On the brink of Christmas, the coming of the Word Made Flesh, I have been letting the latest album by Wilco, The Whole Love, totally inhabit my very being. It is hard to express what Wilco has meant to us the last 10 years. I have decided that their body of music, much like that of The Beatles and Paul McCartney, has become sacred scripture for me, a way in which God touches me. These musicians are conduits of God’s grace for me. In fact, except for the relationships I have with Lisa, my family and friends, and students, the music has become my saving grace. I’m proud to make this confession during these, the waning days of Advent, dark in the night of the beginning of winter.
Do you remember when you first discovered your favorite music or book or art or recipe, that advent of interest? And then you couldn’t get enough of it? And then you analyzed it ad infinitum? Finally, you simply just enjoyed it, being present to it in a variety of ways. It grows with you as you grow, thus you know this is not a passing fad but the thing in your life that feeds you. In the case of Wilco, unlike The Beatles, I have also been fed with this music in a live setting (although Paul continues to be the ultimate prophet for me as I have seen him live several times). When one experiences that sacramental not simply through a medium but with no barriers, one has the unadulterated sense of joy that God can give. The next level for me personally is to actually play the music myself with an instrument, something I attempt now and then.
Wilco has released eight studio albums, not counting the Mermaid Avenue collaborations with Billy Bragg and a live album. Little did I know that when I first listened to an NPR review of Summerteeth in 1999, that I would fall in love. Little could have prepared me for the first Wilco concert I saw in 2001, or the domestic beauty of Sky Blue Sky which we celebrated in our newly purchased home, or the three nights at The Pageant in 2008 which culminated in meeting the band. The God of Surprises rarely telegraphs special sacramental moments to us.
I could go on and on and on about the specific songs on The Whole Love. Instead, I wish to pick out three special moments for me on this enduring testament of music. These songs show the different facets of Wilco’s personality. Perhaps one would see them as a trinity of sounds and messages.
“Art of Almost:” this kinetic piece of sonic sound craft allows one to see the creation action, an action that we participate with in God. It is something that shows our tentativeness, our passion, our confusion, our need to create. How are we drawn into the maelstrom of God creating from chaos, how does it culminate and ebb into the Ultimate Silence? We are being called in the song. Are we ready to strap on the instrument of our lives and play, to enter into the art of possibilities despite our fears? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mgWJwxl-wG4
“Whole Love:” The love may seem incomplete at times but paradoxically we get what we need as The Stones once reminded us. The sin, the imperfection, does not negate this incredible Whole Love of the God of the Universe, the God of Possibilities in the “Art of Almost.” But the whimsical nature of the song asks us to relax at times, not to take what happens in life so seriously, to laugh with our God. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ly_dbVEXoWI
“One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)”: And what of the question of frustration with this God who comes to us, who gives us cognitive dissonance and challenges us? What do we do with our differing interpretations of God and what God expects of us? Here, Jeff Tweedy relates a story of a son and a father, whose views of God clash. The son feels as though the father has used Jesus to condemn him; and now that the father has died, the son feels liberated from that view, and that the father must now realize “on the other side” that his image of God was skewed. Of course, the son’s is too—how all of us are asked to meditate on our projections we make onto God is the point of the song for me. This Dylan-like 12 minute meditation is never boring although it is based on the playing of the same four chords over and over again. This bed of chords allows the words to become central to us. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xa2XnouRXKo?wmode
The Whole Love is made incarnate on Christmas. My wish is that you discover those Scriptures that feed you, that are Jesus coming to you, inhabiting your very spirit, and that you are ready for that Love, enjoy that Love, and relish the possibilities of creating with that Love. And if you’re not ready, Advent is a state of mind that we can create at any time of the year. Thank you, Wilco, for channeling God to us through your music. As I think Jesus would say, “I will still love you to death…and I won’t ever forget how.”