We long to be loved and we long to love, all of us. And while we sometimes get it more right than not, sometimes we fail miserably, wounding ourselves and others. The desire for intimacy is so deep we will do the most glorious and the most ruinous things, hoping that someone somewhere will want us.
The wisest ones know that it is in the ordering of our affections that we will either do well or not do well at all— because we will love, everyone will love. The questions are always who will we love and why will we love? And if our loves are disordered, loving in the wrong way at the wrong time with the wrong person, then we will eventually and inevitably fall on our faces, hurting everyone around us even as we hurt ourselves.
For years I have been listening to the British band, Mumford & Sons, intrigued by their unusual insight into what it means to be human. Certain that bad songs lie… most of all about the human condition (to remember Walker Percy), when musicians do the harder work of making music that reflects something more honest about life and love, I am drawn in, wondering “Who are you? And why do you see what you see?”
Given the character of my work, I have taken their song, “Sigh No More” (2009) all over the world. An artful echo of Shakespeare, “Serve God, love me and mend,” the song is a poetic musing about the meaning of love— and before it is over, these simple words ring out: “the beauty of love as it was made to be.” In many places with many people, always remembering the secularizing, pluralizing context of our lives, I have asked what it might mean to live in a world where anything is “made to be.” As in created to be. As in ought to be. As in should be.
Or are we, so enlightened as moderns-becoming-post-moderns, beyond that? Completely and finally beyond that?
Sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, we are perennial people, wherever we are, whenever we are. At its heart, human history is a history of loves ordered and disordered, and more often than not we stumble, sometimes very badly— in our souls resisting the idea that there could be a should be about love, “a made to be” about love.
In the twistedness of our hearts we pretend otherwise, always and everywhere. In the 5th-century A.D. Augustine wrote the first-ever autobiography, Confessions, with painful honesty remembering the sordid nexus of love-getting-lost-in-lust in his own life; and sorrowfully, brilliant man that he was, with ideas about everything that matters very much, ideas that have formed the last 1500 years, he so wounded by his habits of heart that he never found his way out and into an understanding of sexuality that was both more holy and more human. The questions matter, as do their answers.
All of this ran through my mind as I listened to Marcus Mumford’s new album, which is tenderly and wretchedly born of a great wound— and he has chosen to offer the world a collection of songs that tell this sad tale. Simply said, he was sexually abused. Every song on the album is one more window into his anger and sorrow, sometimes crying out in rage, sometimes more plaintively painful— but every time with words that are hard to hear, and I am sure, even harder to sing.
How is it possible to hold together this terrible grief, a wound that may be more destructive than any other, and the hope that there is still “the beauty of love as it was made to be”? For all of us who sat on the edges of our seats at the concert this week, wondering and wondering again, everyone of us with expectations of what might be said, Mumford surprised us:
“But I’ll forgive you now
Release you from all of the blame I know how
And I’ll forgive you now
As if saying the words will help me know how
Please help me know how”
Not more anger, not an eye-for-an-eye, which we all could understand; but rather the giving of grace. Nothing asks more of us, nothing asks more from us, than to forgive… “please help me know how.” Perhaps it is only if we believe that there is “a beauty of love as it was made to be”— a love that is beyond us, that is more than us, that is outside of us, a love that has transformed us — can we imagine that a grievous wound can be met with a great grace.