WARNING: THIS CONTAINS SOME ADULT ISSUES IN DISCUSSION OF CHRISTIAN FAITH. NOT FOR THE PRIM AND PROPER READER
My friend Dan is a throwback of sorts. He loves hymns and the King James Version of Scripture. Recently he has become more open to praise music, but still dislikes a number of the praise songs that are out there. In particular, we were discussing the semi-erotic language of several praise songs. For instance the Hillsongs song Here I am says in part,
"All you are is all I desire. Your gentle touch helps me survive."
Dan specifically sights the song This is the Air I Breathe which says, "I'm desparate for you, I'm lost without you."
(I can understand a distaste for this song, both because of its overplay, and because it sounds oddly reminiscent of a Celine Dion song.)
Strangely enough, as I pointed out to him, his favorite hymn is Come Thou Fount which says in part, "Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the one I love, Take my heart, O take and seal it..." Also there is a lot of semi-erotic imagery about God throughout the Christian tradition, and even in Scripture. Read Psalm 63 for instance. And although this my sound controversial, even the work of the Holy Spirit is referred to in similar language (i.e. having your hard heart penetrated and filled by the Holy Spirit).
Well, I shared a number of examples with Dan, and I understand where he is coming from. I have similar dislikes, although for me it does not have to do with singing as much as it has to do with the nature of Charasmatic/Pentecostal worship. Much of this type of worship, like primal tribal worship of elemental forces, is based upon human sexual rhythms, where there is a period of foreplay, the praise songs are designed to stimluate you until you suddenly break out in an orgasm of manifestations of the Holy Spirit--most notably through speaking in tongues. Then there is usually a little bit of "pillow talk", followed by a pastor working up the congregration into another more powerful ejaculation of praise.
Then I read Kenda Creasy Dean's Practicing Passion, or Sally McFague's Models of God and I think the erotic imagery makes sense in some way. Even John Donne in the Holy Sonnets asks God to "ravage" him. And what about the Christian mystics and their observations and experiences?
As for my friend Dan, I think it is a more literal thing. And a boundaries thing. I understand where he is coming from. We have had enough Christian leaders that have used the power of faith to fullfill erotic needs. And, the pictures of Jesus with the little lamb over his shoulder do not get me sexually aroused either. But for me, as a single person, it is a little broader than that.
For my faith to be strong and healthy, I need to be passionate about it. I need to "long" for the "touch" of Jesus in my life. I want my relationship with God to be more and more intimate. I need God to be a part of all of my life, even those parts that I keep from everyone else because they seem so private and personal.
As for God's part of the relationship toward me...a lot of time God seems like a celestial stalker. So in love with me that he pursues me and will not let me go. Sometimes even when I want to run away from Him he follows me. He loves me so much he keeps count of the numbers of hairs on my head. God woos me like he wooed the woman at the well to faith (with semi-erotic language I might add.).
What is the issue then with eros and love? I think it is if it ends there. If all our spirituality is about is "getting off" on Jesus, then it is a very shallow faith. I think that is where my struggle with a Charasmatic/Pentecostal model of worship that I criticized earlier. It is often so self-centered and experiencially focused in my experience that the experience of worship becomes an end in itself instead of loving God and loving neighbor.
My other issue with the erotic imagery is that it can get people focused on individual faith at the expense of community life. There is already too much of that going on--especially in the church. If our faith gets too centered on personal wants and needs, it becomes almost auto-erotic--and coorperate worship becomes not much more than mutual masterbation. Then no new life comes and mission dies.
Much more can be said on this issue but that is enough for now.....