I was reading through the responses to the Sigur Ros video and decided to grab a line or two from each one. It’s remarkable to me how varied the reactions were to this piece, and it’s taught me something about the way we all approach art differently.
I’ve so often been exasperated by the lack of widespread success of some artists, wondering why more people don’t rush out and buy this or that songwriter’s albums when the music is so clearly powerful and emotive. But then I see the responses to this video and I’m reminded of the almost mystical nature of art and imagination. God has created music, words, visual art to carry a kind of spiritual power. They speak to us in ways that can be as profound as anything we might come across in this world, much like magic beckons and guides in fairy stories.
Have you ever been stopped in your tracks by a lyric in a song, maybe even one you’ve heard a thousand times? Frederick Buechner says that the moments when tears spring unexpectedly are the times when you’re brushing up against the eternal. Those are the times when you’d better stop and take note. Pay attention. Write it down so you’ll remember that moment when your heart grew softer. Remember, because this is something that can actually happen, even to us.
But we’re all on the journey, aren’t we? Some of us are in the valley, others on the side of a hill with a long view of the country ahead or behind. George MacDonald described Jesus’ parables as springs that ran across the path rather than beside it; they’re bubbling with life, but we might not drink of it until we reach that part of the journey when we’re able to understand it. Or, we’ll understand it differently when we’re farther along.
This has been true for me. I grew up with the Scriptures and am still largely baffled by them. But when those moments come in my journey when the pieces click into place and I get that long, cool drink of water from something Jesus said, I’m reminded of MacDonald’s wise words. I learn that there’s nothing wrong with mystery. I learn that my heart is finding its way.
The Spirit-wind blows where it will, sometimes howling out of the imagery of a group of brave children leaving their old lives behind and charging up the mountain with a mighty roar, leaping into the great wide freedom of their faith’s reward.
It’s important to realize that a difference in reaction to a piece of art does not your maturity define. Not to keep harping on MacDonald, but I’ve found great comfort in something he said about what he called “the secret chamber in the heart of God.” He said that God has reserved for each of us a unique chamber in himself into which only we may enter. The relationship that you have with Jesus, the intimate nature of your connection with him, is not exactly the same as mine. You have things to teach me about the mind of Christ, insights into his Word that I cannot see on my own. There are things about him that may be very clear to you that have never crossed my mind. His Spirit lives in you, and it lives in me, and we are not the same.
Someone asked the late Mike Yaconelli what it meant to be “spiritual.” He said that “being spiritual is nothing more than paying attention.” People have asked me about songwriting and that’s the pat answer I give them: keep your eyes open. Look for meaning, because the world is fraught with it. If you believe that behind (and beyond) the veil of this world is a Creator who knit us together, cast us into history, and gave us the gift of his presence–a living wind that is as much God as Jesus is, living within us–then life is no longer meaningless, but infinitely sacred.
I don’t mean that we should superstitiously look for answers in places where we shouldn’t, like studying tea leaves or lines on your palm, but that we should look deeper and see the thing for what it is: tea leaves make tea–why should that be so? Because God filled this world with good things (especially good if the tea is sweet and iced, and you’ve just finished mowing your lawn). Look at the lines on your palm. There’s no answer to your employment or relational dilemma there, but if you look closely you’ll see calluses, maybe scars that tell part of your story; you’ll see that you’re unique, or maybe you’ll notice what a profoundly useful contraption a hand is–and placed just so, at the end of your arm, where it can hold a hammer and nail to build house or a music box, where it can press the strings of the guitar in a way that just might make someone’s heart leap in their chest when they hear the song, where it can feel the smooth skin of your baby’s back or turn the last page of the book so you can find out what happens in the end.
We must learn to see. And if we don’t see, we must learn to try.
Now, I don’t mean that there’s something wrong with you if the Sigur Ros video didn’t float your boat, goodness knows. That would be silly and elitist. There were lyrics in last week’s song comments that didn’t move me one bit, and that’s fine too. To change MacDonald’s water analogy a bit, artists are digging wells and diverting the water to make streams that cross the path. Our hope is that people on the journey will stop and drink and taste something eternal. Maybe this video was a stream you haven’t reached yet–or maybe it was a few miles back and you’re hungry for something deeper.
(Of course, there’s only one place to find living water, and he is the source of all joy and meaning and grace. The above analogy only goes so far.)
Here’s a compendium of the responses to this stream on the path, which will hopefully help us to appreciate the diversity of our experience and the power of resonance. When the artist touches the pulse of someone, something beautiful happens. For those of you who “didn’t get it”, I’d be interested to hear some examples of when you felt your heart leap from a piece of art or writing or music.
“For me, since I dedicated 6 years of my life in college and grad school to studying saxophone and jazz I may be moved by a John Coltrane solo in a much deeper way than someone who never listens to jazz and finds it to be a bunch of noise.”
“I guess my overriding feeling from the piece was its pure joy.”
“I think that each of us see pieces of Heaven in little things, not all of us in the same things. We see these little glimpses and whispers of Heaven that are perfect bits of promise of what God has for us.”
“So in my mind I was wondering why they were alone, where they were going to, coming from, orphans, and really thought tragedy was coming when they charged the hill and it turned into a cliff . . . I admit I’m jaded.”
“I think this is a neat video. But that’s it.”
“My favorite bit (apart from the wonderful diversity of the “follow me” calling scenes) is when they start to run, casting aside every encumbrance in their single-minded pursuit of the goal.”
“I kept waiting for something profound so maybe that was what my problem was. But i didn’t think it was emotional in the least.”
“…it still rings true, and I think that’s because it’s calling to the part of me that believes in something more. Not just the child in me. The hope in me.”
“Each image holds meaning. It’s worth it to watch this several times to lasso further meaning.”
“…and yes, it makes me cry too — when he starts beating the drum and they all charge the mountain in unison…. Whew.”
“Wow. Beautiful. I’m not sure all it’s about but I have about a million ideas.”
“I guess I’m with the minority as I didn’t get the song and video.”
“There is something undeniably powerful about the innocence and the freedom of childhood.”
“I’m not sure I get it. The song is good, and it works well with the imagery, which I sort of feel on some visceral level that I can’t quite articulate…”
“Yeah, I didn’t get any kind of emotional charge out of this either.”
“The world would be a dull place if the same poets moved every soul.”
“I think for me it is the unbridled joy that the kids seem to display, all walking and running together for one purpose. This will preach!”
“I cannot tell you how much I love this video, this song, and this band.”
“Yeah, that’s some powerful stuff. Very cool.”
“I won’t go into detail of the numerous hymn lyrics and scripture than flashed to mind during subsequent scenes, but I will say that I had to try and cover my tears in the manliest of ways.”
Andrew Peterson is a singer-songwriter and author. Andrew has released more than ten records over the past twenty years, earning him a reputation for songs that connect with his listeners in ways equally powerful, poetic, and intimate. As an author, Andrew’s books include the four volumes of the award-winning Wingfeather Saga, released in collectible hardcover editions through Random House in 2020, and his creative memoir, Adorning the Dark, released in 2019 through B&H Publishing.