I’m not really a music person in that I have little formal knowledge or training. My vocal range is limited and works best in a belting, show tunes style; my little daughter claps when I sing, and my older daughter asks me to stop. I rarely run with music or listen to it in the car, but I have lately started trying to be more intentional about incorporating music into my life. I listened to the entire Gatsby soundtrack while painting my kitchen, the intense and painful tunes contrasting with the bright, sunshine-hued paint. And I realized why I sometimes avoid music, too, because its effects upon my spirit are tremendous.
Take, for instance, the haunting question repeated in Lana Del Ray’s “Young and Beautiful” (part of the Gatsby soundtrack): “Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful? Will you still love me when I’ve got nothing but my aching soul?” I can’t describe the technical attributes of the music that move me so; I can only say that the questions linger, an earworm prodding at my mind and heart and spirit, because this is a question that plagues me. I wonder how many people are touched by those questions, how many of us feel lovable only when we offer some kind of social capital—our youth or beauty or wealth or health. It’s not like it works out all that well in The Great Gatsby.
Yet while those questions swirl around my mind in a seemingly-infinite loop, those are not the lyrics that drive me to tears. It’s when she repeats “I know you will” that my breath catches and I choke back a sob. It’s that confidence, from someone who only possesses an “aching soul,” that she is still lovable, at least by her beloved. How many of us really have more to offer than that? We are broken, damaged, misfits. And neither youth nor beauty can change the fact that, outside of God’s grace, we remain that way. I weep because it is only my faith in that benevolent king that allows me to even consider the affirmation “I know you will.” I can love others and call myself worthy of love because I lie prostrate at the cross with only my aching soul to as an offering.
There is something in this song that lifts a veil for me, allowing me to see myself and the world around me, for only a glimpse, in something like the way God might see it. It’s what Lewis’s characters in Narnia realize during The Last Battle when they cry out “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now.” From a secular viewpoint, Freud calls it the uncanny, what is both familiar and unfamiliar (and incidentally, in German derived from the same root as the word “home”). Both are characterized by a strange longing, a feeling of being known yet transformed, a sense of a quest whose object changes just as it is fulfilled.
In more theological terms, Lewis suggests in The Weight of Glory that the painful way art moves us beckons us to recognize the beauty of our eternal home even while we remain here. As Lewis writes, “The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing.” We seek to recapture it, but it is elusive, peeking into this world, but, like us, not truly of it. And that is why I have started listening to more music, in spite of (or because of) the way it moves me to tears. I hate to cry, to be vulnerable, to be weak. But that is a paradox of the faith, that only my weakness and my emptiness can leave room for the Spirit to move within me.
So I listen to music with my daughters, and sometimes my chest feels fit to burst, and sometimes my voice cracks with sobs. But I need to practice, and I need them to see me practice that emptying of self. In those moments, my heart and flesh cry out to God “Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful? Will you still love me when I’ve got nothing but my aching soul?” And a little voice in my spirit prompts me to answer back “I know you will. I know you will. I know you will.” And I know He will.