The Sad Song

I had a rare treat last weekend: a Barnes & Noble sat across the street from the hotel where we stayed. Since most bookstores in our area have closed, I relished the opportunity to spend an hour meandering, collecting a stack of books that attracted my attention for various reasons, and sitting in a corner with them, slowly turning pages.

One book addressed our fear response to life’s hard times. The author wrote, “We habitually spin off and freak out when there’s even the merest hint of fear. We feel it coming and we check out…The most heartbreaking thing of all is how we cheat ourselves of the present moment” (Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart).

Yes, and yes. Life is hard. We feel badly. We check out and cheat ourselves.

Or we could not. Listen to my friend Mike advocate for a different approach…

re:create recess #19: Mike Loretto

I might be a little bit odd.

I had this thought recently when I was feeling the need for a break–for recreation–and my first impulse was to reach for…

…the saddest music I could put on.

I love sad songs. I love them. And I love them because–hang with me now–they make me feel sad. I actually love feeling sad. I know. It’s weird.

When I’m in the thick of the busyness of life and feel that internal prick of “I need to recreate, to play,” I have learned that some of the things that felt like recreation when I was younger don’t call to me as much. In those needful moments, I still might reach for the remote control, a tennis racket, a video game, a drink, a book, or any number of other things. Some of the time those things are the right decision; some times they’re really not. Most of them have no inherent goodness or badness. They all have the potential to be informative or celebratory or good exercise or just plain fun. They all also have the potential to be avenues for escape.

And I’m prone to escapism. Some combination of my personality, my experiences, and the myriad ways that modern culture offers us to escape our reality have, for me, led to 37 years worth of finding creative ways to escape. To not be present to what’s really going on in my life. To not be attentive. To not, in all honesty, be fully alive in many moments.

Sadness and grief can be paralyzing. Depression is no joke. I say all of this from experience. Intentionally diving into the waters of sadness isn’t always the right move, either–sometimes escape is a survival technique. Everything in its season, and everything in moderation. But I find that my default setting is one in which I’m not really letting myself grieve the big or small rips in the fabric of life that I encounter. The ways I’m broken. The ways the world is broken. The pain of people I love. The pain of people I’ll never meet. And I need regular doses of art, conversation, experiences that will prod me to do that grieving.

That’s where, for me, sad songs come in. A well-written, well-performed sad song has the capability to take me right to the core (or at least to dig into the mantle) of feelings I’ve been avoiding. When I turn on Patty Griffin’s “Rain,” or the soundtrack of the musical “The Last Five Years,” I access the pain and grief of relationships not going like we thought they would, hoped they would, needed them to. When I listen to Jason Isbell’s “Elephant,” I’m seared by the sadness of death and dying and of loving someone deeply. I remember in college listening to David Crowder’s “All I Can Say” on repeat, and feeling the desperation of spiritual longing, of the “dark night of the soul.”

Sometimes the sad song might end on a hopeful note. Many of the best don’t. The hope is found in the alchemy of turning grief into beauty, and in the “Oh, you too?” recognition that breaks us out of our isolation. There is something incredibly moving to me about a piece of art that tells the truth about the hard parts of life and somehow begins to redeem it in the beauty of the telling. The craft of the lyrics, the choices of instrumentation and rhythms and chord progressions, the sigh of a steel guitar line or the weeping of a mandolin, the voice soaked in the waters of experience–the right combination of these things cracks me open and brings me to my knees.

My faith and my experience tell me that the world is (and that I am) flawed and broken, and also that even good things must eventually burn down to let something better rise from the ashes. Being intentional about accessing sadness is, for me, a way of sifting through those ashes and finding the building blocks of new creation. As an (often frustrated) songwriter, I find that listening to a song that gets me in touch with my sadness is one of the best avenues for finding the head- and heart-space in which I do my best creative work. It’s a way of touching the live rail that energizes creativity. It hurts, but the hurt motivates and animates.

So here’s to the sad song. Turn it up and cry it out, my friends.

