Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Thoughts Before Holy Week: Talk About the Passion

Back in the days before Google and Youtube and Wikipedia, people used to devote hours to trying to decipher the lyrics to songs by R.E.M.





Personally, I was always intrigued by a pair of songs that ran directly from one to the other on the album Eponymous. Since the second of the two songs -- "Talk About the Passion" -- had pretty simple lyrics, it didn't take me long to pick out one key phrase: "not everyone can carry the weight of the world." It slowly started to dawn on me that R.E.M. wasn't talking about "passion" (or, I should say, they weren't talking about talking about "passion") -- though it would seem pretty reasonable to expect a rock group to be singing about love (if not sex).

R.E.M. was talking about (and talking about talking about) "the Passion (of Jesus)."

The song's lyrics alternated between "talking about the passion" and "carrying the weight of the world," over and over again. It was as if to say, "This is something we are going to keep working through, again and again, until we come to grips with it."

It seemed to me that, in the song, Michael Stipe was singing "Pull me in ..." -- though I now understand that the lyric is "Combien ..." Indeed, the song did pull me in ... just as the story of Jesus, and talking about the story of Jesus, pulled me in, and continues to pull me in.





I became confirmed in my belief that R.E.M. was talking about the Passion when I realized that the song that preceded "Talk About the Passion" was called "Gardening at Night." I started to wonder, "Who gardens at night, anyway?" It occurred to me that people do sometimes have significant experiences in gardens at night -- I guess you could call that "gardening at night"; Jesus probably had the most well-known "gardening at night" experience of anyone.

I couldn't really make out the lyrics to that song, but the way the cheery introduction transitioned into the plaintive movement of the verse itself -- and especially the way the airy minor seventh chords and sustained fourths resolved -- it just felt like they were talking about Gethsemane.

Looking at the printed lyrics today, I remember the ones that jumped out at me at the time: "They said it couldn't be arranged" ... "not to see the sun" ... "They should know" .. "it must be time" ... "didn't seem to be too real" .... It seemed to fit .... And indeed: "Somewhere it must be time for penitence."

* * * * *
At our adult Sunday school class at St. Luke's Logan Square last week, we talked about the account of Gethsemane. We recognized that this was the story of someone who found himself at a critical juncture, and was having second thoughts, and longed to just know what the right thing to do was.

We shared stories about our own "Gethsemane" moments - those times when we were in real need and we reached out for reassurance from God ... and God was silent. (Is this perhaps what R.E.M. meant by "empty prayer"?)





It was helpful to talk about those "Gethsemane" moments with others: it's much easier to accept Christ's Passion as our own -- to say, "pull me in" -- when we don't feel like we're carrying that weight all by ourselves.

And talking with others helps locate the intense passion -- the emotions -- in the different parts of the Passion story. Where, after all, is the greatest pain in that story? Is it on the cross? Or in the garden?

* * * * *

These days, I'm not sure the "official" accounts of songs like "Gardening at Night" and "Talk About the Passion" tally with my idea of what they're about. I heard them -- and continue to hear them -- as accounts of the experience of Jesus at the hardest time in his life, the time when he felt most poignantly human. Is that what Wikipedia says these songs are really about? Is that what the lyrics really mean, when read in their entirety?

Does it matter? Listen to "Gardening at Night" and "Talk About the Passion" for yourself. I think you'll tell me I was right.

Are you ready for a little "gardening at night"?




* * * * *
WIKIPEDIA

Read the Wikipedia entry for "Gardening at Night"
Read the Wikipedia entry for "Talk About the Passion

LYRICS

Gardening At Night
(Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Michael Stipe - retrieved from eLyrics.net)

I see your money on the floor, I felt the pocket change.
Though all the feelings that broke through that door
just didn't seem to be too real.
The yard is nothing but a fence, the sun just hurts my eyes.
Somewhere it must be time for penitence. Gardening at night is never where.
Gardening at night. Gardening at night. Gardening at night.

The neighbors go to bed at ten.
Call the prayer line for a change.
The charge is changing every month.
They said it couldn't be arranged.

We ankled up the garbage sound, but they were busy in the rows.
We fell up, not to see the sun, gardening at night just didn't grow.
I see your money on the floor, I felt the pocket change.
Though all the feelings that broke through that door
just didn't seem to be too real.
Gardening at night. Gardening at night. Gardening at night

Your sister said that you're too young.
They should know they've been there twice.
The call was 2 and 51.
They said it couldn't be arranged.

I see your money on the floor, I felt the pocket change.
Though all the feelings that broke through that door
just didn't seem to be too real.
We ankled up the garbage sound, but they were busy in the rows.
We fell up not to see the sun, gardening at night just didn't grow.
Gardening at night. Gardening at night. Gardening at night

Talk About the Passion
(Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Michael Stipe - retrieved from Lyrics007)

Empty prayer, empty mouths combien reaction
Empty prayer, empty mouths talk about the passion
Not everyone can carry the weight of the world
Not everyone can carry the weight of the world

Talk about the passion
Talk about the passion

Empty prayer, empty mouths combien reaction
Empty prayer, empty mouths talk about the passion
Combien, combien, combien de temps?

Not everyone can carry the weight of the world
Not everyone can carry the weight of the world
Combien, combien, combien de temps?

Talk about the passion
Talk about the passion
Talk about the passion
Talk about the passion

Image: A Squirrel in Babylon
* * * * *

Related posts

Faced with chorus of voices saying, "Isn't it time for you to tone it down? Can't you be more reasonable? What is it you want, anyway?" Jesus kept right on doing what he was doing. And that was a sign to us about how to live our lives . . . .

(See WWJD? Occupy! )







I believe when Jesus broke the bread and poured the wine and said "Remember me this way," he was much more interested in encouraging us to keep having conversations -- conversations that really matter -- with others . . . and finding ways to be in relationship with our neighbors  . . . all the while reminding us "never underestimate the power of food"  . . .

(See Get Outside Your Comfort Zone and Have A Conversation Today (Welcome to the Ministry))  



The Gospels are full of provocations to confront this paradox: people are forever saving up and guarding against a future that is never going to come, while throwing away the present that they do have. ("You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?" Luke 12:20)

(See Edward J. Snowden: The 365-Day Man )