Unless you were living under a molehill in Canada this week, you likely heard that the Tragically Hip were performing what could be possibly their last show together in their hometown of Kingston this past Saturday night. Apparently, over 11 million Canadians tuned in online or through television to catch the show; which are some staggering numbers.
My wife and I have both said for a long time that church hasn’t necessarily disappeared in Canada. It’s simply taken on different forms; and if you’ve ever been at a concert where upwards of several 1000 people are all singing passionately in unison along with a band, you’ve likely seen that concerts can be a tremendously spiritual experience for people.
I think this was no less the case when the Hip got up to do the second encore of what would definitely become a climactic show for the band. But this time, the spiritual experience became perhaps a bit more than people expected.
Traditionally, Gord Downie always concludes the song “Grace, Too” with some sort of spoken word performance or by simply yelling out a few sporadic words such as “Here!” and “Now!” Gord has always been the court jester as a performer. He uses antics to expose the emperor’s new clothes, so to speak. He’s always used improv performance as a way to subversively suggest something about pertinent issues of the day; and he’s certainly done this with “Grace, Too” in the past. However, on this particular evening, the jester showed us something that we all connected with just as human beings.
If you’ve been following the Hip of late, you would also have heard that only a couple of years after his wife battled with breast cancer and survived, Gord was actually diagnosed with terminal brain cancer; hence the significance of this final show for a band that’s won over a lot of hearts in Canada.
You can likely imagine then where Gord was coming from when towards the end of “Grace, Too” on this night in Kingston, he unleashed a prayer of Psalmic proportions on the assembled crowd. As he began to yell out those classic words of “Here!” and “Now,” suddenly those words turned to “No!” and a soul-baring, gut-wrenching cry.
They say that prayer is ultimately the terrible cry of pain that comes from deep within our gut. It’s the place where we completely and unabashedly throw away all of our masks and scream out our true and real pain to God, and the Psalms are replete with examples of this.
In Psalm 13, David says, “O Lord, how long will you forget me?…How long will you look the other way? How long must I struggle with the anguish of my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day?…Restore the light to my eyes, or I will die.” In Psalm 22, he says, “My heart is like wax, melting within me. My strength has dried up like sunbaking clay…You have laid me in the dust and left me for dead.” These are angry, desperate, and enraged prayers from deep in the gut of our despair.
We relate with them because they are real. They express the authentic human condition; and this is what we saw from Gord during the last chords of “Grace, Too.” This was a man baring for everyone simultaneously his grief, his pain, his feelings of loss, and the realization that something special was coming to an end. He screamed out that “No” that desperately hopes to avert death and change sickness by sheer willpower alone.
And we connected with it. This was church! He shared reality with us. He helped us to connect with something bigger than ourselves.
He lead us into a moment that was holy; and it was holy because it was real.
Thankyou, Gord Downie, for that; and thankyou for all of the times that as a performer, you have helped all of us to understand and connect over what it feels like to be human.