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The Theology of the Body and Music – A Desire for God

I was invited to speak for the Newman Centre at U of T’s Mentorship Series in October on St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. I’ve been leading a faith study on the theology of the body at Newman since 2015, but for this short one hour talk, I did something new for me — I played some of my songs reflecting on themes in the theology of the body.

I process through songwriting — an attempt to stop time with the lyric, and to model the harmony of creation with music — and to orient the desire of the human heart towards a desire for God. This talk includes a couple songs I have yet to record as well.

The Newman Centre uploaded video, and I’ve transcribed the talk below:

Introduction: A Paradigm Shift

How many of you grew up in a Christian home? How many of you would say you had open, honest, healthy dialogue about God’s glorious, stupendous, wonderful, magnificent plan for erotic love? Right.

Most of us, I think, have an experience learning about human sexuality in a kind of “corner’ of our religious though. I think about it through my experience attending curriculum night when my son was in JK a few years ago. He was taking me around the classroom, and he was showing me all the things — all of the stations, he was like, this is the pretend kitchen, this is the blocks thing, we’ve got sand over there, he’s showing me everything — and there’s this one table that he didn’t say anything about, and I said, “What’s that over there?” And it’s got this Ikea leaf over top, and a rock and a candle, and he’s like, “I– I don’t know what that is…” It was the prayer table.

Right, and, that “off in the corner” kind of thing — I mean I think that’s the way in which a lot of people in our society and in our culture think about religion, as some kind of side topic or something. But I mean, I think if you’ve grown up with or grown into the faith then we have an understanding that religion is a kind of ultimate, like, it exists at an ultimate level that kind of explains everything. Yet, human sexuality and our understanding of marriage still usually exists off in a corner, as sort of one area of our thinking. I mean, marriage is a sacrament, it’s one of the sacraments, so there’s some bridge, some connection to our religious thinking, but for John Paul II, his theology of the body — which was a giant Bible study on the theme of human sexuality, of being created in God’s image and likeness, male and female — is a lens for understanding the entire catechism, a lens through which, a perspective through which he understood the whole faith.

I think that makes sense. It makes so much sense to me now. But I didn’t encounter this idea until 11 years ago, when I first really heard the message of the theology of the body. That’s part of the reason that I spent 8 years doing a Master of Theological Studies — I’m done, but technically I don’t graduate for a month, so I don’t know if that means I’m done or not — but that’s why I spent 8 years of school studying theology, that’s why I went to the Theology of the Body Institute three times to take course. I just couldn’t get enough.

My wife and I, a couple years before we were married — this was part of our journey towards marriage — we attended one session on the theology of the body during World Youth Day 2008 in Australia. We were like, okay, we’ll go one night and we’ll kind of learn about this stuff. We went all three nights. And then, Christopher West — one of the more popular presenters of the theology of the body, who makes John Paul II’s dense theology accessible — he was coming to Toronto a year later, and it was like, great, I’ll go to this weekend thing, an intro to the theology of the body, I’ll get my fill and then I’ll be able to move on, and focus on other things, after I know all this stuff. And I left there with a sign-up sheet to go take a week-long course at the Theology of the Body Institute, and I came back from there and went to the Regis College open house, and that’s been my journey over the last 12 years!

I want to share a bit of that paradigm shift, that different way of seeing human sexuality and the human body, that changed my life and changed my faith, and give you a bit of that perspective.

The Theology of the Body has been called the “John Pauline lens for the entire catechism,” and I think that makes sense, because if you go to the catechism, right at the beginning of Chapter 1, it begins, “Man’s Capacity for God,” and the first section is “The Desire for God.” Right at the start of Chapter 1, it says:

The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 27

And then, quoting from the Second Vatican Council, it continues:

The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God. This invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being. For if man exists it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence. He cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his creator.

Gaudium et Spes, 19

And I want to dive deeper into love and into communion, because our experience, being created male and female in the image and likeness of God, isn’t just some corner of our human experience. St. John Paul II saw that as central to the human experience, and insofar as it’s central to our experience of desire, it’s central to our experience of desire for God. Insofar as we long for communion and love, that is an experience placed there in our lives by God as a sign meant to lead us towards Him.

This was a promo video from the Made for More event that Christopher West and Mike Mangione put on all across the world. They were in Toronto back in May. I think it’s a great summary of that John Pauline lens, that perspective that we have been created this way for a reason, and if we think carefully about our human experience, that placed deep within us is that desire — and even human desire, Pope Benedict said, every authentic human desire is ultimately a desire for God.

Orienting Our Desire… (eros)

When we say “love” in English, we use that word in a lot of different ways. Right, we say, “I love pizza. I love my friend. I love my wife. I love philosophy.” We use this word in a lot of different ways. The Greeks, they had four words for love that I’ve found very helpful thinking more carefully about love.

  • storge: a kind of affection, or love of the familiar, the kind of love you feel after spending a lot of time with someone, getting to know them
  • philia: the love of friendship, the kind of shoulder-to-shoulder love of journeying through life together
  • eros: erotic love, romantic love, desire, that desire for union with another
  • agape (or caritas in Latin, “charity”): selfless or altruistic love, willing the good of the other as other, choosing to act in someone else’s best interest, that kind of love — the word most commonly used in the New Testament for love

Benedict says, in his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (caritas / agape), he says that God’s love for us is “totally agape,” but he says it’s also totally eros — that God loves us with eros.

