From Lent To Love: From Your Friendly-Neighborhood Troubadour…


 

More than once I’ve been referred to as a modern-day Troubadour.  I’ve always liked this designation because it has a romantic, archaic ring to it that sounds just a little bit more flattering than mere singer/songwriter, naturally appealing to my vanity.  But it once occurred to me that I wasn’t entirely sure of its meaning and thought I should look it up.

Not surprisingly, I discovered the word to have various historical uses and nuances. But the definition that intrigued me most, and which I recognize as fairly accurate of my own sense of calling and vocation, is this:

Troubadour:
a lyric poet sent by one (usually of the King’s court)
with a message of chaste love to another.

Well… there you go.  Just two weeks ago (on Valentine’s Day) I posted a song and message of chaste love in a blog. In it, I celebrated thirty years of marriage to my wife Nanci: a union that has resulted in three beloved (now adult) children, their own unions to beloved others, two grandchildren, and a deeply meaningful, long-term foster relationship with a young woman and her beautiful children who, in fact, are coming over for dinner tonight. I can’t wait.

loamAlthough not every chaste union strives to produce offspring, Fr. Gabrielle of St. Magdalen, in his meditative devotional Divine Intimacy, teaches that the highest glory of the chaste union is in its potential to become a willing “collaborator with God in the transmission of life.”  That is: a relationship that is materially fecund—suggesting a dark, loamy richness capable of concealing and safeguarding a vulnerable seed,  and providing a nutrient-rich soil from which it can spring to its own leafy uniqueness. It’s a lovely image.

Ironically, what struck me this morning, is that Valentine’s Day is celebrated at the very onset of the season of Lent.  And Lent, in contradistinction to Valentine’s, is essentially a season where the Christian “faithful” penitently consider the devastating disaster that is infidelity—particularly,  infidelity to God, and by extension, to all that God is in faithful relationship to.

One of the scriptural texts the Church reflects on during Lent is the Old Testament book of Hosea, in which the author imaginatively portrays God as a despair-raged lover whose beloved people have been unfaithful with “declarations of love that last no longer than morning mist and predawn dew” (6:4).  If you read the text as a propositional description of God, it can be a rather disturbing image as God keens agonizingly one minute, and rages menacingly the next. It is almost a frightening glimpse of someone who, in his painful desperation, maniacally flops between pleading and reasoning on one hand, and threatening damnation on the other.

But, for those concerned with the violence of God, apparent in Old Testament scriptures, please note how the story goes. Admittedly, the text allows for painful rage, resulting from betrayal, to be voiced. In short, the text is comfortable with the truth: “I’ll charge like a lion, like a leopard stalking in the brush. I’ll jump like a sow grizzly robbed of her cubs…”  (13:7,8). But in the end, God cannot wield the vengeance he threatens. God eventually spends his rage and collapses in exhaustion back into his covenant character, admitting almost with a sheepish sigh:

“I will love… lavishly.  My anger is played out.” (14:4)

From there, God puts his heart on the table, inviting a fresh start and promising that from the raw ugliness of infidelity, newness will “burst into bloom like a crocus in the spring… splendid, like a giant sequoia…with a fragrance like a grove of cedars.” And God recommits to his beloved, promising to be, for her, a “luxuriant fruit tree” (14:5-8).

Rublev’s Trinity

What is significant to note at this point, is the content of the alleged infidelity. In the grand narrative of God’s covenant relationship with his people, the expectation is of a commitment to love, “in justice” (12:6).  In other words, there are broader social implications here that transcend (including but not limited to) the personal religious affections of individual piety. Rather than planting “wind seeds” of self indulgence that can only yield “tornadoes” (8:7), God’s faithful are expected to “harrow the soil” and “ready the earth” for seeds that will yield righteousness, from which they will harvest love (10:12).