Mike Loretto (@mikeloretto on Twitter/IG) is a songwriter, worship leader, husband to Sarah, and feeder of dogs Bristow and Jed Bartlet. He and Sarah write and perform music under the name Truesdell and are hoping to release an album this year. (Find Truesdell on Facebook or @truesdellmusic on Twitter). Mike is passionate about the intersection of art & spirituality, contemplative prayer, good food & drink, Kansas Jayhawks basketball, and Kansas City Royals baseball. He almost never blogs at mikeloretto.tumblr.com. Email: mikeloretto at gmail dot com

Advent Wk3 – The Song of Glory

christmas-musicYears ago a pastor-friend shared from the Sunday chancel that, each year during Advent, he awaits the moment when Christmas will arrive. That feeling of wonder, the child-like joy-filled Christmas spirit, or truly, the Spirit of God who dreamed the first dreams of Christmas.

Every year since I’ve readily anticipated that moment and still every year it comes unexpectedly. One sad December I thought I’d missed it altogether; God took His time and my Christmas moment arrived in January. Last year it arrived as I read narration for our church Christmas concert.

This year’s moment was just as unexpected. I was supposed to drive carpool, a mundane-motherhood duty, and so would have to leave our staff Christmas party early. But I got times mixed up and asked the other mom if we could switch driving directions; I drove the first shift before donning party clothes and she took the second shift, dropping Tween at home to do homework while we reveled.

I hadn’t thought I’d be there for the caroling, followed by white elephant exchange, but I was. And as we began to sing Silent Night, suddenly my eyes welled with tears. I looked around the room, and my heart swelled with gratitude–for Christmas, for my job and these talented people with whom I work and worship, for the gift of song. I closed my eyes and whispered, Thank you…

It shouldn’t surprise me, really, that Christmas arrived in song. Music has the power to get past our logical brain and into our soul. Sometimes music is how we experience God, and sometimes music is how we express ourselves to Him. Some very blessed times, it is both.

Mary burst into song upon hearing Elizabeth’s confirmation of the angel’s confusing message to her. She glorified God who had lifted her up from her humble state, from poor small-town girl to Blessed Mother of God. She sang her praise-filled recognition that this miracle was not only for her but the fulfillment of God’s long-ago promise to Abraham, that all the world would be blessed through one of his descendants.

During Advent I look for my Christmas moment, but all year long I look for miracles in the mundane. I pray for eyes to see what God is doing. And I try, humbly, imperfectly, to share those blessings, recognizing that they are not for me alone.

Luci Shaw’s poem, Salutation, expresses that joy, that recognition of God in our midst. May we all look for our Christmas moments–God with us–and seek ways to share it with others.

Salutation
Framed in light,
Mary sings through the doorway.
Elizabeth’s six month joy
jumps, a palpable greeting,
a hidden first encounter
between son and Son.

And my heart turns over
when I meet Jesus
in you.

trumpet-angels

Week 3 – The Song of Glory
December 11-17

Read and light three candles (two purple, one pink): The first candle represents the promise of joy. The second candle represents the promise of a King. The third candle represents the song of glory.

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read Scripture: Luke 1:39-56

Read: Unborn John leaped for joy in the presence of unborn Jesus and Elizabeth newly saw her cousin as the mother of her Lord. Blessed because she believed the Lord would fulfill His promises, Mary sings glory to God her Savior, the Mighty One who mercifully lifts up the humble and fills the hungry with good things. God promised our ancestors mercy and still He works to fulfill His promises.

Pray: Lord, our souls glorify you and our spirits rejoice in you, our Savior. May we always be hungry for the good things you provide. In the name of Jesus we pray and sing, Amen.

Monday 1 Kings 8:28 Where do you need God’s mercy in your life?
Tuesday 2 Chronicles 7:14 How do you humble yourself before God?
Wednesday Psalm 63:1-5 Glorify God by sharing some ways you experience His love in your life.
Thursday Isaiah 43:10-12 What did God tell Isaiah about who He is and who we are?Friday Philippians 4:4-5 When do you sense God’s presence, and how do you express your joy?
Saturday 2 Corinthians 1:10 How has God delivered you?