Editor's Choice: Doxology and Art

We'll have some exciting news for the Tokens Blog in a few weeks. While we're working to get everything in order, enjoy a series of Editor's Choice posts from 2012. This week we feature a fine essay by Randy Spivey, who shares some reflections on music and blessedness. I once heard Lee say that the most radical, most subversive thing we do as Christians is sing the Doxology. Words and music, really good words and music, can do that. They can create a nervousness, even a fear, that the song really shouldn’t be allowed to say what it is saying. I think Tokens creates that from time to time. I know, as Lee said, that the Doxology does.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise him all creatures here below, Praise him above ye heavenly host. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

It is a radical confession, not just because of what it announces, but also because of what it denies. It announces that all blessings, all peace, all healing flow from God and that every living thing lives to praise him. And by announcing that, it denies that any of those things come from any other source: our jobs, our plans, our parents, our country, our kids, and, especially, from ourselves. We do not bless ourselves; we do not even bless others. All blessings flow from God.

By singing the Doxology we affirm who God is, and we also affirm who we are not.

One of my favorite bands, a local band called the Ocelots, has a song called "Two Years After the Fact, I am Reminded Why I Got a Tattoo or Paradoxology." Such a great title. The song begins as if by accident, the guitar and drums beginning like two coiled springs bouncing to life, both in their own time signatures, and the vocals, slower than the pace of the instruments, sing reluctantly, “its funny how things fall apart.”

The song has a devastatingly sad refrain:

"Time finds a way to set you free, Lying down with other memories, maybe exhaustion will help you sleep, pray that paranoia helps you dream."

What a devastating image, peace is only found after exhaustion and only paranoia leads to hope. That refrain repeats and repeats and repeats until you can no longer stand to hear it. But one of the reasons I love this song, one of the reasons I love music, is there is something familiar in that melody, hidden in the neo-punk drums and guitar. It sneaks up on you. As the refrain is repeating again at the end, those devastating words of exhaustion and paranoia and pain are seamlessly replaced by the Doxology. The melody, hidden by the darkness, is and has always been the melody of that old hymn, and it is given new life now as praise is resurrected from the darkness.

I think about this song a lot, especially that long title: "Two years after the fact I am reminded why I got a tattoo." Greg Wagner, the guy who wrote the song, has a lot of tattoos. I don't know which one this song is referring to, but I know which of his tattoos I think of when I hear the song. On the inside of both of Greg's wrists he has tattooed the word "Blessed.” "Two years after the fact I am reminded why I got a tattoo."

I think about this song whenever I think of my friend N. N has tried to kill herself twice since I have known her. She has lived a life full of pain and death and abuse and disappointment and isolation. She has been both the victim and the perpetrator of great injustices. She is a prisoner of the state and a prisoner of herself, and more than once she has taken a razor and dug deep into her wrists.

I wish she had a tattoo to remind her that she is blessed.

I wish she had a tangible reminder of the most subversive claim we make. I wish the music that rings in my ears would ring in hers. The music that speaks to the darkness she is in and, at times, seems engulfed by, but always contains a strain of that familiar refrain:

Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise him all creatures here below, Praise him above ye heavenly host. Praise father son and Holy Ghost.

Randy Spivey is the Academic Director for the Institute for Law, Justice and Society at Lipscomb University. His essay “Questioning Society’s Criminal Justice Narratives” appears in And The Criminals With Him.