The Lost Art of Lament

Because I’m happy, clap along, if you feel like a room without a roof. Because I’m happy, clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth. Because I’m happy, clap along if you know what happiness is to you… I think that’s enough.


On hearing the words of this pop sensation,

Some of you will already be sighing with relief that I have not attempted to follow Professor Hooker’s example and sing them.

Some of you will automatically hear a tune and picture the video accompanying it.

Some of you - god help us – you may indeed feel like a room without a roof, and your roofless body may be compelling you to, “clap along!”


But what is wrong with someone telling us they are happy?  What’s wrong with insisting that happiness is the primary goal?  What is wrong with ramming it down our throat ad nauseum?  And not just fpr the seemingly interminable duration of the … song.  What’s wrong with ‘happy’ being slapped in our face at the end of the Winter Olympics, after the England vs Denmark football match on Wednesday, and throughout the athletics at the weekend?  What is wrong with Happy being thrust into our faces 24 hours a day – literally, just visit – “the world’s first 24 hours music video.”


On visiting this happy corner of cyberspace, I couldn’t but think back to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.  In particular, the Arch Community Songster of Canterbury, who administers a hypnotic anti-depressant to any members of the world state for whom the mass induced sleep-hypnosis is not keeping them entirely happy.  


Huxley’s predictions for our world seem frighteningly true to life – that we are protected from the discomfort of otherness, that we are not exposed to the savage world out there, beyond who we are, the world that threatens our comforts and securities.  If we are told we are happy, we remain compliant, content with the world as it is – distracted away from the true state of the world, to become puppies chasing the tail of an ideologically modified brand of happiness.


But there is one thing that the strongest ideology, the mightiest military machine, and the most centrifugal economics can never keep at bay.  And that is death.  The death that edges closer to each and every one of us, penetrating our makeshift 24 hours of happy.  The death that is not some theoretical thing that happens out there to other people, but the death that is a reality that reaches into the spirit of our humanity – giving shape to our life, to who we are and what we become.


This term we have looked at different ways in which music reaches into and expresses different dimensions of our humanity.  Jeremy Thurlow looked at the different spaces that music can open up before us, Alvo von Cossell looked at how suffering can be expressed both in music, and by how music is taken from us.  Geoff Page unpacked the relationship between words and musics as means of self-expression.  Morna Hooker highlighted the use of music in the quest for justice, as a means of bringing hope where is none… and then there was Jeff Mackowiak, who presented us with the profundity of heavy metal, as a serious expression of some of humanity’s darker experiences.  Music has the capacity to liberate us from dehumanizing ideologies.


At the heart of the Christian message is the belief that God himself becomes mortal – woundable, killable.  And yes, we know the doctrines of Christianity well enough to know that – but the point of a Requiem service is for us to be exposed to the bitter reality of the world in all its fullness.  If music allows more of who we are to experience more of what there is, then Requiem thrusts us into an experience of the death of God himself, an encounter with the reality highlighted by Lent meditation, and a genuine means of becoming more fully human, more fully ourselves, and more fully attuned to dark, cold, unsympathetic reality of what the universe really is.  Only by entering into genuine darkness, is there any hope of being alert to what Christians claim could happen on the far side of utter finality.  


Chasing happiness is an alternative to the genuine, world-affirming, life-chaning hope that forms the substructure of Lent.