bit - the most important bit.)
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”
I wasn’t quite brave enough to be as honest as Bono. I wasn’t quite ready for the art of lament; to cry out as a Psalmist. I was a 17 year old suck up. It would take me another 23 years1 to be honest with God; and during those 23 years, every time I thought about my senior quote, I cringed.
The Art of Lament
So the Prayer Podcast (recorded above) this week is about Lament. If you haven’t listened to the podcast - now might be a good time. 🌿
There are several places we find prayers of lament in the Bible. One of them (surprise!) is the book of Lamentations and another is the Psalms. About a third of the Psalms are songs of lament and, of those, 8 of them are communal laments, which are prayers of a body of people or nation, and the rest are individual laments, which are prayers of one person.
All laments follow a particular structure:
🌱 Protest: Naming to God what is wrong.
🍃 Petition: Telling God what you want God to do about it.
🌳 Praise: Naming your confidence that God has the power and will to create change.
In the podcast I mention a fourth and very important part, that the person praying sets an intention to take action, however limited their power is, to participate with God in bringing about the change that is needed.
U2 and the Psalms
Here’s what Bono says about the song:
“Years ago, lost for words and forty minutes of recording time left before the end of our studio time, we were still looking for a song to close our third album, WAR. We wanted to put something explicitly spiritual on the record to balance the politics and the romance. We thought about the psalms — Psalm 40.
Psalm 40 suggests a time in which grace will replace karma, and replace the very strict laws of Moses (i.e. fulfill them).
‘40’ became the closing song at U2 shows and at hundreds of occasions, literally hundreds of thousands of people of every size and shape t-shirt have shouted back the refrain, pinched from Psalm 6, “How long (to sing this song).” I had thought of it as a nagging question - pulling at the helm of an invisible deity whose presence we glimpse only when we act in love. How long… hunger? How long… hatred? How long until creation grows up and the chaos of its precocious, hell-bent adolescence has been discarded? I thought it odd that the vocalizing of such questions could bring such comfort; to me too.”
An excerpt from Bono’s Introduction to the Psalms. To read the whole piece check the digital preview on Amazon.
Another nugget I found this week was a beautiful short documentary about the relationship between Bono and Eugene Peterson, the pastor, theologian and writer of The Message, a modern translation of the Bible. When you have an extra 20 minutes, I highly recommend it. 🧩
Learning to Lament in the Darkness of Divorce
So after my disappointing use of quotes for my senior yearbook, twenty three years goes by and I’m forty. I’m divorced from a thirteen year marriage and even worse than that, I’m dating again. Both good reasons for lament.
It was 2011 and Match.com was my app of choice. This was right before TNDR and the dreaded swipe feature. (I don’t know if I would have survived that.) I dated a handful of people all with disappointing results. I could feel myself, with each person I went out with, morphing into what I thought was expected of me. I tried to be cooler than I was. I tried to be younger than I was. I tried to be taller, hipper, smarter, and certainly more together than I actually was. And all the time trying to need and want less than I actually did.
One day after a particularly lame date, I sat in my living room with the sun shining on my craig’s list sofa and I knew something from deep within me. I couldn’t do this anymore. I was lonely, yes, but more than lonely, I was scared of repeating this cycle over and over again. And I knew that if left to my own devices that was exactly what I would do because I, by myself, couldn’t do it. So I did something crazy, and I’m embarrassed to tell you this part of the story because it sounds ridiculous, and it feels cruel to tell it.
I took my iPhone, opened my Match.com app and put my hand over it. I laid hands on my dating app people! And I said, “Show me. Show me what it can be like.” That’s all. It was certainly a prayer of lament. My heart said, “look at the pitiful mess I’ve made of my life, look at my loneliness and my disillusionment. I don’t know how to do this. I don’t even know what I want my life to be like, but I know it’s not this. But I think that you might have an idea that’s better than mine. At least I hope you do.. please tell me you do.”
And then I opened my eyes and the app, and I started scrolling…
This is the cruel part: I met Bill that night. Ten months later we were married and this June we’ll celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary.
I used to think that my Show-me prayer was about getting a partner and “gee wasn’t God great to give me one.” But I know differently now. The “it” in show-me-what-it-can-be-like wasn’t about a marriage or a relationship, the “it” was my actual freaking life. All of it. I didn’t need a partner, I needed a life. I needed to start living into the wholeness of my true self, of who I was created to be. Not SO I could be partnered, but so I could just BE (full stop). Bill was extra. Bill was the surprise at the bottom of the box that I didn’t even realize had Cracker Jack in it.
It took me 23 years but I finally said out loud to God, I shouted - THIS ISN’T IT! I HAVEN’T FOUND WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR!! And you know what God said?
“You’re right… Here, let me show you what it can be like.”
I have exciting news to share: You can now read A Spiral Space in the new Substack app for iPhone.
With the app, you’ll have a dedicated Inbox for my Substack and any others you subscribe to. New posts will never get lost in your email filters, or stuck in spam. Longer posts will never cut-off by your email app. Comments and rich media will all work seamlessly. Overall, it’s a big upgrade to the reading experience.
The Substack app is currently available for iOS. If you don’t have an Apple device, you can join the Android waitlist here.
As I write this I realize 23 years is fairly magical number in my life. Several times a seed has been planted and it takes about 23 years for it to grow into understanding. A topic for another blog!