On Love taking shape

In an essay titled ‘Love and Need: Is Love a Package or a Message?’, Thomas Merton has the following to say:

Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another. We do not discover the secret of our lives merely by study and calculation in our own isolated meditations. The meaning of our life is a secret that has to be revealed to us in love, by the one we love. And if this love is unreal, the secret will not be found, the meaning will never reveal itself, the message will never be decoded. At best, we will receive a scrambled and partial message, one that will deceive and confuse us. We will never be fully real until we let ourselves ‘fall’ in love – either with another human person or with God.

Hence, our attitude toward life is also going to be in one way or another an attitude toward love. Our conception of ourselves is bound to be profoundly affected by our conceptions – and our experience – of love. And our love, or our lack of it, our willingness to risk it or our determination to avoid it, will in the end be an expression of ourselves: of who we think we are, of what we want to be, of what we think we are here for. (Love and Living, p.28)

Who we are, what we want to be, what we think we are here for – those things will determine the shape of our love. Who we think God is, who we think we are – these things drive it. And it can take many different shapes. The reverse is true – our idea of loves changes to match our own context. When we hear a love song, we automatically see if we can make it about ourselves. If not, then it can be heard only at a distance.

One of the albums I listen to in the car on occasion is the self-titled 2000 release from Nickel Creek. I was thinking about the beautiful piece “Out of the Woods” and how excellent a love song it is. My oldest daughter likes it too. She was asking me a couple days ago why it’s a good song. It seems that much of the very best song-writing produces something both meaningful enough to be full of power/content, and vague enough to be highly personalized and (through a quick stretch of the imagination) internalized. It’s one reason why many of U2’s songs are so good. Are they about God or about a girl? The answer is sometimes one, sometimes the other, and often the artist himself cannot say where the cut-over is, or if there even is one.

Walker Percy, in his treatise on language (a good summary here), says:

The poet, has a double-edged task: His metaphors must ring true, but they must be flexible enough to reverberate with his audience and for them to gain a new understanding of the things to which they refer. The poet must refer to things we already know, but he must do so in new ways; in this, he gives his audience access to their own private experiences.

So why is Out of the Woods (originally written by Irish singer Sinead Lohan), so good?

I wish you out of the woods
And into the picture with me.
I wish you over the moon,
Come out of the question and be.

If this going to
Run round in my head
I might as well be dreaming.
Run round in my head

I rollercoaster for you.
Time out of mind
Must be heavenly.
It’s all enchanted and wild,
It’s just like my heart said
It was going to be.

If this going to
Run round in my head
I might as well be dreaming.
Run round in my head

I wish you out of the woods, and into the picture with me…

I know it’s dangerous (or even silly) to hold this sort of thing up to analysis, but I’ll briefly give it a shot in defense of my assertion that this is an especially good song.

It works for a young person (a teenager), hoping that the person they love notices them. It works for the young person, in a relationship with someone, but wondering about the future – wishing for commitment and stability. It also works for a couple long married – with one wishing the other out of their stress and trial and maybe disillusionment. The second verse can be about the current excitement of youthful infatuation, or the distant memory of it. What is running round your head? The joy of possibility? Or confusion and uncertainty? It can go many directions, and it DOES, depending on the context of the person listening to it.

The arrangement of the music (it was produced by Alison Krauss) is also especially good. Why not take a listen?