Now, I’ll unpack that a bit in a second, but of those four loves — storge (affection), philia (friendship), eros (desire), and agape (selfless love) — which of those four are not a part of our childhood experience? Eros. Eros isn’t something that we experience as children. Now, of those four loves, which is the most powerfully felt, which pulls on us and tugs on us the strongest in our experience? I think that’s also eros.

As children, it makes sense that our understanding of the faith would not include eros. It would be hard for it to include eros because it would be hard for us to understand a love that we haven’t experienced. But I think as adults, it’s crucial to be able to integrate our experience of eros with our understanding of the faith.

So, Benedict says God’s love for us is agape, but it’s also eros. He says that God loves us with eros. Now, think about what we learn about God’s love in Scripture. Scripture starts with a marriage, it ends with a marriage, right at the centre you have a book of erotic love poetry. All through the Old Testament, one of the most common analogies used is the spousal analogy — God as a lover longing for union with his beloved, the people of God. Christ’s ministry starts at a wedding. His call for us to “love one another as I have loved you,” how did Christ love us? As we see in the New Testament — as we see in the Gospels, as we see from St. Paul — Christ desired union with us so strongly, He gave up his body for his bride, the Church. He laid down His life in order to bring us back into communion with God.

This longing for communion and love, this desire is central to the human experience. It’s central to God’s desire for communion and relationship with us.

I’m trying something new today, by trying to play some of my own songs, because for this Mentorship Series there was an encouragement to bring personal testimony into it. For me, I process this through music. The first song that I think I’m going to play is a song called Anaximander. Anaximander was an ancient Greek pre-Socratic philosopher. He posited that the stars were holes in the firmament through which we could see the fires of heaven. And I thought that was a just a beautiful analogy for the way in which John Paul II understood being created male and female, in the image and likeness of God, as a sign or an icon of a deeper reality of our call to communion — an icon like a window through which we can see something of the mystery of the truth.


Stay where you are, eastward from here.
I will find you, even if it takes years.
I can see you ’til I open my eyes;
There was a time when we stood side by side…

And all the stars aligned as you stepped outside
And I could see for miles into the past.
Who knows which stars still shine?
All we have are signs they’ve left us, their protests against the night

In a garden, at the edge of the town,
Ancient trees know the secrets around.
In your image, the likeness of light;
Anaximander had something right

And all the holes aligned on the firmament’s divide
And I could catch a glimpse into the fire,
To see the other side…
Holes to Heaven guide us through the night;
I’m focused on your eyes

And all the stars aligned as you stepped outside
And I could see for miles into the past.
Who knows which stars still shine?
All we have are signs they’ve left us, their protests against the night

Amidst all these stars, I see what you are…

So, I think that experience of love — that longing and that searching, that ache, that desire for union with another — has been placed there in the human heart to lead us to God. We know how that goes astray in our world, in our culture, this side of the Fall. We know that, so often, we take that desire to the wrong places.

As Benedict says, rather than that desire for union being purified by agape, by willing the good of the other, rather than being fuel to love someone rightly and fully with eros and agape, too often that eros is not connected with agape, is not connected with the good of the other — it goes in the opposite direction.

Christopher West uses an analogy that I find helpful. Let’s use our imaginations. Let’s pretend that I have a piece of paper, and it’s the most glorious, beautiful painting you’ve ever seen. Can I have some ooooo’s? Can I have some aaaahh’s? Okay, our imaginations are functioning. This is human beings, created male and female before the Fall — God’s original plan for human love.

In the Fall, we turn away from God and God’s love, and we turn away from God’s original plan. That piece of paper? It gets crumpled up and twisted. There are three options we have.

Too often, Christians pick up that crumpled piece of paper, and they go, “Ugh,” and chuck it away. “There’s something wrong with that, I want to be far away from that.”

Our culture picks up that crumpled piece of paper, and says, “Yo, check this out, take a look! Look at that! Look at that!” John Paul II says, hey, you’re right not to throw that out, but you’ve gotta untwist it. You have to take that crumpled piece of paper and untwist it. That’s not how it was meant to be. That’s not God’s original plan for human sexuality, that’s not how human beings flourish.

So, we still have the creases in the piece of paper when it’s uncrumpled, but we can see something of that original purpose, of that original intent. John Paul II says that, “the human heart becomes a battlefield” (TOB 32:3) in our journey towards chastity — which just means sexual self-control, which is just about orienting our desires toward our design so that we can reach out heavenly destiny. Too often we fail in that battle, but that battle, it’s about a choice about accepting the help from God to live out our human sexuality as it was meant to be, in a way that leads us towards communion with each other and communion with Him, or not.

… according to Our Design (Genesis)

When Jesus is asked tough or controversial questions about human sexuality — when he’s asked about divorce — He points back to the beginning. He says, “In the Beginning, it was not so.” So, John Paul II follows Him back to the beginning, and he starts the Theology of the Body by looking at our design, God’s original plan for human love, before it’s twisted and distorted by sin.

In the beginning, we see, in Genesis 1, human beings created in the image and likeness of God as male and female (Gen 1:27), and in Genesis 2 that gets unpacked. We see the objective truth in Genesis 1, the kind of statement of fact, but in Genesis 2 we see that played out in the human experience.

John Paul II points back to three original experiences in Genesis 2 — “original” not in the sense of having occurred a long time ago in history, but “original” as in foundational, at the heart of the human experience before it’s twisted and distorted by sin. John Paul II says in the Theology of the Body, “the inheritance of our hearts is deeper than the sinfulness inherited.” (TOB 46:6) We’ve got to go back to the beginning and look back to those original experiences to see how we’re truly meant to live out our human sexuality.

