Thursday, January 10, 2019

Christina Grimmie's Great Love is a Sign for Us

Credit to original, in Philippines, 2014
Another Christmas season has been "different" this year, because it has sent us to the Internet to listen to the spectacular voice of Christina Grimmie.

How often I find myself thinking that I know what I'm going to hear, only to listen and get blown away all over again. What character, nuance, power, drive, tenacity, softness, sweetness, and fluidity are in that voice! And what ardor, what soul....

It amazes me, and breaks my heart.

In so many ways, it breaks. my. human. heart. 

It breaks my heart... as someone who hates violence, cares about young people, and mourns over the sheer catastrophe of this senseless murder of a beautiful human being...

As a trained musician of nearly 50 years who follows the ambivalent and too often corrupt trends of popular culture, who remains astounded by this singular musical talent, this unparalleled voice, this powerful creative energy of musical arrangement and composition, with all the immense possibilities for further maturity and development that will never be realized (sometimes the artist in me, inescapably aware of what 'might have been,' wants to bang my head against the wall!!!)...

As a professional scholar and philosopher of communications media who even now scarcely believes that today's barrage of endless fleeting images and words can carry the weight of an authentic human encounter and the serious self-gift of a person (and yet she accomplished this and continues to do so, and I cannot deny it even if the only explanation is that it's a kind of miracle)...

As a father of teenage and young adult children, with a father's heart and hopes, who can only empathize as best I can with the overwhelming sorrow of another father (and now also a widower) who has borne it all with such quiet dignity... And as a fellow Christian who knows that the merciful and saving love of Jesus is not a cheap escape from tragedy and suffering and death but the reality that gives meaning to our own mysterious and awful passage through every darkness.

I am filled with sorrow.

But even within that sorrow there is a light that grows brighter, a great beauty... though it's a kind of "unbearable beauty," at least for our weak human nature.

Recently I saw these words again in another one of Christina's tweets: "I would reach out and hug every one of you." She said things like this so often, and really meant them. What might sound cliché coming from someone else has an ardor and genuineness when she says it.

I do not think she was a naive person. She knew that this kind of unconditional love carried a risk, that this level of openness entailed a readiness for utter vulnerability.

But she lived this openness as a vocation from God, for Jesus and "for His glory." She spent her life to bear witness to the love of Christ: not by being a preacher or a theologian, but by living within her own human circumstances, letting Him suffuse her talents and aspirations and then being a shining light of His love in a secular environment that so often seems hostile to Him.

Her vocation was not cultural criticism, however; it was the living out of a human-yet-transformed existence right in the midst of the contemporary popular music scene. Christina did so many things "just like other people" while somehow being "different" in a way that woke up people's hearts. She didn't do everything perfectly. She made mistakes. But she sought to remain faithful to her relationship with Jesus, and to let His beauty shine through the gestures of her music and her openness to the people given to her through that music.

"I would reach out and hug every one of you," she said to her frands. She was powerful in kindness and gratitude, and the fact that it was all for the glory of Christ did not diminish its specific focus: she loved her frands, the people given to her. She valued them, celebrated them, cherished them, expressed wonder over them, and made sacrifices for them. She didn't always articulate her own deep awareness of the bond between Jesus and the least of His brothers and sisters. She spoke of it from time to time, simply, gently, and discreetly. But it was an awareness that formed her way of seeing everyone and everything.

She followed Jesus in this humble but radical way of loving, and she died on June 10, 2016 "reaching out to hug" someone "with love."

This is a very remarkable fact, and I do not think it is a coincidence.

The God who died on the cross for us calls us to follow Him, but He does not play games with the our lives. As Christina once noted in another tweet, God "allows terrible things to happen" and He wants us to "trust Him" even when we don't understand how He can possibly bring good out of these things. But trust needs something to grab hold of, and so God gives us various kinds of help: His Spirit moves in our hearts, and He leads us to recognize that He is at work in this world. He empowers us to continue on life's path with Him, renewing our confidence in Him and letting us glimpse -- within this life -- many different signs that His love triumphs over evil.

Christina's love "all the way to the end" is a sign, I am convinced. "I won't be diminished, eclipsed, or hidden. You're gonna see my light blaze back to life like the Phoenix rise," she sings in the posthumously released song "Invisible." The Phoenix, for Christians, is a symbol of the Resurrection.

I'm not making any of this up. I'm not even trying with any great effort to notice it. It just keeps striking me over and over, even as I am preoccupied with so many other concerns. It strikes me too when I remember, and will not leave me alone within the boundaries of my own sorrow.

It keeps surprising me, it moves me... and I think the reason is because it's there, it's real, as real as her irreducibly unique face. She is a sign of God's love for us in Christ that is greater than death.

A sign is not an explanation, nor does it necessariy make us feel better. The point of the sign is for us to follow it - and I want to point out that one doesn't have to be a Christian to be struck by it. The concrete sign, accessible to anyone through her music and the images and videos on the Internet, is the gift she has given of herself, which even now becomes vital and personal--gently and over the course of time--to anyone who takes her unique legacy seriously. It is her great love, that "somehow" endures...

The tenderness of this face can speak to any person and we can all let our hearts be drawn by it.