IVP - Strangely Dim - March Music Madness: In Like a Lion

March 1, 2011

March Music Madness: In Like a Lion

It's March already. Normally this would freak me out a little; I regularly flirt with despair at how quickly time passes, how relentlessly I age. But this year I'm glad it's March already. Chicago had one of the snowiest Februaries of all time; and if it wasn't snowing, it was cold, and if it wasn't cold, it was snowing. I was pretty much over it by Groundhog Day. March, thank you for coming.

They say that, in terms of weather, March is a pivot month: "In like a lion," they tell us, "and out like a lamb." We might consider March an icon of our emotional spectrum, a calendar of psychological turbulence that we experience simply by waking up. March is always there for Lent, wherein we grieve the ways we've fallen short of the glory of God; it's also always there for St. Patrick's Day, wherein we celebrate passion, boldness, spiritedness. If you don't like your feelings in March, wait a minute; there's surely another one around the corner.

This March we decided it might be fun to develop a soundtrack for all that turbulence, Music, as they say, soothes the savage beast, but it can also get us back on our feet when we've drifted into semi-consciousness. Music knows what to do with a lion, and it knows what to do with a lamb, and it has something to offer for every emotional animal in between.

Maybe it's my mood, maybe it's the cliche associated with the start of the month, but I find myself thinking about songs having to do with lions. There are actually a lot of them: there's "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," in which people croon in falsetto tones, confident that for tonight at least they're not going to get eaten by an otherwise ferocious beast. There's "Oh Them Lions" by the delightful Lost & Found, the only band I ever literally followed; in that song they riff on the apostle Peter's likening of Satan to a roaring lion "lookin' for whom he will devour." Their instrumentation for the song includes the Slinky--it's fun for a girl and a boy, you know--which won them a permanent place in my heart. Then there's the breakout 2010 hit by Mumford & Sons, "Little Lion Man," in which a man invokes some potty-mouth language to express his bitter regret over some self-destructive behavior. Joy, defiance, regret--lions can draw a lot of different feelings out of people.

But I think the first day of anything, including the first day of a month or the first day of an experiment, calls for a more wistful, unsettled song than any of these. So my song for March 1 has to be "Listen to the Lion" by Van Morrison.

Like the best of Van Morrison's work, "Listen to the Lion" meanders back and forth between lyrical depth and wordless, pensive vocalization. Sometimes there are no words, after all, and the best songwriters know that and aren't afraid of it. The chord structure is simple, ten minutes of swaying back and forth that console you without distracting you from the fact that you're setting off into uncharted waters. Such a trip demands your attention, but the undertaking itself demands your circumspection.

Lions aren't sea creatures (unless you count the sea lion, I suppose), but this song is set on the sea. From Denmark to Caledonia, from the Golden Gate to New York City, "Listen to the Lion" takes you around the world and all around--the destination is never really clear. What is clear is that wherever you go, you can't escape the tears you've been crying, the love that you spilled and sundered, the soul that is your lion's den.

I hear this song and I'm reminded that we're each an awkward mix of what we've concocted for our identity and the true self we've not been able to shed or silence. I'm also reminded that we're each on a journey, although the destinations we set for ourselves don't ultimately take us anywhere. Our true destination, meanwhile, will present itself when the lion in us has devoured the falsities we've taken comfort in, and our outer life is made to match the inner life that was not created by us but was created for us. It's no surprise that the Messiah was likened to a lion; it takes a certain amount of ferocity not just to deliver us from our enemies but to deliver us from ourselves. This song reminds me of that, and as scary as that reminder can be, it's also reassuring, because the same Messiah is equal parts lion and lamb, and the kingdom he inaugurates is one in which whatever tears I've shed along my journey--the wrongs done to me, and the wrongs I have done--will be wiped away, and I'll dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

But enough about me. What song is on your inner repeat today?

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at March 1, 2011 10:29 AM Bookmark and Share

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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