In 2013, 477 years after John Calvin was recruited by William Farel to join the Reformation in Geneva something else was happening in the city of predestination, barbecued Servetus, the United Nations, and the Red Cross.
The European Organization for Nuclear Research discovered a particle believed to imbue elementary particles with mass. Despite some consternation in the scientific community, the term “god particle” first coined by Dick Teresiin 1993, became the in vogue language for talking about the “Higgs Boson.”
Nick Cave is one of my favorite Singer-songwriters of all time. I discovered Cave when I was in seminary. My friend Ryan loved him and made me listen to Dig Lazarus Dig my first year in seminary. I soon jumped into the back catalog and discovered what was my favorite Nick Cave song until Higgs Boson Blues was released.
The 1997 single, “Into My Arms” held the title of “my favorite Cave song” for a long time. It’s still pretty high up on an increasingly long list for me. Through his art, Nick Cave loaned me a new vernacular to talk about spiritual things: “I don’t believe in an interventionist God,” he sings on the haunting ballad. Well, neither do I, at least 99% of the time.
Cave remains a very interesting figure, and an artist I turn to for inspiration His work often serves as a soundtrack and a bit of a sounding board, when I am pouring out my own heart in writing, albeit in a different artistic medium. In 2010, when I was still fairly new to Nick Cave, he described the spirituality that emerges in his music and distinguished it from Christianity and religion in general:
I’m not religious, and I’m not a Christian… but I do reserve the right to believe in the possibility of a god. It’s kind of defending the indefensible, though; I’m critical of what religions are becoming, the more destructive they’re becoming. But I think as an artist, particularly, it’s a necessary part of what I do, that there is some divine element going on within my songs.
In “Higgs Boson Blues,” Cave evokes images of burning trees lining the streets, genocide, and Miley Cyrus. He laces all of this with multiple references to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Is Cave lamenting or celebrating his “indefensible” sense of divinity in a world where the binding for sub-particles can be seen and god cannot?
The song itself is full of wonder, longing, even fear. Anything but an obnoxious certainty. It seems an appropriate existential “hymn” for our chaotic world and this particular moment in history, drenched in fear, longing, anxiety and wonder about what it means to be human. Of course, these are questions that can never be fully answered by religion or science, John Calvin or the Higggs Boson. No one person, source or belief system has all the answers to our deepest questions. But I like to keep this in mind for times when Im singing and dancing along with Cave and not sure if it’s joy or despair that I feel:
The Tao that can be told
Is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named
Is not the eternal name
~ Tao The Ching: 1