He breaks them down into three experiences.

The first is original solitude. Adam — adam in Hebrew is just “human”, it’s not “male” or “female”, it’s just the first human — he is alone. He experiences the solitude in the beginning. John Paul II says, first we see that in the sense that he’s apart from the other animals, there’s something different about him as a human being, there’s something different about being a human being. It’s the discovery of the original person, a human being who’s called into a special partnership with God, who has a self-awareness and a rationality and a special role in creation. The first human sees himself as apart from the other animals. The second sense of solitude is being without spouse, that we aren’t meant to be alone as human beings, but we’re created for communion, we’re created for relationship.

This being without spouse leads into the second original experience, original unity. After Eve’s creation is where you see the Hebrew ish and ishah, where “male” and “female” enter the picture, and you see that original unity of husband and wife — “Flesh of my flesh, bone of my bones… Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen 2:23) — that ecstasy, that joy, that communion, that union, the marriage and the marital embrace. John Paul II says, yes, we see the image of God in each individual human being — we can see an image of God in each other of us as individuals — but he says, “Man becomes the image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion,” (TOB 9:3) as in that moment when the two become one flesh.

Because, we don’t believe in a solitary God; we believe in a God that is a Trinity, a God that is a relationship of eternal self-giving love. Where do we see that image? We see that image in our human sexuality, being created male and female. Okay, now it’s not that the divine is sexual, but rather it’s that the sexual is divine, in some sense, that our created experience of sexuality — which differs from the Trinity — tells us something about the true meaning of love, of being called to be in relationship with another. If God is love, and God is an eternal exchange of love, between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit — as I think it’s Augustine says, between the lover the beloved and the love in between — where do we see that image in the human experience? It’s in the call of the two to become one flesh, it’s in that experience of original unity.

And then finally, that leads into the experience of original nakedness, where, in their experience of original unity — which is an answer to the original solitude, that two persons are meant to come together as one — that they were naked without shame. (Gen 2:25) John Paul II says, how can we possibly understand this in our experience? He says we can look at our experience, and look at it as a kind of photographic negative, to see what our experience is like to try to rediscover something of the original design.

In our experience of nakedness and shame, we feel a kind of protection that’s necessary from exploitation. We feel a vulnerability and we wonder if the other will receive us rightly. We wonder if the other will fully recognize our dignity. Whereas in our fallen world, there is too often a link and a connection between nakedness and vulnerability and exploitation or objectification — treating someone else’s body as an object when revealed to us — in the beginning, it was not so. He says, if they were naked without shame, there must have been no fear of that exploitation. There must have been a kind of perfect nature or character to that original union, where there was no threat from the other, no need for defence. There was no need for shame. There was safety in nakedness.

John Paul II says that they must have seen each other with, what he calls, “the peace of the interior gaze.” (TOB 13:1) That is, if in our fallen world, the experience is too often seeing the naked human body as an object, the peace of the interior gaze is seeing the naked body as a subject.

The thesis statement of the Theology of the Body is that:

The body, in fact, and only the body, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It has been created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden from eternity in God…

TOB 19:4

… that the body makes visible the person. If I pick on Krishna for a second, if I say, “look at Krishna,” we can only see and relate to Krishna through his body. The body makes visible Krishna’s person. And how much moreso does the whole human body make visible the whole person.

John Paul II says, in the original experience without the fear and threat of sin, the body reveals the whole person. The body was seen not as an object, but as a subject. The peace of the interior gaze is looking at the body and seeing the other person as God sees them, seeing the body as a sign of the person.

The body makes visible these invisible realities. It’s what he calls the spousal meaning of the body, that these original experiences tell us that we are created for relationship.

Think about your body for a second. Think about your belly button. What does your belly button tell you about what it means to be human? Your belly button tells you that you came from somebody else. Go down a few inches and think about your body. What do our bodies tell us here about what it means to be human? Our bodies tell us that we were created for somebody else. A man’s body doesn’t make sense on its own; a woman’s body doesn’t make sense on its own.

That we are created male and female, in the image and likeness of God, tells us that one fundamental thing about what it means to be human is that we’re created for relationship, not just any kind of relationship, but for communion, for mutual self-giving, as John Paul II puts it — for making a sincere gift of self to the other, and receiving back a sincere gift of self in return, this mutual self-gift. That is at the core of what it means to be human. That’s why we read in the Second Vatican Council, in Gaudium et Spes paragraph 24 that:

Man… cannot find himself except for a sincere gift of self.

Gaudium et Spes, 24

That is, something of God’s original plan for human love, the original meaning of the human body, and our ache and longing and experience of human desire is, at its core, a sign meant to lead us towards loving each other rightly, to come into communion with each other, and ultimately, to come into communion with God — the kind of union that God wants to have with us.

This is my attempt to make sense of that.

In the Beginning

Stay a minute, hold me in your arms and I’ll be replenished;
You’ve no idea of the power in your stare.
Stay a minute, you hold my heart inside your hands, you don’t know it;
You’ve no idea of the longing in your absence.

But if our hearts align, barriers at the side, we might realize our worth.

In the beginning, there was nothing that could come in between us;
I had a vision of your body and your soul.
Then, in an instant, you were gone, all I had left was an imprint;
A fragment idea, a desire to be whole.

