Johnny Cash, Hurt, and a particular falsehood

(Note – this piece will make more sense if you’ve seen the video for ‘Hurt’, by Johnny Cash. It’s linked here.)

I wanted to share this video, ‘Hurt’, and what I felt about it.

There is the simplicity of Cash’s gestures, the honesty; think of how he runs his hand over the piano at the end, as if he wasn’t being filmed.  That looks almost natural, as if the camera has caught a genuine, honest human gesture: the instinct to touch, without thought.

There is the honesty with which Cash sings, attempting to express the anger and vulnerability of the song:

‘I wear this crown of thorns,                                                                                                     upon my liars chair,                                                                                                                   Full of broken thoughts,                                                                                                             I cannot repair.’        (1:48)

There are the images, fragments of film from throughout Cash’s life; concerts, his old home, time spent with his children, and nights spent in prison. There is the life that these images create. For this was a man who suffered, and who made mistakes: through the poverty of his early years, the death of his brother, the break-up of his first marriage, his recurrent battles with drug abuse and finally, the death of his beloved June Carter, months before his own death. This video  succeeds in depicting such a memorable, painful life as Cash’s; it suggests a profound humanity, through the combination of archive footage and the honest, ‘unrehearsed’ performance of the singer. To repeat my earlier point, Cash doesn’t seem to be wearing the mask of a performer here. This all looks real. And perhaps, when you’ve suffered as he had, and you have only a few years left to live, why  waste time performing? Even if such honesty means admitting that you haven’t ‘succeeded’ in life.

Such honesty counters a particular lie; that old age means peace, contentment, and ‘homecoming’, after  life of struggle and success. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes there is little or no success. Sometimes there is regret, doubt, frustration, and grief, and a desire to have it back, all that time, and try and make it right.

‘If I could start again,                                                                                                                A million miles away,
I would keep myself,
I would find away.’             (3:12)

I think that, if I could find it, I would like more art, more performances like this. More honesty.


Dear.. Um…

There is a question that has been running round my head, the last few days, one that is some way beyond my ability to answer.

That question is… When, and why, did the first human beings decide to pray?

Assumptions. By ‘pray’, I mean ‘try and communicate with the divine being or beings, who are clearly ‘distinct’ from the material world: they inhabit some other level of reality. But I could mean ‘experience an awareness of something, some presence or force, that cannot be (easily) attributed to a natural cause.

The only ideas I have at the moment are Rob Bell’s, from his ‘The Gods Aren’t Angry’ speaking tour. Here, Bell makes the argument that we pray and sacrifice to the Gods in order to keep them happy, so that they bless us with food, shelter, victory, and in their anger don’t decide to destroy us. Example: it hasn’t rained, so we sacrifice to the Rain God, so that she will forgive us whatever we’ve done, and make it rain. If it still doesn’t rain, we give more. And more. And more…

(I would highly recommend this lecture, available on Youtube. Bell goes on to describe how the bible’s God upsets this notion of the need for sacrifice. Instead of requiring Abraham to sacrifice his son, he provides a ram in his place. This isn’t a God for whom you have to provide, it’s a God who provides for you….   watch it)


If anyone else has any ideas on this matter, or any literature with which to begin, I would be grateful.



On Needing Forests

There are two ‘forests’ within a metro journey of Paris centre: The Bois de Vincennes and the Bois de Boulogne (Bois means ‘wood’). They are in fact large wooded parks with little clusters of trees, cycle-paths, and artificial lakes, of a kind I took for granted in Surrey. There is sunlight through the trees, there is shade, there are stretches of grass at the centre where you can, if you want, close your eyes and pretend you’re in the wild, somewhere.

And there is quiet – that is, quiet not intruded upon by traffic, by car alarms, by sirens. A silence in which you’re not, at some unconscious level, always aware of the people walking around you or of the car that might swerve onto the pavement. A quiet that lets other things; a dog barking, a parrot (there are a lot of those, escapees, in the Bois de Vincennes), or your own breathing rise gently to your attention.

‘Where can I go from your presence, where can I flee from your presence?’ asks the writer of Psalm 139. Neither in Heaven nor in the grave nor on the wings of the dawn or in the distant sea… But what about here, in the heart of a busy, noisy city? I’d always thought that God lives in silence, and here silence is fleeting, something to be treasured. Where is God at a crowded intersection, on the metro, in a room where you can hear the traffic from dawn until evening?

Or to ask a different question: is quiet; that is, space away from the perpetual hubbub of civilisation; a lake or a forest for example; is this essential to a healthy life, a healthy spirituality?  Do we need to go and find quiet, and space, in order to be alone with ourselves and with God?

I’ll think about this some more. Watch this space for further posts.

(and comments are always appreciated :))