Prayer, Restoration, and Transcendence at the 2018 Grammys
January 30, 2018
by Steve Watson
This year’s Grammys had its share of odd and beautiful moments. The very elder looking Elton John and a super classy looking Miley Cyrus seemed to love playing together. And the Childish Gambino song was genre-busting, gorgeous and visually fascinating. What was most arresting for me, though, were two moments of unabashed spiritual hunger and prayer.
First was Sam Smith’s live performance of the gospel-saturated “Pray.”
Here we have a young man alienated from religion, not particularly interested in the Bible or church, and not even sure there’s a god that he believes in. But in the face of a world on fire that leaves him “broken, alone, and afraid,” prayer makes as much sense as anything else. Maybe praying, even when the words run away from him, has a shot at taking him to some freedom or birthing a glimmer of hope in him.
I’ve heard that Smith wrote this song after a trip to Iraq in which he saw suffering that went beyond anything else he’d ever seen. That wordless shock and pain turned him toward a hope to connect with something or someone bigger, better, transcendent, but still available for a one-on-one — for intimacy. I myself know Smith’s yearning for connection with something more, but I wasn’t expecting to encounter that longing at the Grammys.
The second was Kesha’s much anticipated performance of her hit, “Praying”
Kesha may not have the same vocal chops as Smith, but she’s a bold and present performer. And Kesha’s Grammy performance of “Praying”, backed by other pop vocal legends old and new, was positioned as the emotional center of the whole evening.
Kesha’s song, which she performed while fighting tears, is a work of reckoning, addressed to the man who controlled, manipulated, and abused her. And yet the title of the song comes from when the chorus moves not toward vengeance exactly (understandable as that would be), but to a hope that this man who harmed her so would be humbled enough to pray, to have his soul change, and to eventually find peace for himself.
What a shockingly generous yearning and gift, that the restoration and change and freedom she is now starting to experience would extend even as far as her enemy and tormentor. It was a convicting, and yet delightful surprise to see restorative forgiveness proclaimed from a pop star on a national broadcast.
What public or private pains are moving you to yearn for intimacy or connection with something beyond you? For restoration and freedom? What are you doing with those pains? To start, I’ll be praying with Sam Smith and Kesha, and letting them keep pushing me toward the transcendent hope I desperately need.