But if you hearts align, barriers at the side, we might synchronize our worlds.

How can the fire keep burning, if I can’t remember what ignited it in the first place?
Show me forgiveness and learning, let me back into the garden where we lay.
How can the fire keeping burning, if I can’t remember where it started in the first place?
Show me forgiveness and learning, let me back into the garden where we lay.

‘Cause if our hearts collide, barriers at the side, we might realize our worth.

In the beginning, there was nothing that could come in between us;
I had a vision of your body and your soul…

… to reach Our Destiny (Sign)

I find it helpful how Christopher West summarizes the Theology of the Body, saying it’s about orienting our desire according to our design so that we can reach our destiny. That is, taking our experience of human desire, and orienting it according to our design — looking back to God’s original plan for human love — so that we can reach our destiny. That is, our human sexuality is a sign of our heavenly destiny. We turn to the sacrament of marriage, and to the vocation of celibacy, to enter into this mystery.

In every sacrament, we see something of the mystery of God being revealed and made visible. Just like, through the body, the mystery of who we are, created in the image and likeness of God, is made visible, well so too in the sacrament is the invisible made visible, in some way.

He says that the vocations of celibacy for the sake of the kingdom and of marriage “explain or complete each other,” (TOB 78:2) they tell us something about our heavenly destiny. Marriage tells us something about the nature of love, that the call to love is the call to make a sincere gift of self to the other. Celibacy, for the sake of the kingdom — that’s not a rejection of human sexuality because it’s a bad thing, but a reverence for it because it’s a good and holy thing — that tells us something about our heavenly destiny.

On rejection versus reverence, I think it’s helpful to think about Lenten resolutions, and I’ll throw in another helpful Christopher West analogy in there. He says, “I like beer. I don’t like pickles. I’m going to give beer up for Lent, not pickles.” When we give something up in that way, it’s not because we reject it as a bad thing, it’s because we recognize it as a good thing. That’s the approach to celibacy for the sake of the kingdom, that is, in our heavenly destiny, communion ­— the communion of saints, the communion with God — it’s not a sexual communion. Our human sexuality, marriage, is meant to be a sign of that ultimate union and communion, which is a spiritual communion. So, the vocation of celibacy for the kingdom reminds us that marriage is not an idol, it’s not the end goal. Rather, it’s an icon, it’s a window, a window to see through. It’s a sign of our heavenly destiny.

We see this in the sacrament of marriage, especially in Ephesians 5, where St. Paul links the marriage of creation with the marriage of redemption, where St. Paul puts together that “great mystery”, which John Paul II calls the “great sacrament,” that Christ, as bridegroom, gave up His body for His bride, to bring us in communion with God, that He love us so much that He laid down His life for us, to bring us into the marriage of redemption, the heavenly marriage, that union, that communion. I’m going to let Jason Evert explain this one.

Human Love and the Desire for God: The Mystery of the Whole of Human Existence

One of the greatest 8 paragraphs that I’ve ever read in my life is Pope Benedict’s, just a weekly Wednesday audience in November 2012, called, “The Year of Faith. The Desire for God.” In it, he quotes from the catechism, where I started, “the desire for God is written on the human heart,” and he says that, in every authentic human desire, we see that desire for God and that, especially we see that…

… in the experience of human love, an experience that in our age is more easily perceived as a moment of ecstasy, of leaving oneself, like a place in which [we] feels overcome by a desire that surpasses [us]. Through love, a man and a woman experience in a new way, thanks to each other, the greatness and beauty of life and of what is real. If what is experienced is not a mere illusion, if I truly want the good of the other as a means for my own good, then I must be willing not to be self-centred, to place myself at the other’s service, even to the point of self-denial. The answer to the question on the meaning of the experience of love then passes through the purification and healing of the will, required in loving the other. […]

Thus the initial ecstasy becomes a pilgrimage, “an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus towards authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God” (Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, n. 6). Through this journey one will be able to deepen gradually one’s knowledge of that love, initially experienced. And the mystery that it represents will become more and more defined: in fact, not even the beloved is capable of satisfying the desire that dwells in the human heart. In fact, the more authentic one’s love for the other is, the more it reveals the question of its origin and its destiny, of the possibility that it may endure for ever. Therefore, the human experience of love has in itself a dynamism that refers beyond the self, it is the experience of a good that leads to being drawn out and finding oneself before the mystery that encompasses the whole of existence.

Notice, he doesn’t say that the experience of human love gives us a good foundation for marriage prep, or a good dating guide. It’s not just in a corner over there, but rather it brings us before the mystery of the whole of human existence — that, especially that experience of human love, among all other human experiences, brings us, in a special, profound and holy way before that mystery.

I process this through music because I’m a musician, but I think music makes sense in this context. St. Augustine says, “singing is a lover’s thing.” He says, our hearts are restless until they rest in God. That restlessness, that ache, that longing — that’s why so many songs are love songs, because through music and through that search for beauty, we’re ultimately digging into that desire, that desire that’s been placed there in our hearts by God to lead us to Him.

I’m going to try one more song, one last song. I’m going to do something risky, and play a song I’ve never played before — because I finished half of it last night. This is my latest attempt to make sense of all this.

Break Out

I have seen all the animals
And I’ve given each a name,
But I long for someone who sees who I am
And I’ve yet to find one who feels the same.

