Music and lyrics are interwoven into every aspect of our lives. We hear them as an anthem for our country, as background music in a store, or restaurant, and as a form of worship in our religious ceremonies. Spirituality is often the inspiration for the creation of music, and music often creates the atmosphere for a spiritual experience. Music is an avenue to the soul.
As I watched the Grammy Awards this year, I paid attention to the spiritual connections the music was making within me.
At this year's Grammy Awards, Miley Cyrus won Record of the Year for her pop song, Flowers, which she also performed. I see why the song is so popular. Flowers is part disco and part rock, with some funk thrown in for good measure. It makes you want to move, and Cyrus’ raspy voice adds an engaging earthiness to the mix.
For me, a good pop song stands on its lyrics. The Flowers lyrics tell the story of a woman who has come to the realization that she no longer needs to rely on her ex-lover for her happiness. Flowers is an anthem to resiliency and empowerment.
On the surface, the lyrics are a healthy response to a breakup. But as I listened, the words also reminded me of the I-can-go-it-alone lifestyle, which seems to have caught the imaginations of so many of us. The world around us is reinforcing the idea that we should avoid depending on others. Some feel the need to de-couple from partners or detach themselves from society and its existing systems. Instead, they seek independence and self-sufficiency. People want to learn how to be better and stronger alone, by themselves. They want to know how to protect themselves against the unpredictability of everyday life.
Yes, we can buy our own flowers, hold our own hands, and talk to ourselves for hours, but is that what we were made for? The Stoic philosophers believed that we are fired into life with a madness that comes from the gods. In pursuit of that Divine madness - in pursuit of God - we plunge into the world searching for love, significance, recognition, wealth, knowledge, pleasure, etc. This yearning for purpose is expressed beautifully in the lyrics of another 2024 Grammy winner, What Was I Made For. Written and performed by Billie Eilish, it won the Grammy for Song of the Year.
As much as we yearn for a sense of purpose in our lives, we also yearn to belong - somewhere or to someone or some thing. The National Institute of Health recognizes that "a sense of belonging - the subjective feeling of deep connection with social groups, physical places, and individual and collective experiences, is a fundamental human need that predicts numerous mental, physical, social, and behavioral outcomes." I would add spiritual outcomes to their list as well.
We yearn for the kind of belonging that withstands the test of time - within marriage, family, civic and religious communities, and friendships. That kind of belonging requires something beyond working for a common cause, feeling romantic attraction, or sharing a bloodline, a neighborhood, a house, or a bed. When you look through a spiritual lens, that kind of belonging is rooted in that Divine madness the Stoics talked about.
This year the Grammys brought back a performance of Tracy Chapman's Fast Car, which won the Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 1989. I was tempted to include all the lyrics to Fast Car here because the need for belonging is so palpable throughout her song.
Among the most powerful of human experiences is to give, or to receive, forgiveness. It has been said that two-thirds of the teachings of Jesus are directly or indirectly about the mystery of forgiveness. Fr. Richard Rohr writes: "When we forgive, we choose the goodness of the other over their faults, we experience God’s goodness flowing through ourselves, and we also experience our own goodness in a way that surprises us."
Billy Joel played his comeback song, Turn the Lights Back On, prior to the final Grammy award of the evening. It is a song of reconciliation and forgiveness. Billy Joel has said, "I think music in itself is healing. It's an explosive expression of humanity. It's something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we're from, everyone loves music."
Music is an explosive expression of humanity. It is an avenue to the soul. We give thanks for musicians - and anyone who deeply and honestly shares with us their struggles of the heart, their pains and fears - because their stories are our stories. A piece of us is in every person we will ever meet.