Recent Posts

Recent Comments



September 2017
« Jan    

Stories, Transcendence, and My Morning Jacket

Posted in: General by Mary McDonough on December 22, 2013

VH1’s “Storytellers” is one of my television favorite shows. It features musicians who perform in front of a small live audience and tell personal stories about their music.

Recently I watched My Morning Jacket’s performance on the show. The episode actually aired in 2011 but this was the first time I’d seen it. At one point, Jim Jones, the band’s lead singer/guitarist/songwriter, told a very poignant story about a late friend. As many childhood buddies do, the two of them shared dreams together. Dreams of performing in a band, of being successful musicians. Unfortunately Jones’ friend died young but he has not been forgotten. Jones wrote a song called “Dondante” in honor of his friend. Here is the video clip from “Storytellers.” Listen to the very end of the video because there is more to the story.

YouTube Preview Image

What I love most about this video is the rawness, the emotional vulnerability Jones shares with his audience. It epitomizes the intersection of rock music and theology; an intersection that can be described as a crossroads where we go to experience transcendence—a kind of “release” from our “selves,” our egos, and our physical limitations. Transcendence takes us on a special journey, an “expedition of the soul,” that can lead to redemption, to shared suffering, to joy, to healing, to mourning, to meaning. To so many places where mere ordinary words simply cannot take us; where only melodies, lyrics, chants, prayers, rituals, and stories can lead us. Places we need to go because we are embodied souls searching for the Mystery that is God.

Mary McDonough


“Rhapsody and Blues”

Posted in: General by Mary McDonough on October 17, 2012

For several weeks now I’ve been mesmerized by a photo published in the Wall Street Journal on August 18, 2012. Click on the picture to enlarge it and take a long, good look. It can be found here. Taken from a book of photos by Bob Willough called Jazz: Body and Soul, I think the editors at WSJ do a great job describing the book and the photo. I particularly like their definition of transcendence as a “momentary release from one’s small, time-battered self.”

The looks on the faces of the audience, exhibiting such joy, intensity, and emotion, visualize what I think a conversion might look like if we could capture that experience in a photo. The sax player, Big Jay McNeely, almost flush with the stage, appears completely at one with his instrument in some transcendental space between a nightclub and heaven. Or, perhaps, he is in heaven.

Mary McDonough

Ruminatio: Goose Bumps, Transcendence and Going Home

Posted in: General,Ruminatio by Mary McDonough on December 28, 2011

I can’t say I’m particularly unhappy to see 2011 come to an end. It hasn’t been the best year. Over the last eight months I’ve had a good friend die, had to euthanize two beloved pets that I’d owned for years (a horse and a dog) and had surgery. Adding salt to the wound, the package of Christmas gifts I mailed to my brother never arrived and I woke up on Christmas Day with a vicious head cold.

I asked myself what could I do to feel better? The answer was clear. Buy a new electric guitar. Granted I already own several but I’ve wanted a Fender Strat for years. So I bought a beautiful bright red one. The pickups, the mid range boost … I’m in heaven. When I took my new guitar out of the case for the first time I got goose bumps. A sensation that brought me back to my childhood when I first fell in love with the instrument and with rock music.

That sensation of awe also reminded me of a discussion here at R&T about my colleague Jeff Keuss’s post on “what constitutes rock.” In comment #3, another R&T colleague, Dave Nantais, lists his five “random associations” with rock music explaining that the only thing they appear to share in common is that they all that give him goose bumps.

Goose bumps. What a great way to describe a sensation we feel when something moves us, takes us, emotionally and spiritually, to a special place. A place that can’t be described visually because it’s a feeling deep down in your gut, in your soul. I would describe such experiences as moments of transcendence.


A Reversal of Pilgrimage

Posted in: Recommended by Myles Werntz on April 13, 2010

In reading for the next chapter of the dissertation–Dorothy Day–I find a surprising inverse (and perhaps pithy) connection between Day’s own pilgrimage from socialism to Catholicism and my own pilgrimage from listening to contemporary Christian music to drinking deep from the wells of Springsteen and Frightened Rabbit. The latter, btw, is playing Dallas on April 22 if any of our readers care to join me.

In Day’s numerous autobiographical works, she makes very clear that what is at stake in her conversion from the socialists to the Catholics is not a loss of her radicalism, nor a loss of zeal or conviction that theology is best done from within the world rather than apart from it. The transition occurs for Day along the lines of love–that in all of life, there is a supernatural orientation toward which all life is drawn, and to recieve it is to in part recognize that for which all human activity is meant. Thus, to be radical socially for Day is not to establish a social order on the premise of human sanctity, but to recognize that within all social movements, is a movement away from or toward divine love. As Augustine put it, all we do is out of love, be it badly or more perfectly. For Day, this drawing to divine love led her to enter the Church, seeing the obedience and and rich social teachings as the perfections of the Manifestos she had imbibed early on prior to establishing The Catholic Worker.

In my own life, my musical pilgrimage has worked in reverse: starting off with Keith Green, Petra, Whiteheart, and Bride, I encountered Pearl Jam as a freshmen in high school and never looked back. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve returned to some of these CDs of my youth, recognizing that in them is a theological zeal decidedly lacking in Pearl Jam, Springsteen, Rush, Broken Social Scene, but that what I’ve been searching for in rock is not theological acumen, but musical zeal. Much as Day saw the perfection of human life as the theological, I have found the perfection of the musical life many times in its retreat from the explicitly theological. This isn’t to say that the antidote to Petra is Taylor Swift, but rather, those artists whose music borders on the ecstatic, yearning for their borders to give way. As I delve into the opening riffs of You Forgot It in People, there is a danger that pulsates through the riffs, as if to say “There is more to rock than I can express in these mere strings”.

And in that acknowledgement from the secular bastions of rockdom, I’d like to think Dorothy would be proud.