Monthly Archives: July 2015

Is Hozier’s “Take Me to Church” Good?

One of my friends, author Natalie G. Owens, sent me a video of a church choir singing Hozier’s “Take Me To Church.” And she said this was the kinda song my church choir would sing . . . and this got me thinking about the nature of worship, about church life in America, about what does and doesn’t constitute blasphemy.

I also asked myself whether it’s even possible to truly blaspheme or insult the Lord when you’re intending to love on Him and love on your brothers and sisters. My original take was:

This song goes off in some directions maybe I don’t love; all the same, I’d happily sing it at my church and then use it to teach on issues of love, sex, modern marriage, and maybe even what sin really means.

But I kept thinking about it. I asked a few friends if they’d be shocked and annoyed if they were at my church and we rocked this out? Or would they be like, huh, what’s El got to say about this today? Or would they just be like, well, all right, let’s rock this out? Most of the friends I asked just murmured something along the lines of, “Wow, that was hot when he sang it at the Grammy’s.”

Of course I kept thinking about it, and finally I pulled up the song online and read the lyrics again. The song itself starts off with a pretty standard comparison of making love to going to church:

Photo from: http://hozier.com/galleries/grammy-awards/#gallery_image/0

Photo from: http://hozier.com/galleries/grammy-awards/#gallery_image/0

Take me to church
I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife
Offer me that deathless death
Good God, let me give you my life

In these words, I see a lot of similarities to how love of God is treated by Sufi and Christian mystics. This could be about loving God. This could be Rumi seeking loss of self in his Beloved’s grasp. Or it could be any of us finding death to self in love, which is not necessarily a terrible thing at all. A great thing about being in love or simply loving greatly and radically—friends or lovers—is that we lose our selfishness, we abandon our selves, and we find union with another spirit or community with another soul.

The line with the knife in it makes me squirm, but love can be painful, right? When we make ourselves vulnerable to others, we form deep connections to other souls, but we also can and do get hurt. Think about the act of lovemaking itself—“it hurts so good” insofar as true ecstasy is almost impossible to bear. Good loving is that intense.

But before I get to what makes for good loving, I wanna look at a few more lines of Hozier’s song. He sings:

My lover’s got humour
She’s the giggle at a funeral
Knows everybody’s disapproval
I should’ve worshipped her sooner
If the Heavens ever did speak
She is the last true mouthpiece
Every Sunday’s getting more bleak
A fresh poison each week
‘We were born sick,’ you heard them say it
My church offers no absolutes
"Hozier Troubadour West Hollywood" by Neon Tommy/Katie Buenneke - https://www.flickr.com/photos/neontommy/14236956841/in/photostream/. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hozier_Troubadour_West_Hollywood.jpg#/media/File:Hozier_Troubadour_West_Hollywood.jpg

“Hozier Troubadour West Hollywood” by Neon Tommy/Katie Buenneke – https://www.flickr.com/photos/neontommy/14236956841/in/photostream/ https://commons.wikimedia.org

Next, Hozier says his lover is the only one who speaks the truth, and obviously I don’t think that’s necessarily true, but maybe she’s the only one who feels authentic to Hozier; maybe she’s the only one who speaks truth TO Hozier. Then there’s this line about how bad modern church is, and I gotta say this honestly: I agree with Hozier. I’m not condemning your church experience in anyway, not if it’s giving you spiritual sustenance, but most American churches don’t offer you much in terms of teaching you anything substantial about God.

Take the typical hour-long church experience. How much time is spent actually reading from the scriptures? Thirty seconds? Maybe? Maybe one minute. And that’s atrocious really. I mean, there are thousands upon thousands of great stories and poems in the Bible, not to mention the Mahabharata and the Masnavi, but priests and ministers alike do not share the Word.

What they do give you is some business announcements. Several hymns. Some more business announcements. And then a sermon, and sermons are totally hit and miss and they often do not teach you much of spiritual value. The better preachers help you out (maybe) with some parenting issues; the worse preachers scare the crap out of you with some fear-based, human-created political or social commentary that lacks even a hint of God’s DNA.

