Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Looking up to heaven

Last night, I had the great joy of seeing Ray Davies perform a show that included his beautiful composition "Waterloo Sunset," originally recorded by his band the Kinks in 1967. Here he is speaking about the song earlier this year and performing it with the backing of a choir:

Speaking about the song in the above video, Davies talks about how he wrote it from the perspective of a shut-in—a person isolated at home, gaining an experience of "paradise" as he gazes through his window at the gorgeous sunset that extends over a London Underground station bustling with commuters.

In my book My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints, I examine the lives of saints who suffered the isolating effects of abuse, particularly those who were sexually abused in childhood. Davies' song, in its poignant beauty, captures an experience those saints knew—something that helped them, in and through their woundedness, to draw closer to the wounded Christ. It is the healing power of the wonder the soul feels upon witnessing the splendour of creation.

St. Josephine Bakhita as a young child was kidnapped, enslaved, and beaten. Yet, even after being so traumatized that she forgot her own name, she retained the memory of the awe she experienced before her world was turned upside down: "Seeing the sun, the moon and the stars, I said to myself: Who could be the Master of these beautiful things? And I felt a great desire to see him, to know Him and to pay Him homage..."

Years later, when Bakhita was baptized, she recognized that this Master was not only the Creator, but that He was also something much more personal—her loving Father. Filled with joy, she would often kiss the baptismal font at the church where she was received, saying, 'Here, I became a daughter of God!'"

By holding onto her childlike sense of wonder, Bakhita was ultimately able to see that even her most painful memories fell within the scope of God's loving providence, which permits evil only to bring forth a greater good. It is the same perspective to which St. Ignatius of Loyola invites us in his contemplation on the Nativity. Ignatius invites us to consider Mary and Joseph "as going a journey and laboring, that the Lord may be born in the greatest poverty; and as a termination of so many labors—of hunger, of thirst, of heat and of cold, of injuries and affronts—that He may die on the Cross; and all this for me."

The protagonist of Davies' song, shut away from the world, has "no friends"—yet, as long as he gazes on "Waterloo Sunset," he is in paradise. Is it that he senses in the sunset a kind of love—and that it is, somehow, a personal love? I think of Alice in Through the Looking Glass, looking at the snow falling outside her window and musing to her pet kitten, "I wonder if the snow  loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently?"

G.K. Chesterton wrote, "A man can no more possess a private religion than he can possess a private sun and moon." But he also wrote of being "frightfully fond of the universe and [wanting] to address it by a diminuitive," because things that are small are more romantic. I think that is what Davies captures in his image of "millions of people swarming like flies 'round Waterloo underground" while he is enraptured by the sunset. He knows it is not his "private sun"—it shines over all those faceless people. But for him, at that moment, the sun has a face, and it is love.