Praying, with TØP, of the world


Pic from the concert

Per the gracious request of one of the people who comment on this blog — AMDG — I will post a portion of my journal entry from the night after the Twenty One Pilots concert. Note: the “sacramental shuttle” is the name my wife and I give to the friends of our daughters who regularly join our family for Mass and Confession.

So, for what it’s worth, in all its rawness, here you go…

+ + + +

…I’ve been to many music concerts, but this one had a different ‘feel’ to it. Of course, clearly, being with [my daughters] Maria and Catherine and the sacramental shuttle was a game-changer. Cor ad cor loquitur. That alone made for a seriously giant quality of life increase. But these two men — Josh, Tyler — have this stunning capacity to make my faith so human, intricately knit into the marrow of my bones. As I inhabit their songs, I don’t sense in any way spiritual means less-human, more-porcelain. Vatican II says the great error of our age is the “split of faith and life.” This means people privatize their faith, check their conscience at the door of the voting booth. This means theists act like atheists. But this split also emerges from the sense that to be religious, faithful, pious means that you have to repress your earthiness, denigrate the material good things of this world in order to exalt the spiritual good things of the next world. Or so the split-minded would have it. Catholics (kath’ holou, “according to the whole”) don’t see it that way. Belloc:

Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
There’s always laughter and good red wine.
At least I’ve always found it so.
Benedicamus Domino!

Aligning your soul with the grain of God only sets you in opposition to sin, never against creation itself. Sinners are world-haters, saints are world-lovers. On the Cross, hewn by sin, God allowed us to cut Him cross-grain so that He could, from within that mercy-suffused creative tension, realign all things with Himself. We Christians, set square in the crux of the Cross, are called to be the living signs to the gnarled world of a God-who-so-loves-the-world that He consents to be cut down so we might be raised up. Christians, lodged in this crux, should love the world more than the world. In the world but not of the world in order to live for the life of the world. We are consecrated, set apart, to ensure all things enter the Age to Come. By being human. In fact, God becoming man so that man might become God seals the deal: the only way to share in the divine life, to be divinized, is to be fully, unabashedly, joyfully hominized.

c/o Jordan Haddad, a rockin’ Augustine quote from The City of God, Bk 20 Ch. 14:

“For after the judgment has been accomplished this heaven and this earth will, of course, cease to be, when a new heaven and a new earth will come into being. For it is by a transformation of the physical universe, not by its annihilation, that this world will pass away. Hence the Apostle’s statement, “The form of this work is passing away, and I want you to be spared anxiety.” It is, then, the outward form, not the substance, that passes.”

And that cosmic transformation, inaugurated in Christ, the God-made-cosmos, is wrought in us, we who are His mystical Body. Wrought in us by Spirit-powered love, agápē, by which and for which all things were created. Wrought in us by Alms, which turn matter into mercy. Oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus — “star stuff” — achieve their telos [purposeful goal] in us. Matter, the laws of physics, space, time came alive to make love. The cosmos labored for 13+ billion years to produce bread, wine as its locus of transubstantiation; re-created to feed and give joy to the Poor of Yahweh. We, clay-stamped icons of God, are creation’s inscribed vocation made conscious, quarks made grateful and free to love — priests of nature who unite earth and heaven, time and eternity, spirit and matter, Creator and creature in the bond of charity.

Pope Benedict: “If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great.” But how many live in this fear: “Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished?”

God, no.

I’ll never forget when [a dear friend of mine] told me that, after she gave a talk to a women’s group on her own love for the Virgin Mary, a number of women crowded  around her to excitedly talk about apparitions and rosaries and scapulars and First Saturdays and miraculous photographs. After listening to them for a bit, she finally said to them: “Can we talk about the weather?” She meant, good as they are, there are vastly more worthy things in the world to speak about than just the “goods of religion.” Even at the wedding feast at Cana, Mary the Jew was undoubtedly all about celebrating, music, dancing and an ample supply of spiced red wine.

St. Isaac the Syrian: “What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists.”

Pope Francis: “The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God.”

