A Springsteen Spirituality

As a capstone to the vacation I took this past week, I got to see Bruce Springsteen in concert.  This was not my first Springsteen concert, and I’m hoping it won’t be my last.  It was an incredible rock concert.  I understand why people go back year after year after year.  And you know what is unquestionable in my mind: Springsteen fosters spirituality.

I came to this realization looking around at the crowd. Thousands of people, their arms outstretched, their eyes looking upward and toward the stage, singing out lyrics like “Come on up for the rising…” Since when do we have a crowd of people join together in song except in concerts and worship experiences? I was moved, and it was clear others were too.

The spiritual moment is not simply serendipitous; Springsteen ushers it along. Watching him perform on the stage, what he does to conjure up this feeling of collective effervescence is purposeful. Throughout the concert he made references to to it being a revival, inviting us to join in song together, even closing his eyes as he invited the crowd to sing out on its own, letting the waves of communal singing wash over him, just as he’d been taking his music and sending it toward us. I’m not a Springsteen expert, but from what little I know about his bio, from his lyrics, as well as shown by the small crucifix earring he wears, I would guess that the experience at one of his concerts is spiritual for him as well.

All of this leads me to wonder, at what point did the majesty of music shift from congregational halls to concert venues? When did art leave the purview of the religious and move into the realm of the secular? In truth, that’s not a fair question, because art really hasn’t left religious life. It isn’t so black and white. Those in the religious community have continued to push the boundaries, think outside the box, and borrow from traditions that emerged in the secular realm. And, listening carefully to rock ‘n roll, we will hear gospel tunes and spirituals.  A mutual relationship has remained, even if in our minds we draw further delineation between the religious and secular art worlds.

Taking a page from the visual arts, I’ve often thought that modern painting really picked up where Baroque artists left off. In my mind some of the best paintings of religious images, by artists like Caravaggio, connect with art as wild as a Miro or Pollock. Any time an artist picks up his brush, or strums a chord, he is tapping back into that tradition that uses personal expression for potential spiritual expression, no matter the religious or secular language in which the artist cloaks his work.  That’s the mutuality that I am talking about.

Springsteen knows he’s doing this, as well as any artist. It’s intentional, and it’s even in the marketing. Yesterday, I drove past a T-car with banners for the concert I was at. The taglines on the banners used religious language, “Take the T to the Promised Land.”  Tell me what that’s really about? Springsteen is fostering a spiritual experience for his concertgoers, and he does a masterful job at it.

I see this as a good thing, it pleases me to experience Springsteen in the spiritual realm.  It’s a nice challenge to those of us who strive to access something spiritual in our religious communities. The concert was a great reminder that it’s great when that spiritual encounter happens in one place in particular, like during a worship experience, but that we also need to be open to the spiritual everywhere.

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