And how do we imagine that love? Well… this is what interests me.  If you look at the trajectory of the broader liturgical season of Eastertide—beginning with Lent and proceeding through Holy Week and Easter Sunday to Pentecost and Ascension Sunday—we arrive eventually at Trinity Sunday. Here at last, we begin to understand where this whole story is heading; that at the epicenter of God’s very nature is Divine Society: an eternal mutuality marked by, and held together by, a fundamental orientation toward “the other.”  This relationship of self-donating, mutual-othering is what we are invited to apprehend and give/return ourselves to in the season of Lent. And it is by this Divine Society, that we measure all lesser apprehensions and allegiances to which we have given ourselves—indeed, illicit commitments that cause devastating repercussions for which the whole of creation is groaning:

“Because of all this, the very land itself weeps and everything in it is grief-stricken—animals in the fields and birds on the wing” (4:3).

Let’s consider for a moment some examples of what social infidelity might look like in our context. I’m displaying my own biases here for sure. Some will object most certainly, and some will counter with their own lists.  But if nothing else, if there is any merit to the following charges, we will do well to consider what hidden loyalties they betray:

  • We are a people living off the spoils of a theo-colonial conquest that has decimated the Host Nations of North America. In the light of God’s covenant faithfulness to us, what do we make of the current state of our treaty relationships/obligations to First Nations peoples?
  • We are a people committed to a consumptive lifestyle that out-paces the planet’s capacity to detox, rejuvenate and restore. In the light of covenant love, how does the Church understand her responsibility to safeguard the fruitfulness of a future generation’s inheritance?
  • Given the nature of the Divine Society that is God’s Trinitarian existence (into which we’ve been invited),  how do we justify our often uncritical allegiances to polarizing political ideologies (left and right) which at best, Christianly speaking, are broken accommodations to a broken situation?
  • We are a people mostly committed, through military threat, to “defend our interests” in lands that are not our own.  Please understand, I’m not making a totalizing statement against the military—indeed, “the abuse of a thing does not negate it’s proper use”—but how does excessive militarism, fuelled by expansionist ideologies, square with the content of divine reciprocity described above?
  • In the Canadian context, despite overwhelming evidence that much crime is linked to systemic poverty, how do we understand the Christian community’s relative silence as our national leadership has elected to address the situation by investing in more prisons rather than the communities most adversely affected by poverty?

Back  to Fr. Gabriele of St. Magdalen: Recall his teaching, that the highest glory of the humanly chaste relationship is the willing “collaboration with God in the transmission of life.” He goes a step further when he teaches that those who willingly “consecrate themselves to God… become God’s collaborators in the transmission of the life of grace to others.” In other words, the glory of  the chaste, Divine-Human relationship is the new society-life of grace. That is: relationships that are spiritually fecund give birth to human flourishing. Indeed, another lovely image.

I think it can be fairly said that one of the challenges of Lent is this: spiritual fecundity, of which Fr. Gabriel speaks, may well have incarnational implications that confront current commitments. For Christians at least, Lent is an opportunity to prepare and examine a “fearless inventory” of our current commitments in the light of the Divine Society to which we are betrothed.

Several years ago, my daughter Sarah and I recorded an album together called Sons and Daughters. On it, Sarah sings a plaintive song inspired by the book of Hosea, which leads us to the heart of the season of Lent.  Feel free to download the song and listen repeatedly if it resonates.

Aside:  When the recording came out, some folks complained about the wooziness of the time-signature in the song’s production. Trust me, the song remains in standard 4/4 time throughout, but the anticipatory pushes in the instrumental sections give a certain feeling of disorientation, which (although not intentional at the time) may be seasonally, and even theologically, appropriate.