I don’t understand why churches don’t teach more. I don’t get it. When I go to worship, I want to better understand the God I’m worshiping; instead, I hear a lot of treacle mixed with rules piled on more rules, and maybe with some grape juice tossed in to wash it down—if I go up for Communion. And I’m not a big believer in the wisdom of eating God. After all, Jesus meant that metaphorically. Just as Isaiah wrote of eating the word, just as he wrote of swallowing the scroll and receiving wisdom, just so did Jesus intend that his words be taken as spiritual rather than physical sustenance.

Give me the Word, and a lot more of it—please give me spiritual sustenance and stop telling me I’m a sinner going to hell. Like Hozier said, don’t teach me I’m sick; don’t teach me absolutes . . . because the only absolute I really believe in is love. That’s the true spiritual sustenance we all need and it’s what I wanna get on Sundays.

Guess I’m still okay with Hozier. But hey, there are some lines he’s written that do trip me up a little, so let me quote those to you.

 

If I’m a pagan of the good times
Photo Credit: Brian Douglas, http://hozier.com/gallery/#gallery_image/6

Photo Credit: Brian Douglas, http://hozier.com/gallery/#gallery_image/6

My lover’s the sunlight
To keep the Goddess on my side
She demands a sacrifice
To drain the whole sea
Get something shiny
Something meaty for the main course
That’s a fine looking high horse
What you got in the stable?
We’ve a lot of starving faithful
That looks tasty
That looks plenty
This is hungry work

Wow, as someone raised in the Christian tradition, I have a kneejerk reaction to the word, ‘pagan’, and I’m just now realizing that. Ha! Isn’t it funny how we’re conditioned to dislike certain things without really contemplating why we feel that way?

As far as paganism, and as far as sacrifices, let me get this out of the way: human sacrifice is disgusting, and I do not like religions which distort God’s word by instituting such gross and inhumane practices. I also am a little uncomfortable with any form of blood sacrifice. I don’t love the prior use of animals in the Judaic religion, or in the Hindu religion (or in just about any of the older religions) but it does make a certain amount of sense, I reckon, for those living in agrarian or tribal societies to perhaps use a dying animal to feed others and offer up the meat given to feed the priests and holy teachers (who in the Jewish faith were not allowed to even own property) as part of their worship. Animal sacrifice done respectfully and used to feed those who do not earn a living yet serve the community is something I can wrap my mind around. No matter what, we can all agree that hurting children is an abomination and it’s evil in the eyes of the Lord.

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art,

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art,

But that’s not what Hozier is talking about here. He mentions something about a “high horse” yet obviously he’s talking about himself, and again, the sacrifice is metaphorical. He’s talking about offering up a sacrifice to a goddess, or a female version of god. And the rest of the verse is about offering up his body to her in the act of lovemaking he’s wanting to get involved in—maybe when he’s done inducing her swoon with his words. As far as worshiping the divine female, I do believe Mrs. God exists, so I see nothing wrong with this. And if the Bible doesn’t speak of Mrs. God, maybe that’s because it wasn’t time yet to talk about her. Maybe the prophets of that time weren’t ready to hear about her either; after all, they were writing in a male-dominated time, when it was not at all unusual for a man to have more than one wife or even to have sex slaves as his own.

Without belaboring the sacrifice issue too much, one way to think of sacrifices is the collection baskets they pass around at church. Or as the Qur’an teaches, the best religions ensure that orphans and widows, the poor and the afflicted—are all supported by means of charitable contributions from other members of society. All religions, actually, teach this point: sacrifice some of your own wealth and take care of those who cannot take care of themselves. And historically churches have been the institutions that took care of these poor souls.

So to sacrifice at church is a good thing that ensures that no one goes hungry. And sacrificing at church is good for the giver too. It’s good for souls to give to others, and all the prophets and saints and great teachers agree on this. Give. And in return, you do get a lot. Hozier is not really talking about giving to the poor in “Take Me to Church” but the issue of sacrifice is all about taking care of others and being a good soul in the process. Sacrifice is absolutely of spiritual value.

