Last night I hit on one of life’s little ‘moments of joy’. I’d been round to friends to watch you-know-which popular song contest, recorded from Saturday. Over drinks and Doritos, we’d lapped up one offering after another in the river of over the top strobe-strafed extravagance that is the annual Eurovision extravaganza. We revelled as usual in every bonkers aspect of the camp-fest, from the bloke on top of a stepladder throwing shapes in a suit and horse’s head, to the schizophrenic-voiced fella singing both parts of a duet, to the yodelling Romanian girl and the crooning Portuguese winner with the sympathy-strewn backstory.
But oddly one of the best things I took away was the reminder of a 2016 pop track – one that the Belgian song ‘City Lights’ had the hint of an echo of. All I had to go on in my head was the refrain ‘I miss you, I miss you, I miss you more…’ Just enough for my friends to identify first the group Bastille, then the track ‘Good Grief’. Upon arriving home I listened to and viewed it on Youtube several times – it’s catchy and creative. It’s apparently about perspectives on the grieving process, but its fragmented storylines, meanings and allusions are oblique and not immediately obvious. Stonker of a song nonetheless.
And it got me thinking about the allure of the elusive. So much of what affects us most deeply in life and art is not direct, doctrinal or dogmatic, but subtle and suggestive. I’m drawn to another person mostly because of the way his or her personality reveals itself over time in different circumstances – not because they tell me ‘I’m a really nice person’ (though fair play if they try that haha). Likewise, art of all kinds yields its riches not by preaching but drawing you in moment by moment through an intriguing story or series of revelations.
This morning I found myself reading the narrative at the end of Luke’s gospel about Jesus on the road to Emmaus, unrecognised by two disciples who are downcast and dejected by his death. Revelation of this stranger’s true identity is reached through a cluster of oblique means. They are walking together, on a journey – a great setting for good conversation. The stranger invites and aids them to explore and understand Old Testament prophecy with fresh eyes. And the proverbial scales finally fall only when they witness an action that awakens memory: his breaking bread with them. And when they do finally recognise him, he disappears. Fresh revelation, accompanied now by the spur to seek more… No wonder their hearts ‘burned within them’.
The gospel encounters me in a myriad of such oblique, indirect, even elusive ways. God as revealed here does not bludgeon or cajole us into acceptance of truth, but invites us to listen, see, taste. In Jesus’ signs and parables, both subtle and dramatic. In the gospel’s very heart, God with us but ‘incognito’, and reaching us through the scandal of humiliation and degradation – the exact opposite of the rule from on high our human thinking expects and which is enacted as ‘standard’ in the world.
I’ve always loved the fable of the man who can’t be forced by the storm to remove his coat, but is moved to by the sun’s strong but gentle heat. An illustration of grace and relationship contrasted with law & coercion – the first two being the means by which God primarily seeks us. And it’s only as I let go of my human demands and expectations that I open myself to the overtures of grace. But when and as I do… just as when I yield to the solicitations of art and relationship in everyday life – or even the less subtle allures of Eurovision… I open myself to receive further blessings. Which beats even songs from Belgium, Blighty – or Bastille.