So this TØP concert was an artistic foray into the orderly beauty and the blooming, buzzing confusion of the human condition. Their songs — mightily searching, struggling passionately; lost, afraid; pining for hope, love, connection, meaning, purpose.

God abides in their songs as a silent Thou; a rapt, attentive You. A Father, Hearer of cries, sighs, whys.

For many of the fans around me, maybe their intention was devoid of any idea of God. Regardless, the songs drew out, exegeted, the deepest of human aspirations and longings. Tapped into life’s profoundest questions. Playfully, exuberantly, agonizingly. For those who have explicit faith, their music very naturally springs alive as prayer. Not because it’s religious, but because it’s human. For those who have no faith, their music grants permission to long, ache, yearn with open-ended hope of being heard, being seen, being loved. And these seem to frequently be young men and women who live on the margins, who may not be prone to trusting others — hence, their famous Heathens counsel:

All my friends are heathens, take it slow
Wait for them to ask you who you know
Please don’t make any sudden moves
You don’t know the half of the abuse

I think of [Vatican II’s] Gaudium et Spes: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.” People of faith need to take this opening salve of Gaudium deadly seriously. We’ve gotta be real, connected, set apart only in order to re-turn and face with-God the ones we momentarily stepped away from. Turning from sin in order to turn toward the myriad faces that seek His Face. Turning to face the wonderful, terrible world with God-with-us. All because Christ first, from womb to tomb, up-took into Himself the whole of the human condition, from the brightest selfless sacrifice to the blackest selfish hatred. The God buried in our wreckage, the drunkard, glutton, dinner companion of sinners, Lover of Mankind Messiah.

Thank God for artists like Tyler, Josh who give full, unhesitating voice to the vast expanses of the human condition, inviting a weary world into a living quest for the FarNear.

I read several articles recently that described their music as schizo-pop, because they expose the “schizo-split” that cuts through minds riven by doubt, anxiety, despair, fear, temptation, sin, and yet those same minds long for faith, peace, hope, trust, reconciliation and faithfulness to “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, any excellence, anything worthy of praise” (Phil 4:8). They sing St. Paul’s own schizo-verse (Romans 7:14ff) into life, making it contemporary.

I found myself again and again, while fully enjoying the sheer thrill of their electric music, falling upward into prayer. Naturally, seamlessly, not feeling I had migrated from secular to sacred or withdrawn from the sensory flood of sounds and sights to enter a purely spiritual realm — precisely because I have become more and more convinced as years have passed that the Word, indeed, became flesh and pitched His tent among us.  And last night, amid the silent Trees, “there were shouts of joy and victory in the tents of the just” (Psalm 118:19).

In fact, it was when they sang Trees at the end of the concert that I found myself completely lost in prayer, begging God it would never end, wholly present to my daughters and the sea of humanity around me and the God who breathed silently. Singing, feeling swept up, and up-sweeping my offering. It was transcendent. When it all ended, I could hear distinctly within: Ite, missa est, “Go, be sent.” Out into the world so large it seems to have no end. Yes, right, world without end. Amen.

I know
Where you stand
In the trees
And that’s
Where I am
In the trees

Why won’t you speak?
Where I happen to be
In the trees
Standing cowardly

I can feel your breath
I can feel my death
I want to know you
I want to see
I want to say

4 comments on “Praying, with TØP, of the world

  1. Jerry Christopher, Jr. says:

    I got to hear all about the 21 Pilots concert. Serendipity. Now you know I read your blogs in order….


  2. AMDG says:

    Ah! Yes! Such rich reflections here. I’m so grateful you obliged. I hope I get the chance to write more, but for now, my heartfelt thanks. We fall with you up into prayer before His marvelous, mysterious, transforming Glory. May the world be drawn up with us by the *swoosh* of the Spirit’s in-spiration. LOVE!

  3. GuadaGirl says:

    Transcendent you described it well Dr. Neal. when my siblings and I left the concert we felt lifted and encourage to go on happy with our lives and shared that we never experience a concert like that before. As always a great post and food to my soul.

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