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Experiencing God through Bon Iver

By Christian Harvey

Last night my wife and I attended a mind blowing concert by the Wisconsin band Bon Iver. Bon Iver’s self titled second album was released earlier this year, and in my opinion is by far the best album of the year. What makes Bon Iver so incredible is the way that they take a bunch of random, and odd sounds and bring them together to make something beautiful. At any one moment the nine person band could all be singing in harmony, one of their two drummers could be soloing, there could be a clarinet solo, a trombone creating just a layer of noise, a massive saxophone (is there such thing as a bass sax) making bizarre noises, trumpet valves being used as percussion, with Justin Vernon’s falsetto rising above it all. If you were to hear any of these parts on their own you could not envision that when layered together they would create a breathe taking soundscape, but that is exactly what happens.

As I was watching them create I began to realize that I was having a spiritual experience, and it had nothing to do with the words of the songs, I have no idea what he is saying most of the time, but it is the beauty of the music itself through which I was experiencing the presence of God. In his book Simply Christian, Bishop Tom Wright once wrote:

“The arts are not the pretty but irrelevant bits around the border of reality. They are highways into the center of a reality which cannot be glimpsed, let alone grasped, any other way. The present world is good, but broken and in any case incomplete; art of all kinds enables us to understand that paradox in its many dimensions. But the present world is also designed for something which has not yet happened…Perhaps art can glimpse the future possibilities pregnant within the present time…Perhaps art can help us look beyond the immediate beauty with all its puzzles, and to glimpse the new creation which makes sense not only of beauty but of the world as a whole, and ourselves within it.”

The Bible is the story of God bringing about God’s peace, God’s shalom, on earth. This peace is not just the absence of war, but rather the harmony of God, humanity and creation all living in right relationship. Isn’t this what beauty is? The interplay between individual parts to create a unified whole. It is how colours contrast, how sounds work together, how movement and words are combined, how words are placed together. When we experience beauty, we are given a glimpse of that peace of God that the world is heading for. What if we began to share this with others? Began to tell others that the transcendence that they experience in the beautiful is a glimpse of the peace that God is bringing into the world all around us? We are all wanting to experience God, what if we let people know that they already have? That those experiences with beauty were experiences with God. How would this change how people see God? How they see art and beauty? How we see worship? How we experience the world around us?

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