The next issue that Hozier’s song gives me is this: is he celebrating carnal pleasures, or the pursuit of empty and mindless sexuality, which I don’t think is good for the soul, or is he celebrating deep and connected lovemaking? I don’t know if there’s any way to really answer that, but the fact that he compares the bedroom to a church suggests in and of itself that the sexual union that occurs there must be a holy one. Unless the act is meant to be holy, after all, why compare sex to church? Why not compare it to something else altogether?

Of course if Hozier is celebrating mere bland empty sex I wouldn’t like the song. I’d feel a strong distaste for it, just as I feel a painful aversion to most pornography. Modern porn really emphasizes physicality, and maybe that’s because we as a culture have lost our understanding of what must exist in all sexual unions for those unions to be good for our souls: deep and meaningful intimacy. The basis for such intimacy, quite simply, is connection. We must connect to our own selves, and the best of those souls, in order to connect with another soul. And for two souls to connect with one another, each must be awake and connected with his or her higher self. Otherwise, the sex between them has no spiritual component and it is about as exciting as white bread and peanut butter.

What does great, connected sex feel like? Well, here’s what Hozier says:

No masters or kings when the ritual begins
Photo Credit: Jessica Gale

Photo Credit: Jessica Gale

There is no sweeter innocence than our gentle sin
In the madness and soil of that sad earthly scene
Only then I am human
Only then I am clean

In other words, neither the female nor the male rules over the other. The lovemaking can be intense, but there is nothing harsh or really sinful about it: that would be Hozier’s ‘gentle sin’. Indeed, the physical joining together feels like “sweet innocence”—it washes away our pain, our aloneness, our sense of disconnectedness. When we make love fully awake and fully as humans, the love feels ecstatic. It removes the grime and sadness, the sickness and the pain all humans feel while they’re here.

Once we view sex as a holy act, pure and beautiful, as pure and beautiful as church, we can reach an exalted and wonderful place emotionally and spiritually. Love, after all, is real. It’s tangible and it’s powerful, and when we find love in the arms of another soul, we find the best in us too. When we connect with ourselves and connect during spiritual lovemaking, our pain goes away. And in place of the pain is the purest and most beautiful piece of us: the light within our soul. And that, the soul within our soul, as Rumi called it, is the best of what makes us human.

So would I sing “Take Me to Church” at my church? After thinking about it, the answer is clear: yes. And I’d smile a lot too.




Stop Feeling Shame

There’s nothing helpful or useful or beneficial about shame. Nothing. If you did something you regret, fix it to the best of your ability and move forward. If you drank too much or smoked too much or ate too much, so what? Let it go. If you hurt someone you loved, apologize, make it right, and if still that’s not enough, let it go. Move forward. There’s nothing that makes you or the situation better when you engage in self-blaming, self-flagellating, self-hating. Nothing. So stop doing it. And know that nothing you do or say can take away the light that shines on inside you. Nothing.

You are a beautiful soul who belongs here, who is worthy, and who is loved. It’s really that simple. And nothing you do or say will change that. Not now and not ever.

***

When I posted this last night on Facebook, a friend wrote back, “Very well said. Just make your wrongs… right. However how do you make all the wrongs that were done to you right? That is a very difficult one that let’s just say I deal with on a daily basis but I still keep my sense of humor.

My response to this was as follows.

I know that issue very well dear friend. What God told me very clearly was that He had seen it all. I was in a therapy session and was floating toward Home and then I froze and started to think God wouldn’t take me because of all the rapes committed against me. Then God said, “I saw it all–I saw it already, and I’m still here, waiting for you to come to me.”El_closeup_white
I said, “You saw it and forgave it?”

He said, “There was nothing to forgive, dear El. But I already saw it and I am still here, my love.”

