Essay / Misc.

"Everyday is a winding road…"

I was living in Dallas, Texas when Sheryl Crow’s “Everyday is a Winding Road” single began making its rounds on the radio. I heard it often because I spent so much time in my car driving from one pool cleaning job to the next. Its a catchy song and one that I still like to hear every now and then. What I didn’t know until today was that Bernard of Clairvaux was singing part of this song way back in the twelfth century. Granted, his version was more Gregorian chant than the pop/rock/folksy thing that Crow’s got going on but the words would have been amazingly similar. Crow crows in the chorus

Everyday is a winding road
I get a little bit closer
Everyday is a faded sign
I get a little bit closer to feeling fine

So what does this have to do with a medieval Cistercian monk? Well, Bernard says this is basically what happens when a person loves. That is, the more one loves things the more one moves closer to God. Ultimately, he believes, a person who loves the things would eventually begin to love God. He writes,

It is natural for a man to desire what he reckons better than that which he has already, and be satisfied with nothing which lacks that special quality which he misses… Do we not see people every day, endowed with vast estates, who keep on joining field to field, dreaming of wider boundaries for their lands? Those who dwell in palaces are ever adding house to house, continually building up and tearing down, remodeling and changing. Men in high places are driven by insatiable ambition to clutch at still greater prizes. And nowhere is there any final satisfaction, because nothing there can be defined as absolutely the best or highest. But it is natural that nothing should content a man’s desires but the very best, as he reckons it. Even by this way one would eventually come to God….”

By pursuing the (materialistic) things of this world, one can come to God. By following this winding road one can “get a little bit closer to feeling fine.” Let’s assume that the greatest form of “feeling fine” is salvation. What then keeps us from using Bernard’s theology to state boldly that “Sheryl Crow is the greatest theologian of the modern era! She can sum up soteriology in one short, simple chorus. She can even make it fun to sing!” Well, Bernard says that this eventual coming to God will never happen. Why? Because we die too soon, we’re too lazy and we’re too competitive: “But life is too short, strength too feeble, and competitors too many, for that course to be practicable. One could never reach the end, though he were to weary himself with the long effort and fruitless toil of testing everything that might seem desirable.”

Instead, Bernard thinks that we need to do the old-fashioned thing — we need to throw ourselves on God’s mercy because our “perverted will” is not helping us get closer to anything nor are we actually doing all that fine either. Instead of laying back and enjoying the show (as Crow suggests) we need to be actively about loving God. How do we do that? Glad you asked. Bernard has an answer, why not read it? It may give you a new song to sing!

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