The day the music died
Something touched me deep inside,
The day the music died.
So, bye, bye miss American pie
So go some of the lyrics of Don MacLean’s America Pie.
Written in the early seventies. In fact, it topped the charts 50 years ago in January 1972, it was one of those classic songs that kind of always stays with you.
The day the music died referred to the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper.
The song was a lament about the end of early rock and roll, but also a lament about end of the innocence and optimism of the post-war fifties to be replaced by the disillusionment and turmoil of the sixties.
There are so many references and allusions in the song that it beggars description.
The courtroom was adjourned with no verdict references the assassination of President Kennedy and the subsequent inquest.
There are references to various sixties Musical groups, to the Manson murders, to sock hops, to hellish drug culture leaving people in a Satanic spell as the flames grew higher.
The very name American Pie is from the quote. American as apple pie.
Maclean ends the song with these words: And the three men, I admire most, the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost. They took the last train for the coast, the day the music died.
He even references the death of God movement, and laments a movement away from religion and faith.
It was one of the first songs I learned on the guitar and later to play on the piano.
I think the song has something to say to today, but first I think there is a universal theme.
We all have days when the music dies.
We all experience loss. We all experience pain. We all experience woundedness to various degrees. Some much more than others to be granted, but none of us goes through life with hurt, pain or wounds.
And for some there are days when the music literally dies. When they are at a loss for words… When grief feels like it is going to kill you, or when pain is so deep.. they dying seems like a viable option…
There are days it even seems like God is gone, or God is dead for the faithful.
In a famous sermon by the late Rev William Sloane Coffin Junior which he preached after his son was killed in a car accident, he said: the first thing you think or feel after your child is killed is this: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”
It is what Jesus cried on the cross, and it is another version of “the three men I admire most, the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost. They took the last train for the coast, the day the music died.”
I don’t know about you, whether you have had a day when the music died. When life seemed over, when you think God has abandoned you.
A woman many years ago on the street where I lived committed suicide after the death of a child.
I know of woman who went catatonic for several days after learning of the suicide of her adult son.
I know losing a partner can be like losing a part of you very soul.
On an episode of James’ Herriot’s “All creatures great and small” He talks about the death of a client after the old man had to have his elderly dog put to sleep. The grief was so bad that he died.
There are job losses, there is financial ruin. There are those who flee war or famine or economic poverty. There are countless numbers, especially of women who have been sexually abused or harassed.
There are countless numbers who have had emotionally or physically absent parents, especially fathers, or countless other who have had emotional abuse from a family member who was supposed to have cared for them.
The list goes on and on.
Where have you been wounded, physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually?
Did it feel like the music died? Did if feel like God took the last train for the coast?
Did it feel like Satan was laughing with delight, the day music died?
You know the day the music died is in the bible too. Psalm 137 talks about Jews who was slaves and captives in the city/nation of Babylon who sat by the rivers of Babylon and cried when they remembered their life in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem was surrounded, captured and destroyed. Many were starved to death during the siege. After the capture, the elite of Jerusalem, some 40,000 were taken as slaves to Babylon, countless numbers were killed or executed.
Jerusalem was destroyed, literally. The Babylonians tore down every building and turned everything into rubble, to supposedly teach a lesson not to oppose them.
It was not the holocaust of the Nazis, but an earlier form.
And then as captives in Jerusalem, the captors would say to the Jewish musicians. “Sing us one of the lovely songs of your homeland.”
And their feeling was” How can we sing since the day the music died?”
I had a day the music died experience when I was a much younger minister. I have talked about it before when a series of complaints were laid before me and presbytery about me, by those wanting rid of me as a minister.
I was devastated and totally hurt and wounded. I experienced a kind of death as a minister. I couldn’t sleep. I gained a lot of weight. My mind couldn’t rest but thinking about the crisis.
It was awful. I felt betrayed, by friends, by the church, and even for a brief time, by God.
What happens when you are terribly wounded, deeply hurt and feel abandoned by God.
A couple of things. One reaction is to fight. To get angry at pretty much anything and take out your pain on others.
Wounded people tend to cause wounds in others.
Listen to the end of Psalm 137.
8 O daughter Babylon, you devastator!
Happy shall they be who pay you back
what you have done to us!
9 Happy shall they be who take your little ones
and dash them against the rock!
That is a pretty natural reaction to those who hurt you…to want to see them hurt.
Another reaction instead of fight is flight.
That is to run away from the pain as fast as you can. Some deny it. Some lie about it. Some hide it. Some bury it deep. Some withdraw from others, and some withdraw from life, or normal life. Some go into deep depression.
And while both of these reactions are normal and even at times necessary in the short run for survival, they are not good long-term strategies.
In counselling I learned one method of looking at one’s life is to try and break the self down into parts.
For instance, Harry is not just Harry. There is wounded Harry, there is angry Harry, there is frustrated Harry, there is Harry the parent, Harry the minister, Harry the spouse, harry the theologian, Harry the universal lover, Creative Harry, Happy Harry…and so on…
You have your own version of your parts.
And part of counseling is to look at the various parts, which is all you, and bring healing to certain parts, to let some parts shrink a bit and other parts grow.
