“I’m a goner, somebody catch my breath,
I’m a goner, somebody catch my breath
I want to be known by you
I want to be known by you”
-“Goner” by 21 Pilots
I’ve sang the refrain to “Marvelous Light” maybe a hundred times in my youth group junkie lifetime. In fact, my shoulders are disproportional to my body from the amount of times i’ve, “lifted my hands and spun around”. About a month ago, I was at a March for Life Rally and this song was the big closer. I looked around at the hundreds of teens, dutifully singing along to the words. There wasn’t a single teen or adult in the stadium that seemed uncomfortable participating. The feeling was similar to the zombie effect that happens in joining in on “Happy Birthday” at a restaurant. Just outside the stadium however awaited Winter Storm Jonas. Not to mention the greatest number of pro-choice protesters the March has seen in light of the Planned Parenthood videos released. Still, no one seemed even the slightest bit affected. Everything was “hunky dory" in the stadium. Then this sudden discomfort pitted in my chest. I couldn't put my finger on it but something was missing. Something was drastically absent. Worst of all, it felt like we all knew something was missing.
It wasn't the band, they all had skinny pants, fresh hipster haircuts and great musical talent that often matches such a look. It wasn’t the environment either, the lights were spectacular and the stadium full of energy. So what was this gnawing discomfort in the center of my gut? Growing restless, as soon as I got on the bus I asked Google. “When did the song Marvelous Light come out?” The answer: 2004. If you’re wondering what else came out in 2004, here is a little refresh button:
- Green Day’s “American Idiot” was blasting as top song on our sweet 1st Generation iPods.
- You watched Napoleon Dynamite for the first time (probably last time too)
- You just set up your Top 8, because MySpace just came out
- “Friends” just aired its final episode
Your curtain of hand motions has been torn asunder Charlie Hall. It’s 2016 and we are expecting the iGeneration to encounter God through the same songs that the generation that listened to Green Day jammed to. #americanidiot
Still something was missing. Something told me it was more than just an overplayed song that was the problem here. It wouldn’t be until the bus ride back that I would encounter the answer. The teens in the back begun singing about six hours in, but they weren’t just reciting songs from memory or repetition. Every line rang out as if for the first time. Each word present to the moment, each word immediate to the soul.
“I’m a goner, somebody catch my breath.
I’m a goner, somebody catch my breath.
I want to be known by you!
I want to be known by You.”
I had witnessed these very teens sing the night before, but this was altogether an entirely different phenomenon. Something about these words was triggering the most authentic response in their hearts. These lyrics incarnated the human soul, in all its humility and in all its splendor. It was clear that these words were not directed at an ambiguous “you” but to a personal, divine, transcendent “You”. Finally, it clicked. What was missing was not the absence of the divine “You”, but the absence of our frail and honest humanity.
I believe this young generation gets it better than any of us before. We do not encounter God by detaching from our humanity, but rather it is God who first stoops to us, descends to us and reveals His perfect fullness best in our perfect emptiness. This yearning within man is why the Catechism states that “man is a religious being.” (CCC 28)
What became clear for me is that man does not have to enthrone himself with pious things in order to hold the attention of God. We do not gain access to the divine by speaking holy words, rather we gain access by engaging the depths of our natural hearts. The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself.
Ultimately, what I discovered was the clear tendency of current (and older, like MySpace older) praise & worship songs to be so disconnected from the human heart that the lyrics have a mediocre chance of lifting man to God from his most authentic point. It is rare for me to be walking around thinking in my mind, “into marvelous light I am running”. Honestly, my mind usually is thinking more along the lines of, “Can you save, can you save my heavy, dirty, soul?” This is where my hat goes off to 21 Pilots. I applaud their understanding of God wanting to meet man at his most fundamental level. Not just once, but over and over. It is most natural and it is powerfully evangelistic.
The lead singer of 21 Pilots, Tyler Joseph, was asked what is the mission of their music and he stated, “I think through music … we want to get people to think. We want to get people to go to that place in their minds that’s a little bit scary sometimes, and at least start to think about or find purpose in some way, for life.”
I will not explore their incredible evangelistic reaches for Fr. Damian has already masterfully demonstrated the evangelistic effect of this great band and I highly recommend checking his article here. Today’s intention here however, is to highlight man’s natural desire for God as the starting point of prayer. This next young generation before us surprisingly gets this so well. I’m not saying we should get rid of all our P&W’s classics, (except for maybe “Marvelous Light”) but what I have come to find is that sometimes singing along to the Pslam-like refrains from 21 Pilots’ songs leads me into some of the most authentic encounters with God i’ve had from my car. I recognize that the most fearsome worries and good desires naturally in my heart do not lead me away from God, but actually are the recipe for a great conversation with the God who loves me. For now, I’m asking God to “know me” while shouting it in my car, maybe one day we can start to do that at Church. Imagine that.
“Despite everything, man, though a small part of your creation, wants to praise you. You yourself encourage him to delight in your praise, for you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” -St. Augustine