‘Roots’ has so many meanings – family history, the place where you grew up, the community you are in now, or the culture you were once part of – which might not be the same as your current beliefs and lifestyle.
Can you ever really go back to your roots? Your childhood friends have moved on, your parents will pass away, your home town looks small, and your own ideas about life develop while the whole the world keeps changing. Even if you had some roots once, you can’t ever really find them again.
We are all lost in the universe and the universe doesn’t care. That’s existential angst for you. Alice Moreton is singing about the way we all want those roots, and our sadness at not having them. But I think she has the answer too.
There are many stories in the Bible of people who left home, migrated, sometimes as refugees or captives. The collective yearnings (spread over centuries) are summarised in this passage, Hebrews 11.13-16 where the writer says people “agreed that they were only strangers and foreigners on this earth … but they were looking forward to a better home in heaven”.
I’ve got no roots, but my home was never on the ground
For a fairly introspective 17 year old the music of Leonard Cohen (1934-2016) drew me with a fascination bordering on obsession; I can still remember sitting alone in my bedroom listening to ‘Bird on a Wire’ on repeat. The phase soon passed, and I only recently came to appreciate the depths of this song ‘Anthem’, from Cohen’s 1992 album ‘The Future’.
‘The Future’ contains references to traumatic historical events, including Hiroshima and the Second World War. The massacre of students in Tiananmen Square and the fall of the Berlin wall both happened in 1989; it was a time of massive upheaval and uncertainty in the world.
Listening again in late 2019 you have to ask, has much has changed? Just thinking about our own country (quite apart from the rest of the world!) Britain is facing a bewildering parliamentary election, Brexit is unresolved, the country has more Foodbanks than McDonalds….. there surely still is ‘a crack, a crack, in everything’, but Cohen leaves us with a note of hope, ‘that’s how the light gets in’. We need the light, in our national and our personal lives, as never before.
Currently it is Advent, traditionally the time for preparing for the coming of Christ. For me this song provides a kind of transcendence, bringing hope into the apparent hopelessness of our world. The parallels are obvious I hope.
This is the title track from the 1967 Beatles album and film of the same name. The ‘plot’ was structured around a merry band of travellers and strange characters who sign up to a mystery coach trip one day – destination unknown. Over the journey they get to know each other better, have their minds opened and enjoy … adventures. The film gets a mention in the definitive hippy narrative The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, which also tells the tale of a band of ‘Merry Pranksters’ travelling the country in a converted school bus and spreading their message of liberation as they understood it.
The link to the idea of Christian life as a pilgrim journey of mystery is too delicious to avoid. Over history, some branches of the church have been architecturally and socially austere, while others have been plush with colourful decor and ornament. Some groups focus on The Word and doctrine, while others find connection with the mystery of God in experience through art and symbolism.
So if that could work for you, this is the invitation – roll up for the Mystery Tour.
Wolfe, Tom, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (London: Vintage, 2018) p.211