Eckart Tolle a spiritual kind of guru in his book “The New Earth,” talks about what he calls the pain-body. What he says can happen to some people is that they take all the painful events of their life and weave them together into a big story that dominates their life and usually makes them miserable and unhappy, because they don’t really want to be healed, they want to use all the negative energy of their pain to fuel their existence. The wounded part of them grows and grows beyond all proportion.
And I think we see examples of this all the time, I sometimes wonder if those who commit mass shootings knowing they will die have wounded selves and stories beyond all proportion.
I do know this: A lot of wounded people will wound others.
So how does one deal with one’s wounded self. How does one heal from the day the music died? How does one let one’s wounded self shrink, in helpful lifegiving ways?
First of all, I would tell you that it is okay to be you. It is okay to feel what you feel, if that’s anger, frustration, denial, grief. It is okay with to be angry, to swear, to run away for a time, to react in whatever way you feel like reacting, with the provision that you are in a safe space, with people who are safe for you.
(Not okay to hurt others in the process.)
And if you want to vent at God, get angry at God, swear at God, whatever, that’s okay too. God understands. God lost his own son. God knows grief. And God who is infinite love and grace, can take it. God is not offended, but wants you to voice your deepest pain, in whatever way it is helpful for you to get it out.
Secondly, I would say that when you are walking the road of the music has died, it helps not to walk it alone.
It is okay and good to find help. Good friends, trusted family members, a good minister, counselor, spiritual guide or other helping professional can be huge.
For me, one of those who walked the road with me was Jesus.
Jesus who walked that road to the cross and beyond, was an important part of my healing journey.
I have to say that my understanding of God and Jesus changed after the day the music died.
I began to see that God was not the cause of my pain, nor even could God have kept pain from me, instead I found that God lived where there was pain.
William Sloane Coffin Jr, in his sermon about his son’s death said that the hardest comments to face were from parishioners who made comments alluding to the fact that his son’s death was God’s will, and it is hard to accept God’s will. Rev. Coffin said that God did not will the death of his son, but conversely, the first one to cry when his son’s car rolled into the water was God.
After Jesus died, there were a couple of Jesus disciples walking on the road to Emmaus. I like to think that one of them was a woman, that maybe the couple was a married couple. I think we often just assume it was two men.
And the resurrected Jesus came and walked beside them.
They were despondent. They thought the music had died when Jesus died, that their hopes for Israel to be redeemed and saved were gone.
And Jesus walked beside them and comforted them.
Jesus became my friend and companion when the music died, because he too experienced it and cried: My God, my God why have you forsaken me.
I used to just sit and imagine God or Jesus holding me, loving me, because to God I was of infinite worth.
You too are of infinite worth. When you are in pain sometimes it helps to remember that God does not and maybe cannot prevent all pain, instead God is the loving presence in the midst of your pain, reminding you, loving you because you, to God, are of infinite worth.
The other thing I learned is that it is okay to die. When you experience a terrible wound or loss, a part of you dies.
Sometimes that is an innocence about the world. Sometimes it a relationship that is forever changed. Sometimes it is your understanding of God or life. Sometimes you have to physically move to a new place and you will never return.
Sometimes you lose someone you will never physically see again.
This is a part of life. A painful part of life to be sure, but a part of life. And coming to acceptance of that dying can be a good thing, because that is often the beginning of new life.
When Jesus walked beside those friends on the Emmaus Road, he told them that the Saviour had to die. Why did Jesus have to die?
Jesus died to show them that nothing could stop him from loving, not even death itself. On that cross he yelled “Father forgive them.”
Forgiveness and love are not a natural reaction to hurt and pain, especially when the music dies.
But forgiveness and love are a choice we have when the music dies. We can choose what Jesus chose. To choose to be resurrected, to begin new life; and to choose to forgive, and to choose to love.
That is why I think one has to die sometimes. Because it feels like a totally new way of living to choose in every situation to be loving and forgiving.
It is hard work and a life-long process of making a choice for new life.
I know that Kelly Clarkson sang a riff on Frederick Nietzsche’s quote, with her song “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
But I sometimes wonder if it is even deeper than that.
What kills you makes you stronger.
Many years ago, when the music stopped for me in that church, I died as a minister.
But with the help of friends and the help of professionals and the help of family and with walking with Jesus as a friend…
I was resurrected to new life as a minister. I think I became not only a better minister, but a better parent, a better spouse a better person.
In particular I got into family systems theory of counselling and applied it to me life, and understand it as a dynamic for the church, and it helped with the healing process.
Yes, I still have wounded Harry, but wounded Harry is a different wounded Harry.
In the Isaiah suffering servant passage of chapter 53, where most Christians understand this as a prophecy about Jesus, we hear the words:
4 Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
There is this idea that by Jesus suffering, Jesus heals us, saves us, redeems us, forgives us.
I don’t understand the mechanism behind this. The mystery of our salvation, our atonement, our redemption to use big theological words is a little bit beyond our comprehension.
But suffice it to say Jesus died and rose again not for us to avoid pain, suffering, sin and guilt…
but to show us a way through it by dying to an old self and rising again to a new self.
And what I think marks a truly new self in the image of Jesus, it to let your pain, your wounds, become healing for others.
The day the music dies by definition is the worst day of your life, a day that you might feel that God has forsaken you.
But with time, and with friends and reconnecting to God, eventually you will be in a position to choose your reaction to the day the music died.
I am here to tell you that with God’s help, like Jesus, you too can choose compassion, choose to heal, choose to forgive and choose to love.