Say Something I'm Giving Up on You
The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself.
-- 1 Samuel: 18:1
Say something, I'm giving up on you
For my friend Jonathan this song is a kind of prayer, a hymn to a God who is both known and unknown, who is both present and absent, but who never speaks. He challenges me to think about the silence of God in new ways. I am grateful to him and dedicate my questions to him.
Jonathan knows that not everyone hears Say Something I'm Giving Up on You in this religious way. Most people hear it as a ballad about a breakup between two human beings, in which one lover is implored to say something that could reverse the impending dissolution.
Jonathan appreciates this more humanistic interpretation because he's recently suffered a broken relationship himself. But for him Say Something I'm Giving Up on You is about a different kind of Lover: one whose light shines through the eyes of any finite lover but is also much more than any finite reality. Jonathan believes that all serious love affairs reveal a longing, within the hearts of the lovers themselves, for a source of infinite satisfaction. As a young boy he had given his life to the Holy One, whom he loved as much as he loved David, but recently he has come to wonder if the Holy One isn't but an idea in his head. "After all," says Jonathan, "the Holy One never speaks."
I point out that maybe it is because the Holy One has no vocal chords save our own, and that our own words of love -- our own right speech, to use a Buddhist phrase -- is the voice of the Holy One. But this does not satisfy Jonathan. He wants a word from the Lord.
I ask him if he still prays and he says yes. He says that in the act of prayer he senses a presence -- what process theologians call The Deep Listening -- who feels his feelings and cares about him and everyone else. But the Listening doesn't seem to speak back in a direct way, except maybe in the feelings he has of being listened to. I ask him if the feeling of being listened to might be a form of divine speech, but I know it's not enough for him.
I think of Rumi and Rumi's idea that one way we experience God is by longing for God:
Listen to the story told by the reed,
of being separated.
Since I was cut from the reedbed,
I have made this crying sound.
Anyone apart from someone he loves
understands what I say.
Anyone pulled from a source
longs to go back.
Jonathan is like a reed carrying a memory of an intimacy lost. God is the ground and he's losing it. Did the ground ever talk to him? I'm not sure.
People are trying to console Jonathan.
Christians tell him that God speaks through Jesus, that he is the word of God. The word is love, they say.
Muslims tell him that God speaks through the Qur’an, that the rhythms and meanings of its verses are God’s own voice. The word is beauty, they say.
Others say that God speaks through acts of lovingkindness, and courage, and beauty. God is present wherever there is wisdom and compassion and creativity, they say.
Still, says Jonathan, it would be nice if God would offer a word. The issue is not theodicy. He does not think that God is all-powerful. He has read his process theology. And the issue isn't prayer, either He doesn't expect all prayers to be answered in ways he expects. The issue for him is intimacy. He just wants a simple word of comfort like "Hi" or "I love you" or "I need you." Even an email would do.
Surely, says Jonathan, God is powerful enough to say Hi.
I put my arm around him and we take a long walk. I know enough not to say that my arms are God's arms. But I do want to say that, even if God doesn't exist, he can keep praying, because his own heart is in touch with something very deep, very tender, that it is more than him.
God may not be as personal as he wishes. As a Christian I think that God may not have a voice other than love. As I see things, God's love is very soft and beautiful and weak, like a gentle breeze in a world of hurricanes. When I hear the song I hear God saying:
And I am feeling so small
It was over my head
I know nothing at all
And I will stumble and fall
I'm still learning to love
Just starting to crawl
But who am I to know? I'm feeling small, too. What I know is that, even as Jonathan feels like he's giving up on God, he has a relationship with God even within the giving up. It is funny how we can give up on others and yet not give up on them at the same time. There is an intimacy in Jonathan's doubts that is as loving as God and perhaps even more loving in a concrete kind of way. Maybe Jonathan's love is helping God learn to love. After all, say the Christians, one time God was a baby.
So where is the Holy One? Whitehead writes: "Thus the consequent nature of God is composed of a multiplicity of elements with individual self-realization." This means that God is, among other places, right here on earth, in the lives both broken and whole, and in the relationships we have with others, including God. I have a Christian friend who speaks of the space within the Trinity. Maybe this world is included within the Trinitarian Space.
The Space is a kind of divine empathy, says Whitehead. It is a feeling of the feelings of all who suffer. Jonathan is lonely because God doesn't speak in plain language. But God does empathize and understand.
Does this mean that God is lonely, too? If Jonathan is giving up on God, does this mean that God is giving up on God, too? Does God know what it is like to feel forsaken, even by God? Can God know the feeling of being abandoned? Is this what Christians mean by Jesus on the Cross?
What is the up that we are giving when we give up? Where does up go when we give it up? Is there some kind of love into whose heart all things flow, like rivers to an ocean, or balloons into the sky? Can our giving up on God, while hanging on at the same time, be a gift to God? Is God lonely, too? Does God need our companionship? Do our prayers give God a voice?
This relationship between Silence and the Sound: perhaps it is a covenant. The empty space of a bell allows the bell to sound. Could God be the empty space that allows the bell to ring? Is it possible that it is good, really good, that God doesn't speak? Is that the sound of one hand clapping? Or one person praying?