Category Archives: Hurt

“Take me to Church” – Songs of Spiritual Longing and Pain

take me to church

Christians often get their proverbial knickers in a twist when trying to figure out how to engage with the wider world. There is a lot of energy spent on thinking of ways to be (or seem) ‘relevant’ or ‘genuine’ or ‘attractive’; ideas which sometimes work, and sometimes don’t. Or work for a while and then stop working.

What if the issue isn’t about ‘them’ (the outsiders) not wanting to engage with us, but actually about us and the messages we are sending out to ‘them’? Messages which say “WARNING!” rather than “WELCOME!”

What if the issue isn’t that those outsiders are spiritually uninterested or unengaged, but rather that they are, but that we are not able to see it, or respond appropriately to it?

I am really struck this week by two secular songs, both called ‘Take Me to Church’. Both of these songs, one by Sinead O’Connor, and the other by Hozier, express a desire to go to church (actually, to be ‘taken’ to church).  This desire isn’t the simple one anticipated by asinine evangelistic ploys, though. It is not one that will be satisfied by the easy answers offered by the standard model. In these songs, the statement ‘take me to church’ comes with qualifications that we should listen to. They set out a fear and a longing for church, they ask for – demand – a different model to the one they have both experienced before and come to expect. Will the Church listen?

Sinead O’Connor’s song is gusty and upbeat. She begins with a disavowal of ‘love songs’ (“What’ve I been singing love songs for?/I don’t wanna sing them any more”), she wants something else instead: “songs of loving and forgiving/songs of eating and of drinking/songs of living, songs of calling in the night […] songs that mend your broken bones/ and that don’t leave you alone” (Verse 2). If I were starting a church tomorrow, I might just choose those words as my mission statement. This song really gets what the Church is supposed to be. It also really gets how often the Church is not as it should be.

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Know that you are welcome

Not being welcome is your greatest fear. It connects with your birth fear, your fear of not being welcome in this life, and your death fear, your fear of not being welcome in the life after this. It is the deep-seated fear that it would have been better if you had not lived.

Here you are facing the core of the spiritual battle. Are you going to give in to forces of darkness that say you are not welcome in this life, or can you trust the voice of the One who came not to condemn you but to set you free from fear?

You have to choose for life.

At every moment you have to trust the voice that says, ‘I love you. I knit you together in your mother’s womb’ (Psalm 139:13).

Everything Jesus is saying to you can be summarised in the words ‘Know that you are welcome’. Jesus offers you his own most intimate life with the Father. He wants his home to be yours. Yes, he wants to prepare a place for you in his Father’s house.

Keep reminding yourself that your feelings of being unwelcome do not come from God and do not tell the truth. The Prince of Darkness wants you to believe that your life is a mistake and there is no home for you. But every time you allow these thoughts to affect you, you set out on the road to self-destruction. So you have to keep unmasking the lie and think, speak and act according to the truth that you are very, very welcome.

Henri Nouwen The Inner Voice of Love

 

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Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

I wrote a bit yesterday about Psalm 139 – The Inescapable God – and how God can almost feel too much (too much light – even the darkness is not dark to you, too much knowledge – how weighty are your thoughts, how vast the sum of them, too much comfort – You hem me in behind and before.)

And the big one:

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.

ammonite

I went away last year to the Living Waters Discipleship week (read more). One of the things we were asked to do right near the beginning was to say that line – I am fearfully and wonderfully made – out loud. About ourselves. And I wanted to. I love that line. I love telling people that line if they are hurting and in need of comfort. I affirm with all my heart that God makes each one of us and makes us beautiful, unique, worthy. I wanted to say it for myself too.  But I couldn’t. The words got stuck in my throat. I couldn’t say it because on some deep level I didn’t believe it. Honestly, I felt uncomfortable. I felt ashamed. I wanted to run away.

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