Secular spirituality: two songs that helped me contextualize my doubt

Ever since I ran into the concept of “secular liturgies” (Rock and Theology has a great series exploring this concept), I’ve been noticing that human beings are liturgical beings. No matter what our religious or non-religious preferences are, we still use liturgical means to express something bigger than our individual selves – music, visual art, ceremonies, recitation of commonly-held values, a lecture or a show where we gather together to try to understand, or marvel at the mystery of an aspect of human existence, and so on.

The thing that has drawn me to literature and music is the way in which they contextualize the human condition. There are two songs that have helped me contextualize my religious doubts – Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and Hozier’s Take Me to Church. Both of them use explicit religious language and imagery to simultaneously question the existence of God and to find spiritual meaning in humanity, specifically the very human act of sex. During my doubting of religion and God, I’ve worried about losing spirituality. But, as these (and many other) songs indicate, there is something spiritual in being a part of this thing called humanity.

I think we too often think of things that are human as material, and non-material things as spiritual. But, to be a member of this thing called humanity is to share in its commonalities – love, loss, friendship, death, the unknown future. There’s something spiritual about that. And, while Christian liturgy has a tendency toward offering a freedom from our humanity, secular liturgy offers us a freedom to be human. I think both have a place, but at the end of the day, we will not cease to be human – and the suppression of human expression within much of Christianity goes directly against humanity as a whole. Both of these songs highlight the spiritual aspect of one of the most human acts – sex. Sex is the very creation of life – how can it not have spiritual value? And, this is the most despised aspect of humanity within a large portion of Christianity, and has been since its beginning. Through these songs I realized that I’m not rejecting the spiritual, but embracing the human.

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