And so, if I may play the troubadour for the moment, press the play button below and hear this:

 

 

HOSEA (Come Back to Me) – Gregory Norbet OSB
sung by Sarah Giardino (nee Bell) on Steve Bell’s CD “Sons and Daughters”

Come back to me with all your heart
Don’t let fear keep us apart
Trees do bend though straight and tall
So must we to others call

Long have I waited for
Your coming home to me
And living deeply our new life

The wilderness will lead you
To the place where I will speak
Integrity and justice
With tenderness
You shall know

Long have I waited for
Your coming home to me
And living deeply our new life

You shall sleep secure with peace
Faithfulness will be your joy

Long have I waited…

__________________________________________________________________

HOSEA (Come Back to Me) appears on the “Sons and Daughters” CD which can be sampled and purchased HERE…

Also available on iTunes

 

 

 

 


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12 Comments

  1. Sylvia Hansen
    Feb 27, 2015

    Steve,
    Through my daughter Roberta I’ve witnessed the reach of your generosity. While collaborating on your Pilgrimage project she often expressed admiration for your goodwill and was inspired to represent you with due respect. Your gracious public affirmation of her abilities has brought forth a peaceful spirit of confidence in her. Thank you for supporting Roberta and so many others.

  2. Dennis McDonnell
    Mar 7, 2013

    Profoundly artistic song. Steve is a very good
    producer.

  3. Elaine Adair Smith
    Feb 24, 2013

    Simply put I just love it. I play it over & over only to love it more…thank you so much. How proud you must be of Sarah. I am proud for you & Thank God for blessing you.

  4. Brian Walsh
    Feb 23, 2013

    Thanks for the response, Steve. That is as good a reply that I’ve had to this question in a long time. And I didn’t mean to imply by “quick reference to the Trinity” that it was superficial or unrelated to the topic you were addressing. Indeed, there is nothing superficial about your reply at all. Very profound.
    Here’s the thing for me, however. When someone says that “our obligation to love “in justice,” rather than selective affections, stems from God’s own com-Unity after which all creation is patterned…” my response is that while this is very beautiful, I’m just not sure that it is biblical. Forgive me, but I’m a hopeless Protestant on this stuff. It is a lovely idea that creation is patterned after God’s own com-Unity, but can we see any evidence that the biblical writers thought such thoughts?
    Similarly, when Malcolm Guite writes, “Trinity is the key and pattern to our human loving… because we are made, communally in the image of the Trinity…” I thinking, that’s also lovely, but where is there any biblical connection between Trinity and imago dei, unless you are going to really put a lot of weight on the plural of “let us make man in our own image”?

    It’s actually kind of funny that I’m having this conversation with you and not with some academic theologian. I guess that I have a hunch that troubadours and other artists likely have an angle on all of this that I’m not seeing. So, again, I am grateful for your reflection (and the song, of course – it all comes down to the song!)

    I think you are more protestant than I. If there is no authority but scriptures, then you are right. But if you accept contemplative Tradition (filtered through time, messy and porous as it is) as having some weight, then perhaps there’s room for our lovely fancies :)

    BTW – looking forward to your new book. I’ve been reading some books on Romans in preparation for yours. I need help finding my way in… hoping you have an “angle on this that I’m not getting.”

    Cheers Brian

  5. Brian Walsh
    Feb 23, 2013

    Thank you for this reflection, Steve. Hosea was really the first of the prophets that I read in depth as a young Christian, and I fell in love both with the prophet and the God who he so powerfully evokes. It is precisely a God who is so pained and angry at the infidelity of his betrothed (us) and yet simply cannot bring himself to exact the judgement that is deserving, that has helped me to remain in the Story. You ‘get’ Hosea and you ‘get’ the implications of Hosea for our lives in the 21st century.
    But I’ll tell you what I simply don’t ‘get’, and I know that this is heresy to a lot of people who I love and respect. I don’t get the quick reference to the Trinity. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I don’t believe in the Trinity, I just don’t feel all that comfortable with saying too much about the three-in-oneness of God. And as I read your meditation, I thought that you had all that you needed to profoundly unpack the nature of this lover God in the midst of our infidelities just with reference to Hosea. I’m not sure that we needed to Trinity to get us to where you led us.

    Hi Brian, this may not satisfy but I’ll take a stab at it: There was no “quick” reference to the Trinity – in my thinking at least. It followed from looking at the trajectory of the liturgical calendar, which (I thought) was evidently as much an inspiration for this blog as was the book of Hosea.