I have wandered through the city,
And I’ve journeyed through the plains
For the missing piece, the one who calls me by name;
Flesh and bone, we’re not alone, you feel the same…

I will give you all that I am
For just one moment in your land
I was meant to live by your side
Would you be my sister? Would you be my bride?
I will give you all that I can
Won’t you be my light?

I am broken, but I want to be whole;
I am restless inside the ache.
It’s the shape of someone who knows who I am;
It’s the shape I see when I see face to face.

I have named all the negatives,
All those things that weigh me down.
Oh, please tie them up, and send them far away
Sacrifice and die to self and rise again…

I will give you all that I am
For just one moment in your land
I was meant to live by your side
Would you be my sister? Would you be my bride?
I will give you all that I can
Won’t you be my light?

I was meant to live by your side
Would you be my sister? Would you be my bride?
I will give you all that I can
I would give my life

Oh, I am just an aching for you…
Ah, I am just an ache now…
Oh, stretch me ’til I break out…
Oh, I am just an aching for you…
Oh, stretch me ’til I break in two…
Oh, I am just an ache now…
Ah, all of creation too…
Ah, take me to the morning view…
Ah, I can see right into you…

Oh, I am just an ache now…
Ah, stretch me ’til I break out…

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The lyric attempts the impossible – to stop time

One of the sources that has forever shaped my view on songwriting — on lyric writing in particular — is the introduction to the lyric poem in this lecture from University of Toronto English professor, Nick Mount, on Sylvia Plath’s Ariel, published by TVO:

While studying English at the University of Toronto, I unfortunately never took a course with Nick Mount. Mount opens the lecture with a description of the lyric poem that resonates with me and is forever etched in my memory:

When you’re reading a novel, your attention is on the progression of time, the forward movement of the plot through its complication and its resolution. A lyric poem… is less about the progression of time than it is about the attempt to stop time. The lyric tries the impossible. It tries to temporarily stop time, to slow us down in order to allow for a moment of perception — sometimes a moment of confusion, of understanding, sometimes emotional, sometimes intellectual, often a bit of both. For me, that is the main virtue of poetry — and in particular of the lyric poem — its ability to get me to stop and pay attention to life, to everything that I’m rushing by because of time, because of the inevitable tick of the clock. And that is what a lyric poem excels atcapturing the things, the experiences, that we don’t see because they’re there in front of us all the time.

Then, channeling the famous University of Toronto English professor, Northrop Frye, Mount continues:

Frye says that the lyric poem gets written because some normal activity has been blocked, the normal progression of time, and the poet has to write about that block before returning to the world of time.

This is my experience as a songwriter explained by the University of Toronto Department of English. Furthermore, while I have yet to fully wrap my mind around this yet, I think a pair of U of T theology professors have something profound to say about this too.

Fr. Bernard Lonergan from Regis College wrote in Insight about four fundamental forms of bias that can impact our consciousness, the first of which is dramatic bias, which operates at the level of elementary feelings and passions. From Insight (emphasis added):

Just as insight can be desired, so too it can be unwanted. Besides the love of light, there can also be a love of darkness. If prepossessions and prejudices notoriously vitiate theoretical investigations, much more easily can elementary passions bias understanding in practical and personal matters. Nor has such a bias merely some single or isolated effect. To exclude an insight is also to exclude the further questions that would arise from it, and the complementary insights that would carry it towards a rounded and balanced viewpoint. To lack that fuller view results in behaviour that generates misunderstanding both in ourselves and in others. To suffer such incomprehension favours a withdrawal from the outer drama of human living into the inner drama of fantasy. This introversion, which overcomes the extroversion native to the biological pattern of experience, generates a differentiation of the persona that appears before others and the more intimate ego that in the daydream is at once the main actor and the sole spectator. Finally, the incomprehension, isolation, and duality rob the development of one’s common sense of some part, greater or less, of the corrections and assurances that result from learning accurately the tested insights of others and from submitting one’s own insights to the criticism based on others’ experience and development.

Bernard Lonergan, Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, p. 191.

Biases are the kinds of things that emerge and prevent authentic insight, and dramatic bias in particular has to do with that level of passion and feeling in one’s own psyche. These are barriers, but the sort of thing that when not ignored but worked out, can lead to insight. Furthermore, dramatic bias is dialectical, as there’s some tension between two competing things that needs to be worked out is dialogue.

As one of my Regis College professors, John Dadosky, once put it in a lecture: “Once a bias is removed, then you can get on with the business of authentic living with that area of life in which you were stuck.” This comment is what sparked the connection for me and reminded me of Nick Mount’s comments on the lyric poem, calling to mind Northrop Frye’s notion that the normal progression of time has been blocked and you are stuck and cannot return to the normal world of time until — or unless — you work out the block with the lyric poem. What is a lyric poem but that dialectical attempt to resolve the bias, to resolve to block – to get unstuck?

Lonergan, in his transcendental precepts, describes the method through which any individual transcends himself or herself to live in reality:

  1. be attentive to experience;
  2. be intelligent in understanding;
  3. be reasonable in judgment;
  4. be responsible in decision-making;
  5. be in love with God, self and neighbour.

A good artist – a good lyricist – is attentive to human experience, as a prerequisite for being intelligent in our understanding of the human experience (and, thus, a prerequisite of being reasonable, responsible and in love). Insofar as art is good, insofar as it is attentive to our lived experience and it authentically expresses that, it is the raw material for reflection that can lead to intelligent understanding of the human experience.