***

I talked about it more with a friend over private message–not about God or about how to let go of shame for things done to you, but how to let go of shame for mistakes you’ve made. The issue was whether or not he should smoke, actually, but I sort of was laughing about the whole smoking question. Not in a mean way mind you, but all I had to say about whether someone should smoke, drink, use drugs, eat chocolate, or whatever, amounted to this:

Basically, when I was called to serve, God had to heal me first. There was a lot to heal, and much of what He had to heal (or more importantly, give me the tools to heal myself) was self-inflicted. After all, I had chosen to hold onto the pain and the shame of all that I’d done after being abused. And yeah, I’d abused the hell out of myself to try and hide the pain and the shame and just manage it, you know?

And what God told me when He held me was that He’d seen it all and forgiven it, that nothing I did mattered, that nothing DONE TO ME mattered.

And truly, it doesn’t matter if we imbibed or toked up or swallowed or inhaled. That’s silly. I mean, sure it matters here, in this lifetime, on this earth, if we make bad decisions, it affects us, it affects our families, it affects our self-worth . . . but it doesn’t matter in the long run. It doesn’t hurt our souls, in other words, if we smoke too much or toke up or make love to this person or that person . . . we don’t take on all the mistakes we make as permanent marks against our souls. We don’t go to hell for smoking weed! We don’t suffer in eternal damnation for sleeping with a few too many men or women (and no, it doesn’t matter if we sleep with the same sex, my gosh!).

God is not full of wrath and anger. He’s not sitting there staring down at us, counting up our mistakes. We’re the ones doing that to ourselves, and in order to stop it, we need to just–STOP IT. Like Bob Newhart taught in that funny clip: if it’s bad for you, just STOP IT. Here’s the clip if you need a laugh this morning.

 

On a fundamental and deep level, the question of sin is not nearly as difficult or scary as we make it out to be, or as so many fear-based religions make it out to be. Even for our serious mistakes, we receive no benefit from sitting and basking in the mistake after we make it. One of the most painful mistakes I have made over the years is using cruel words to those I love. I hate when I do this, I really do. But holding on to that regret, even that intense anger at myself–serves no good.

I used to think that if I showed the soul I hurt how badly I felt for hurting him or her, it would help them, but it doesn’t, not really. It doesn’t help the soul I hurt to hold on to pain or shame or regret. And I also used to think I could somehow repent or make up for my mistakes by punishing myself for whatever I’d done, particularly for using harsh words with points–but I was wrong. I realize now that once I say something I shouldn’t have said, I can’t retrieve what was spoken. I can atone by asking forgiveness and by moving forward . . . so that’s what I do now. I say I’m sorry, I cry a little (maybe a lot) and then I keep moving forward. I try to be a better soul. Next time.

It’s that simple. In the long run, what we’ve done is done. It’s over. And if we made a mistake, we can’t undo it, but we can try to do better moving forward. But to do better, we must drop any shred of shame we might be tempted to carry with us as we tread this rock-strewn path of life. We need to drop it and we need to stop carrying anything that slows us down or hurts us in anyway.




The Great Mystery: Love

The Sufi and Eastern mystics say that the key to realizing God is to empty yourself and they’re right. Once you empty out all the things of this world, the wantings and longings driven by ego and directed at fulfilling needs of this shell, all you’re left with is what Rumi called the soul of the soul. What is in the soul of the soul?

In a sense, God is all that’s left. This doesn’t mean that we can become gods or become totally at union with God—as in no longer being a human soul. What it does mean is that we can become like God.

How?

Because God is love. When He created the universe, all that existed prior to His shooting forth of light was love. And all that’s left between the particles our scientists can identify via empirical observation and experimental proof is love. Between each particle is love, or God.

When God forms each one of our souls he uses this same ingredient: he uses love. We consist of energy and inside each one of our souls is a bit of God’s DNA—a bit of Him and what He is, along with energy and light, is love. Inside each human soul, no matter how young or how primitive that soul is—exists a small light and that light is God’s love. Stripped of everything else, of all the stuff that extinguishes our light, remains love.