    But this goes back further for me. A couple years ago when I first started to reflect on the broader season of Christmas, I was struck by how Advent traditionally began with penitent reflection of our own wounded and wounding alienation and barrenness, culminating in Epiphany: one of the key texts being the revelation of Trinity at Christ’s baptism. You’ll notice on the album (Keening for the Dawn) that the same progression is there: from alienation to intimacy, from isolation (affliction/barrenness) to fruitful communion. I was again struck reflecting liturgically on the Easter season to find the same movement from Lenten isolation and distance to Trinitarian communion.

    The importance for me in all this, is that our obligation to love “in justice,” rather than selective affections, stems from God’s own com-Unity after which all creation is patterned. As another has commented, “Trinity is the key and pattern to our human loving… because we are made, communally in the image of the Trinity. It is from that standpoint of Trinitarian vision that we can use Lenten discipline to critique and ammend our loving in this world.” (Malcolm Guite)

    Certainly, we don’t need the doctrine of Trinity to feel in our bones the truth of love. But I don’t really think of Trinity as an imposition of static doctrine as much as I do a breathtaking work of art that helps us see (to borrow from Seamus Heaney) that things are “alive with what’s invisible.” – Steve

  6. Nathalie Davidson
    Feb 22, 2013

    Thank you for this beautiful blog-post that beckons the reader to examine their love relationship with God. Thank you for the refreshing perspective of the church’s purpose behind the liturgical calendar.
    Sara’s vocals are beautiful. Thank you for using your Godgiven ability to write such a powerful song.

    reply: thanks Nathalie. It is indeed a powerful song. But I only recorded it. The song’s author is Gregory Norbet OSB ~ SB

  7. Marilyn Jarvis
    Feb 22, 2013

    Thank you, Steve, for your timely and fruitful Lenten message in word and in song – wonderful to hear your dear Sarah’s voice and your harmony. Thanks and blessings.

  8. Matt Flowers
    Feb 22, 2013

    Steve,
    The entire Sons and Daughters CD is one of my all time favorites. I love songs that make me think both spiritually and musically. Voices on this tune are as always amazingly smooth and Janzen’s piano again amazingly appropriate and satisfying. Thank you for sharing your gifts – all of them.

    Matt

  9. Lisa Marie Doig
    Feb 21, 2013

    Hello Troubadour, (very fitting tag)
    I have this CD & have been listening to this beautiful song for several days now, (I’ve loved it since I was a little girl), it fits Lent so beautifully & your version of it is perfect to my ears & soul. Sarah sings it with spirit, what an angelic voice.
    Your blog is thought provoking & I love what Jamie said “You do it in a way that has real integrity, and which pushes us all to think freshly about the stuff of our faith” My thoughts exactly.
    Thank you Steve, I love sharing this Lenten journey with you. I am taking this journey also with a friend in end stage cancer, it is a devestating situation & he probably won’t see Easter here on earth this year. I am sharing your music with him & it is helping him ‘get ready for Glory’. God Bless your work and God Bless you.

  10. Steve
    Feb 21, 2013

    :) Grant, since you first saw this, I’ve tidied it up quite a bit. I think (hope) it now reads better…

  11. grant
    Feb 21, 2013

    “Aside: When the recording came out, some folks complained about the wooziness …”

    I love songs that push us out into the edges of wooziness. Sometimes by lyrics and imagery – sometimes with unexpected time signatures and phrasing.

    Most appropriate in this song for sure … and I love the moments when the timing suddenly resolves – like a change in the breeze.

    As for what you’ve written — now my head hurts — must re-read your blog several times! Thanks ;-)

  12. Jamie Howison
    Feb 20, 2013

    Steve,
    I appreciate the way in which you bring forward material from the great tradition that is not often touched by the typical North American church. You do it in a way that has real integrity, and which pushes us all to think freshly about the stuff of our faith.
    Thanks!

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