So I’m sitting in my little gray cube at work tapping away at the plastic keys, focused on electrical design type stuff. I’m securely insulated at a safe distance from any natural-light-admitting windows with nothing to hold my attention but the blinky little symbols on the screen. Once I get the doohickeys arranged in the proper sequence the thingamajig should work. Yay.
Eyes and hands are on autopilot but the ears aren’t even in the building. They’re encased in life-preserving headphones filled with the elixir of Bryan Ferry singing “Song to the Siren.” I’m in two places at once. Guess which one is more real?
I’m not kidding. I’m listening to this thing and my heart is pounding. I’m seeing things. I smell the ocean. I see mermaids and I hear them sing. The tragedy of obsessive human passion embracing its own destruction brings actual tears to my eyes. And it all expands beyond the limits of the song; I imagine the agony of romantic old salts deprived of their beloved sea by the ravages of age. I’m transported to the world of The Blind Pilot by Charles Henneberg. Being of an artistic bent with half a thimble full of musical aptitude I imagine what I could do with such a song. I’m seeing paintings and pondering how mermaid myths describe aspects of the human condition in ways that science and philosophy can’t even begin to approach. It’s all unbearably gigantic.
I could go on because the world illuminated by such a solid piece of art is limitless. Or is it? The song is nothing but sound, right? The late Tim Buckley and Bryan Ferry are nothing but assemblies of particles and electrical charges indiscriminately arranged by poorly understood forces, right? Not unlike the blinking pixels on my screen. The lyrics are entirely concerned with the mythological and describe nothing real…
Except the passions we all experience. Except existential longing and destruction. Except the essentials of the human condition.
As Christians we necessarily reject paganism and its trappings but sometimes I wonder if we go a bridge too far. Myths don’t concern us and rock stars pouring heart and soul into such myths are their own kind of siren. Avoid die Lorelei at all costs! But I think I’m in agreement with C.S. Lewis. Art and myths are among our strongest allies. A godless world is gray cubicles and pixels blinking in response to meaningless processes. It is a world devoid of any significant passion and imagination. But a universe made by an unlimited creative intelligence is relentlessly vast and overpowering and the unseen part, the part where all the intangibles like faith, hope, love, imagination and creativity reside is the biggest part of all. It’s the infinite part. It can’t be explored by science. It can’t be contained by humanly constructed theology. It can only be experienced by beings made in the image of the creator, operating according to his principles, resonating with his frequency.
We have a habit of calling the physical world the “real” world, as if reality ends at our fingertips. Maybe that just makes us feel a little more comfortable and in control. Meanwhile, as we insist on the smallness of reality we actually operate in the vastness of the unseen realm. We can’t help it. We’re infinite beings after all, whether we choose to believe it or not.