Is the lyric poem not a dialectical attempt at being attentive to the experience of dramatic bias? To be attentive to that experience that stops the normal progression of time and removes us from the world, so that we can work through that experience and return to the world — unstuck — with the bias removed through a dialectical engagement with the blockage?

For the lyricist, the world of time has stopped — the dramatic bias “blocks… the normal progression of time” — and the lyricist experiences a “withdrawal from the outer drama of human living into the inner drama of fantasy.” That dramatic bias is worked out in a dialogue between fantasy and reality through the lyric, so that the lyricist can “return to the world of time” and “get on with the business of authentic living.”

For the listener or reader, lyrics that are truly attentive to experience cause us to “stop and pay attention to life,” to “slow us down in order to allow for a moment of perception” — a mix of confusion and understanding, of emotion and intellect — in order to draw our attention to the dramatic biases in our own lives, the “experiences that we don’t see because they’re there in front of us all the time,” so that the listener themselves can, through engaging with the lyric, work out a similar block or dramatic bias in their own life and return to the normal progression of time (whether or not the lyricist is similarly successful).

I feel like I have a lot more work to do to wrap my mind properly around what Lonergan is saying and how this relates to lyric poetry, but… is that not what a lyric poem does? Is that not the experience and the role of a songwriter? Is that not what lyrics are for you?

That’s what lyrics are for me.

Canvases is a song about the normal progression of time being blocked and the need to “paint all of these unknown voices” before returning to the world of time — written four years before I heard Nick Mount’s lecture, while I was attentive to my own experience but before I understood it in the way I do now.

Thank you, Nick Mount, Northrop Frye, John Dadosky and Bernard Lonergan, for furthering my understanding of my own lyric poetry and experience as a music lover.

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Interview on Music Manumit Podcast

Thanks to Tom and Doug for inviting me to chat on the Music Manumit podcast this past weekend! You can listen to our discussion here about being creative about the career and business side of being a musician.

Music Manumit

mp3 audio | ogg vorbis | stream | torrent

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Four videos I wish mass music didn’t remind me of, but often does…

Ever since I’ve come to appreciate the beauty of liturgical music, I can’t help but cringe a little when, all too often, the music at mass instead resembles one of these videos.

1. The “Misplaced Enthusiasm”

I appreciate the enthusiasm. I do. But there’s a time and a place. As much as we may think that’s during the recessional, it’s really not.

True story: Once, for the recessional, a cantor tried to get the congregation to clap along. On 1 and 3. To “This is the Day That the Lord Has Made.” All I could think of was this video. I just about lost it.

2. Look at me! / Which one of these instruments does not belong…

In a liturgical setting, not every genre/instrument… fits. The goal of liturgical music is to create the right atmosphere, not so much to… stand out and be noticed.

3. The Wannabe Rock Star

I know you want to be a rock star. I get it. It’s just… mass probably isn’t the best place to kick start your career. Even though you’re trying really hard.

4. Behold the Wood of the Cross / Gilligan’s Island

Sometimes, a song is just such a blatant import of something straight from popular culture. For example, I can’t listen to the verses in “Behold the Wood of the Cross” without thinking of the Gilligan’s Island theme song.

Unless a grain of wheat shall fall
Upon the ground and die
It shall remain but a single grain…
Here on Gilligan’s Island!


Anyone with experience knows this is not an exhaustive list. For those who can relate… any tips for coping?

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Amhrán Mhuínse

I fell in love with this song 10 years ago in Ireland (a different but similar recording): Amhrán Mhuínse (The Song of Muínis)

I fell in love with the music — I never understood the lyrics. By chance, I scrolled past it in a playlist today, and it spoke to my heart, so I put it on repeat and decided to spend some time searching for an English translation.

*hand to heart*

If I were three leagues out at sea or on mountains far from home,
Without any living thing near me but the green fern and the heather,
The snow being blown down on me, and the wind snatching it off again,
And I were to be talking to my fair Taimín and I would not find the night long.

Dear Virgin Mary, what will I do, this winter is coming on cold.
And, dear Virgin Mary, what will this house do and all that are in it?
Wasn’t it young, my darling, that you went, during a grand time,
At a time when the cuckoo was playing a tune and every green leaf was growing?

If I have my children home with me the night that I will die,
They will wake me in mighty style three nights and three days;
There will be fine clay pipes and kegs that are full,
And there will be three mountainy women to keen me when I’m laid out.

And cut my coffin out for me, from the choicest brightest boards;
And if Seán Hynes is in Muínis, let it be made by his hand.
Let my cap and my ribbon be inside in it, and be placed stylishly on my head,
And Big Paudeen will take me to Muínis for rough will be the day.

And as I go west by Inse Ghainimh, let the flag be on the mast.
Oh, do not bury me in Leitir Calaidh, for it’s not where my people are,
But bring me west to Muínis, to the place where I will be mourned aloud;
The lights will be on the dunes, and I will not be lonely there.

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Video: Accelerate by Alanna J Brown

A few weeks ago, I stood in with one of my absolute favourite Toronto artists, Alanna J Brown, in a music video for her song, Accelerate, the first single off her upcoming album. The video was conveniently shot in the same building in which I work… command line by day, mask-wearing bassist by night!

Accelerate – Alanna J Brown from Alanna J Brown on Vimeo.

I’m playing with Alanna next week, on the U of T campus.

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The Songwriters Association of Canada Wants To Embrace File Sharing, But Does It Have the Right Approach?

