To want. To need. To love.
Surely this is what lit up the face of Moses? Want. Need. Love. Awe.
“Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him.” (Exodus 34:29-30)^
When we see the fierce beauty of another’s need shining on a face, it can be hard to look . . . so vulnerable is that face. Really seeing the face of another, looking deep into their eyes and seeing raw emotion is overwhelming. Hundreds of muscles expressing that emotion in the face are literally reflected in our own mirror neurons and shape the very same feelings – and our responses to those feelings – within our own minds and bodies, on our faces. We find it difficult to look carefully or at length at the face of another because we are drawn into their need, their want, their love. This puts us in touch profoundly with our own vulnerability.
Our craving for the face of another to reflect our needs, wants and loves is biologically grounded. It expresses itself culturally in a vast array of ways. Movies, television, and music videos, for instance, appeal to us in part for the way they allow us to look into the faces of others (even if they are actors) and find the world of emotion and connection that we crave. Of course these media also depend on a kind of non-reciprocal distance that does not – cannot – replace our embodied face-to-face encounters. Yet. Yet, they can offer a kind of richness and resonance that hold potential for expanding our immediate and intimate relationships.
Sunday night the 55th annual Grammy Awards will celebrate the popular culture of music, music in all its growing number of manifestations: live performance, recordings, movies, music videos, radio and satellite broadcasts, and streaming over the web. Music in its many forms taps into our deep needs, wants, and loves.
Among this year’s nominees, in an amazing field of talent this year, are The Lumineers (Best New Artist and Best Americana Album). Take a look at their newly released “Stubborn Love” video HERE. It delivers a beautiful portrait of Need. Want. Love. As you watch, notice the multiple layers of story unfolding . . . in the lyrics, inside the car and outside the car. Most of all notice the face of the silent narrator. You can’t miss her face. Surely you can’t miss being moved by the stories she tells with it.
it’s better to feel pain
than nothin’ at all
the opposite of love
If you’ve lived even a little, you know. If you’ve ever seen yearning on the face of another, or want written on a body, you know. But we hide much of this knowing from our most familiar others. Putting on the veil to protect ourselves. To protect those we love from our longing and hope, from other powerful feelings, shielding them like a tender child. Theologian Ed Farley and others say the human face, in both its metaphorical power and actual presence, has the potential to evoke compassionate obligation or murderous rage.*
The Lumineers, Jeremiah Fraites, Wesley Schultz and Neyla Pekarek, know something about the many currents of emotion from rage to compassion, and from grief and loss (Morning Song) to unbridled joy (Ho, Hey). Their first self-published album covers wide-ranging emotional landscapes and story lines. They know something about unveiling the face and letting need and want and love shine through. They have lived a little and it shows.
But when we turn to God, the veil is set aside (I Cor. 3:16)
so pay attention now.
I’m standing on your porch screamin’ out
The sacred says this to us everywhere: “Pay attention! This is my beloved. Listen up!”
so keep your head up
keep your love
As the story in the video unfolds, and the car speeds past the faces and moments of life, scene by scene, slowly the face of this beauteous girl changes. As we see her world from her small clouded window, she is radiantly transfigured from sadness and longing to joy and fulfillment. Like Moses coming face to face with God. Like the disciples coming face to face with Jesus. Like pealing away the veil to see need and want and love. Stubborn love. God’s love.
May we, like those who witnessed the wonder of Jesus – his face shining with want and need and love – also be astounded at the great love of God? May we be transfigured by grace and the beauty of our own deep longing as it comes face to face with the world’s great need? Keep your head up.
^ All scriptural texts for Transfiguration Sunday.
* See Edward Farley, Good and Evil (Augsburg, 1990).