I surprised a few folks recently by confessing Bruce Springsteen as one of my favorite theologians. Maybe it’s because I’m an honorary Jersey Girl. (Fourteen years in the Garden State qualifies me, I think.) Or maybe it’s because I find the dull tone of most theology to be at odds with the wild God I know from Scripture and experience in my life.
Seeking some post-Easter inspiration, I recently finished Springsteen’s autobiography Born to Run. The faith he talks about is one I recognize – “a land of great and harsh beauty…(where) there are souls to lose and a kingdom of love to be gained” (p. 17). Pondering a dear friend’s death, he notes, “there is no evidence of the soul except its sudden absence. A nothingness enters, taking the place where something was before” (p. 473). Whether or not all his insights fit neatly into the same puzzle, they ring true to me.
His language for death reflects a deep love and gratitude for life. As he reflects on his travels and tours, his albums and collaborations, I found myself thinking about all that goes into a life’s work – the courage it takes to leave home as well as to stay, the necessity of finding the right partners, the willingness to seek new influences and share your gifts – no matter how scary that might be. When we all have limited time to make our mark and be heard, how do we take our responsibilities seriously without taking ourselves too seriously in the process? At least in hindsight, he’s able to thread that needle pretty deftly.
Perhaps the heaviest lifting is saved for his reflection on his relationship with his parents. He writes with raw honesty and grace about them. By book’s end, he’s able to say: “We honor our parents by not accepting as the final equation the most troubling characteristics of our relationship” (p. 503). We can’t write new endings to our stories with them, because they never truly end.
In a voice that sounds like Easter, he concludes: “Slowly, a new story emerges from the old, of differently realized lives, building upon the rough experience of those who’ve come before and stepping over the battle-worn carcasses of the past. On a good day this is how we live. This is love. This is what life is. The possibility of finding root, safety and nurturing in a new season” (p. 504).
I’ll close with a portion of one of my favorite songs of his, “The Rising.” It was written in the wake of 9/11 from the perspective of one of the emergency workers walking into the fire toward an almost certain death. The Easter dream of life that comes to him in his final moments looks like this…
Sky of blackness and sorrow
Sky of love, sky of tears
Sky of glory and sadness
Sky of mercy, sky of fear
Sky of memory and shadow
Your burning wind fills my arms tonight
Sky of longing and emptiness
Sky of fullness, sky of blessed life
Come on up for the rising
Come on up lay your hands in mine
Come on up for the rising
Come on up for the rising tonight