This post originally appeared on Techdirt.

in 2007, the Songwriters Association of Canada gained some international headlines with a proposal to legalize non-commercial peer-to-peer file sharing through an ISP levy. This sort of proposal wasn’t new, but had not been so prominently put forth by an artist organization before. There were serious problems with the proposal, but it stimulated a healthy debate and it started from many correct premises — that file sharing should be embraced, that digital locks and lawsuits were not a way forward, etc. But it was a non-voluntary, “you’re a criminal” tax that could open the floodgates for other industries to demand similar levies.

I was a member of the Songwriters Association of Canada from 2007-2011, and I had the opportunity to express my concerns about the proposal to many people involved. Last year, I attended a session with an update on the proposal, and was surprised how much it had changed. The proposal had dropped the legislative angle in favor of a business to business approach, with an actual opt-out option for both creators and customers of participating ISPs. Unlike groups behind other licensing proposals, the SAC has actually been responsive to many concerns, and unlike other artist groups, the SAC takes a decidedly positive view on sharing music and the opportunities technology provides to creators. This attitude comes through in the proposal:

Rather than a legislative approach to the monetization of music file-sharing as we originally envisioned, the S.A.C. is now focused on a “business to business” model that requires no new legislation be enacted in Canada.

Our basic belief however remains the same: Music file-sharing is a vibrant, open, global distribution system for music of all kinds, and presents a tremendous opportunity to both creators and rights-holders. […]

People have always shared music and always will. The music we share defines who we are, and who our friends and peers are. The importance of music in the fabric of our own culture, as well as those around the world, is inextricably bound to the experience of sharing. [emphasis changed]

As the copyright debate heats up again in Canada in light of SOPA and new pressures on pending legislation, this positive attitude towards peer-to-peer file sharing was expressed again in a recent TorrentFreak interview with the SAC VP, Jean-Robert Bisaillon:

We think the practice [of file-sharing] is great and unstoppable. This is why we want to establish a regime that allows everyone to keep on doing it without stigmatizing the public and, instead, find a way for artists and rights holders to be fairly compensated for the music files that are being shared. […]

Other positive aspects include being able to find music that is not available in the commercial realm offer, finding a higher quality of digital files, being able to afford music even if you are poor and being able to discover new artists or recommend them to friends. […]

Music is much better off with the Web. The internet network allows for musical discovery despite distance and time of the day. It has sparked collaborations between musicians unimaginable before. It has helped artists to book international tours without expensive long-distances charges and postal delays we knew before. [emphasis added]

However, significant problems remain with the proposal. For example, the original criticism still stands as to how this would scale for other industries — what about book publishers, newspapers, movie studies, video game manufacturers and other industries that are also crying foul about “piracy”? The SAC dismisses other cultural industries pretty quickly, as if only the music industry is concerned about unauthorized copying. And, just like private copying levies have suffered from scope creep, as people no longer buy blank audio cassettes or CDs, or short-sightedness, as technology changes rapidly, it’s not clear how the SAC model would adapt to growing wireless and mobile computing or more distributed file sharing. Many more questions remain: Would small, independent artists, who are not charting through traditional means, get fair treatment? Is it wise to largely rely on a single, proprietary vendor, Big Champagne, for tracking all distribution? Would consumers be paying multiple times for music? What does it mean to “self-declare not to music file-share” in order to opt-out?

But the central problem with the proposal is the SAC’s copyright crutch. Jean-Robert Bisaillon says things like,

The Internet has dramatically increased the private non-commercial sharing of music, which we support. All that is missing a means to compensate music creators for this massive use of their work. [emphasis added]

And the proposal says things like,

Once a fair and reasonable monetization system is in place, all stakeholders including consumers and Internet service providers will benefit substantially. [emphasis added]

The SAC seems obsessed with a “monetization system,” when the truth is there is no one model, no magic bullet. Rather, the the sky is rising and the path to success involves all sorts of different models and creative approaches, most of which don’t depend on copyright or worrying about getting paid for every use. Even a voluntary license plan is still a bad idea. The means to compensate music creators isn’t missing, it’s just increasingly found outside of copyright.

Still, it’s important for the SAC’s voice to be heard as the copyright debate heats up again in Canada. As a creator group offering a positive take on peer-to-peer file sharing, and denouncing an “adversarial relationship” between creators and fans, they offer an important counterpoint to the SOPA-style provisions being pushed by Canadian record industry groups. I would take the SAC’s constructive and responsive approach over record industry astroturfing and fear mongering any day.

Read the comments on Techdirt.

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Engagement Video

This is a really rough edit, but a really special moment: some video of the proposal 16 months ago.

T-minus 17.5 hours until marriage

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Dave Borins at the Mariposa Folk Festival this summer

I’ve been playing violin with Dave Borins for two years now, and it’s been a blast. This April, we played an audition in Orillia, and secured ourselves a spot in the Mariposa Folk Festival this summer. Now that some of the audition videos are available online, I thought I’d share ours in anticipation of our upcoming showcase.

(We’ve got some other good videos on YouTube too.)

Details on the July 11th showcase are available on the the events calendar I’ve been hacking together recently, and the full Mariposa schedule has details on the other folk goodness happening throughout that weekend.

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New Canadian Copyright Bill C-32: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, And What To Do About It

As expected, the Canadian government tabled a new copyright bill today. Despite the consultation last summer, rumour has it that Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore and Industry Minister Tony Clement—the two cabinet ministers responsible for copyright (who seemed to understand the new opportunities technology presents)—couldn’t come to an agreement, and the Prime Minister’s Office sided with Moore’s more hard-line approach. Yet, it appears Clement’s influence was not lost. The proposed legislation, Bill C-32, actually contains many good provisions… but strict digital lock restrictions threaten to undo them all.

