On Songs and Mystics

Marc responded to a post by John Stackhouse on songs that speak of love for Jesus in fairly intimate personal terms – along the line of lyrics designated as "Jesus is my boyfriend".  The post on Stackhouse’s blog elicited some interesting comments.  I would recommend going there and reading it.  It certainly brings up the issue of those songs that raise discomfort in people who do not like expressing their relationship to God in this kind of intimate language.  I guess we need to be sensitive to the aversion and the wrong kind of message that songs strong on love language and weak in theological content give to some participants in worship services. 

Stackhouse also interjects some comments on the mystics and obviously does not appreciate the type of ecstatic language and experiences recounted by them.  Here I think he is off base.

I don’t think the tradition of "Jesus is my boyfriend" songs comes from the mystics. They may have had what we would consider erotic ecstatic experiences but from those visions came writings that were not so individually oriented as some of the songs for which we are questioning the theology. There came writings on prayer and on seeking deeper prayer experiences with God and there came expressions of adoration of God. 
Hildegard of Bingen is noted for her musical compositions and, though many speak of adoration of Mary and saints that we protestants find foreign, I would hardly call them "Jesus is my boyfriend" type lyrics. Here is a short example.  I thought the English translation would be appreciated more than the Latin!
O Shepherd of souls
O Shepherd of souls
and o first voice
through whom all creation was summoned,
now to you,
to you may it give pleasure and dignity
to liberate us
from our miseries and languishing.
I think we have much to learn from the mystics who had such deep relationships with God that they actually experienced him in ways most of us today find foreign.  Maybe that says more about our life styles that leave little time to develope this kind of intimacy with God than about the "whackyness" of their experiences.

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  1. It was very “interesting” studying the mystics in several medieval history classes in university. The students didn’t get what was going on and most of the class was spent speculating as to how crazy these mystical writers were and how we could explain it rationally.

    I think I’d distinguish the mystics from the BFF worship songs of late b/c the mystics seemed to have meaningful deep experiences of love with Christ. I tend to think that these new songs trivialize the human-God relationship. They make us feel all warm and fuzzy but they don’t actually say anything.