Photo Credit: USFWS / BJ Baker, National Elk Refuge volunteer

Photo Credit: USFWS / BJ Baker, National Elk Refuge volunteer

So when a mystic is said to realize God or Self, what this means is that they have emptied their souls of all things that are of the individual or related to the physical or even the spiritual world. All that’s left, if you’re empty of your self is that little piece of love that God used to make you. That’s it. And once you have just that love, once you focus all of your soul on the love that made you, that love will take hold, it will ignite, it will catch fire and burn brighter until it expands within your soul . . .

And then you will be more like God. You will be able to love more and in loving more all you will care about will be feeling more of that love. And the more love you feel inside the more you will need to give that love to others and of course in giving it to others you will be helping them find their own love. And you will be feeling love for yourself as well—because of course that’s all you will be. Love.

This is not quite the same as becoming god or being a god. It’s more like having a part of God inside of you and simply becoming aware of it. Jesus spoke of how this works in the Gospel of John. Jesus says that the Kingdom of Heaven lies within you.

Jesus also says that just as He is in the Father, “you are in me and I am in you.” What He means by this is the same thing, I think, that other mystics have been getting at: if you empty your soul of everything but its core, you will find the essence of what you are. And that’s God’s love.

Rumi explains that God is inside all matter. He says:

You are in my eyes.

Montrebei Gorge, Spain

Montrebei Gorge, Spain

How else could I see light?

You are in my brain.

This wild joy.

If love did not live in matter,

how would any place

have any hold on anyone?

Rumi had an insight that all lovers and perhaps even all quantum physicists from the modern era would agree with: love is a real energy that exists in everything and everyone. Love is at the essence of all particles and all matter.

To put it a different way, consider for a moment what it feels like to be in love. The lips of your lover, the kisses, the pained and insane longing . . . or consider the love you feel for your son or daughter, or if you’ve served in the military, the love you feel for your band of brothers. Is that love real? Does it exist?

Of course it’s real. Of course it exists. No one challenges this notion.

Love is both a great mystery and a great certainty, for though no human eye has seen ever seen it nor experiment proven it, not a single soul doubts its power or questions its existence.

Love. It’s all that really matters once you strip all that doesn’t matter away. And in truth, nothing but love really does matter. Not really. For love is the essence that makes all other essences possible—love is the essence that is God, that God used to create all other souls and all other particles and all other energy. Love is the first cause. Love is what existed before anything existed.

And that’s when we need to remember what God is: God is the greatest, most pure of all love . . . He too is a soul, but it is out of love’s vast beauty that His soul, just as our souls, became separate from and yet always connected to the One. Before God existed as a soul, he existed as love . . . and He uses love to create all our souls. Love was used to create the entire fabric of both the physical and the spiritual worlds as well . . . so if you reduce everything else in the universe to its fundamental truth, its thing that is inside all other things and inside all souls, what you’re left with is love.

Love. Love is in you. It’s around you . . . it’s of you and it is you. Don’t ever doubt its power. Don’t ever doubt its existence. And don’t ever forget that God, like love, is a power that can never be seen or proven but which exists within us all the same.

Love comes from God.

Photo Credit Natureworks

Photo Credit Natureworks

God is love and so are we.

God is in us.

Love.

Take everything else and that’s what’s left. And if you’re left with love you will find God. The love will ignite and burn brighter and brighter until your inner light shines with the love that was used to make you. Until you shine.

That’s love.

And that’s the great mystery. The secret piece of all of us is love. God’s love.

News

On a separate note, you may have noticed my website has changed. I am rebuilding, both as single mom and as an author. My mission is to write funny and romantic epics that help call souls Home. I am forming a ministry that I will be calling Strays Welcome, which reflects the radical nature of my message–that all souls truly are welcome in God’s house. Please look around and also please be patient with the mess.

In further news, I will be releasing Strays Welcome in August. Anyone who wants to receive a free advance reviewer copy is welcome to one–just please drop me a line at farrisburke@me.com. To learn more about Strays, please look under the Works tab, or click here: http://elainephoenix.com/works/strays-welcome/.

I will be blogging occasionally from here on out on spiritual issues.

Photo Credit: To see the license for the Morning at Miller Ranch photo, please go here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwsmtnprairie/9152434997/in/album-72157633084631801/




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