Fair Dealing—There’s An Exception For That

The current Canadian concept of fair dealing is more limited that the American doctrine of fair use. The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that it should be interpreted broadly, but present law restricts fair dealing to just five categories—research, private study, criticism, news reporting, and review. NDP Member of Parliament Charlie Angus had tabled a private member’s bill to introduce flexible fair dealing back in March, but with Moore’s vision winning out over Clement’s, Bill C-32 rejects flexible fair dealing.

But, it does contain a host of new exceptions for parody and satire, education, time shifting, formating shifting, and backup copies. There’s even a new “Non-Commercial User-generated Content” exception (29.21), which would legalize mashups and remixes under certain circumstances.

While the litany of exceptions fails to introduce real flexibility into the law for new innovations, Michael Geist—leading critic of the last, failed copyright bill—still describes this as “a pretty good compromise.” There are those who strongly oppose the uncertainty that comes with flexibility, so maybe the “there’s an exception for that” approach is the best we can hope for right now.

Though not perfect, it’s still a positive development, and definitely an improvement on the past.

Other Good Compromises

Geist notes two other good compromises. As with the last two copyright bills, C-32 would implement a notice-and-notice system for Internet Service Providers to handle copyright infringement allegations, rather than the guilty-until-proven-innocent American notice-and-takedown system, or the insanely disproportionate three-accusations-and-you’re-kicked-off-the-internet approach. Also, a change to the statutory damages provision would finally distinguish between large scale counterfeiting and non-commercial infringement, limiting the latter between $100-$5000 instead of the current $20,000 maximum. While $5000 per infringement is still pretty ridiculous, cutting the maximum down by 75% for non-commercial infringement would be a positive development.

The Downright Terrible: Digital Lock Provisions Undo The Exceptions

The huge loophole in this bill is the approach to anti-circumvention provisions, which would make it illegal to break a digital lock even if what you are doing is otherwise non-infringing. It’s important to understand how this massively undermines any good which might come from additional fair dealing exceptions: if there’s a digital lock, the exceptions are meaningless. Bill C-32’s rigid digital lock provisions undo the exceptions.

  • Want to make a backup copy? There’s an exception for that… unless there’s a digital lock!
  • Want to transfer songs to your iPod? There’s an exception for that… unless there’s a digital lock!
  • Want to make use of copyrighted content in the classroom? There’s an exception for that… unless there’s a digital lock!
  • Want to remix Louis Armstrong with death metal? There’s an exception for that… unless there’s a digital lock!

This has to change. More importantly, it doesn’t have to be this way. Submissions to last summer’s consultation were overwhelmingly opposed to this approach. Other countries have met their international obligations with anti-circumvention provisions that are actually linked to copyright infringement (e.g. New Zealand‘s passed law, India‘s proposed law). With a flexible anti-circumvention provision, the exceptions would apply to digital locks too.

Why should companies be able to rewrite copyright law and trump exceptions simply because they slap a digital lock onto something? If there’s a backup exception, there should be a backup exception. If there’s allowance for parody and satire, no digital lock should be able to take that away. And what’s the use of a format shifting exception if digital locks will force you to repurchase your content to stay legal anyways?

Canada needs to have a flexible anti-circumvention approach that is actually linked to infringement, or none of the compromises in this bill even matter.

Other Nasty Things

There’s an inducement clause (27 (2.3)) which would make it illegal to provide a service online “that a person knows or should have known is designed primarily to enable acts of copyright infringement.” Would the Internet-equivalent of a VCR pass that test? What about BitTorrent? Both technologies can be used to enable acts of copyright infringement, but they also have legitimate uses. How the “primary use” is determined could have significant implications here.

The time shifting provision (29.23) warrants further review, as it contains a variety of conditions under which you can record a program for later viewing. For example, the bill would require that you “keep the recording no longer than is reasonably necessary in order to listen to or view the program at a more convenient time”—seemingly, a requirement to get rid of recordings once you’ve listened to/watched them.

Also, library provisions allowing for distribution are subject to digital locks, and contain a requirement for copies to be destroyed within five days.

There are lots of details like this in this bill that require further study, and most likely revision.

The Strategy: Let’s Make Some Noise

The Conservatives are seeking support on this bill from the Liberals. Liberal Industry critic, MP Marc Garneau, is keen to work with the government to introduce a new law, and is open to the possibility of summer hearings to get it passed. But Clement told the CBC, “I’m not coming down from the mountain with this chiselled in stone… we could seek some consensus and there could be some positive amendments to this bill.”

When I met with my MP, Liberal Joe Volpe, over Bill C-61 in the summer of 2008, his main question to me was whether to scrap the bill or to fix it. Critically, We must let our MPs know—especially the Liberals—which compromises are acceptable, and which undermine the entire copyright bargain. Flexible fair dealing would have been better than a litany of exceptions, but that compromise could work. However, allowing digital locks to undo those exceptions is simply unacceptable.


Politics is the art of the possible, a complex art of balance between ideals and interests. This bill isn’t perfect, but there is a push from both sides of the floor to get it passed. There are a lot of good compromises, but whether or not the bad provisions get fixed could have huge implications on Canadian culture, technology and business in the years to come. Make your voice heard.

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