Sinead O’Connor is releasing a new album soon. It’s called Theology, and many of the songs are inspired by (some straight of of) the Scriptures. I am on her myspace page listening to "33" right now, and my goodness is it an impressive song. It’s pretty much straight from Psalm 33, with a little twist (33:2, for example, becomes "Sing to the Jah with your guitar / Turn up your bass amp" – I’m always a fan of turning up one’s bass amp).
Sinead tends to be a polarizing figure. Many will probably write her off as a neo-pagan-in-Christian’s-clothing, and other will probably rush out to buy the album, hoping her "conversion" was "genuine" (as though we can tell by listening to her songs?)
For my own part, I will definitely buy this album, because I have always found Sinead O’Connor’s music to be heart-achingly beautiful (and oh that voice!) Her music is eminently "listenable", but not in the "easy-listening" sense (easy to tune out), but in more of a head-turning, stop-what-you’re-doing-and-LISTEN-RIGHT-NOW sense. I find her music completely arresting.
It’s kind of how I imagine a prophet would function, using poetry to cut through the veneer of respectability and into the heart, where things are ugly and beautiful and messy and personal. That’s where transformation can begin, and song always gets there faster than explanations. Poetry always goes deeper than prose.
David Swink says
Ben, But doesn’t seem that once poetry cuts to the heart and wakes everything up, it reply’s: “I don’t know what you should do. Find out for yourself.”? It seems to me that the arts do well to drive one to despair, and unfortunately there aren’t many who know how to help such a one. I would very much like to know what you think about that?
Benjamin Sternke says
That’s a good question, David. But I think that true healing can only happen when we are driven to the edge of despair, because only then are we seeing the true nature of things. Before that we’re simply avoiding the issue, living in a fantasy land.
Our culture desperately tries to insulate us against our own darkness. We prefer numbness to the ache we feel when ‘everything wakes up’. Art can awaken the ache, and this feels uncomfortable because we aren’t used to dwelling with ache for longer periods of time. If we ever feel it we usually try to numb it quickly with whatever anesthetic is available (TV, food, drugs, sex, shopping, etc).
I think that ultimately art will help us forward from the despair, but we have to experience it first. Healing lies on the other side of the pain of realizing what is. Art simply shows us the truth in a way that prose explanations cannot. The truth hurts for many, and so they choose not to look, but the road to healing and joy lies through the valley of the shadow of death, not around it.
If you’re interested in the subject, I recommend Walter Brueggemann’s book Finally Comes the Poet. He outlines how preaching needs to be poetry, poetry that awakens the pain and ache and alienation and rage we feel, and also speaks healing and forgiveness and redemption (but only after the ache has been awakened). It’s an incredibly deep study of how the Old Testament prophets functioned in this way.
Thanks for the review, Ben. I’ll definately be checking it out!
David Swink says
Thanks for responding Ben. But it still seems to me that once poetry brings one to despair through showing him what is, all it has to offer for hope is something that contains the very same elements as that in which he now despairs over….himself. Nevertheless I suppose if one never reaches despair, or the brink of, there is no possibility of reaching out for God. But there are also individuals who have reached that brink and find that no one has anything to offer them. For when they go to a Christian and share their existential concerns, the Christian responds: “What are you talking about? Come then, let’s get some icecream.” He doesn’t need any freaking icecream! He needs hope. And hope is in the Lord alone. I guess what I’m thinking is that those who talk about the hopelessness of man are prime canidates to be brought into the fold. But it takes someone else who’s been there to bring him in. Of course the Lord can do it however He chooses, but let’s keep our eyes open.
I welcome this album. You can’t judge a book by the cover. Lets just listen to the songs and enjoy them for what they are.
Great take on the new Sinead album, Ben. I’ve heard the whole disc via advance copy and can tell you that it’s superb. The first disc features the songs in acoustic fashion (like glimpsing someone deep in personal prayer), while the second disc takes the same songs and rocks them out to the mountaintop, turning the prayers into anthems. A great idea.
I also think it was really wise of Sinead to utilize the Psalms and portions of the Songs of Solomon–these parts of scripture were WRITTEN to be sung, by the individual, and by the collective people at worship. her melodies really pierce through the veils and stun the soul on this record.
Some people (the utterly unspiritual) will categorically dismiss this album because of the no apologies, straighforward “spiritual” subject matter, but this is decidedly a Christian recording–and I can’t stand as a judge of Sinead’s controversial life or her human flaws. I know one thing: She’s made a truly powerful, meaningful, reverent spiritual document. It’s a must-have for anyone with any desire to connect to the living God.
Benjamin Sternke says
Thanks Ian, for the review!