This post comes to us from Sarabeth Weszely. 


We were lying on her bed, on our backs like we were stargazing, but we were only looking at the ceiling, with glasses of her parents’ wine held precariously in our hands. And Joni was there too, singin’:

You’re in my blood like holy wine
Taste so bitter and so sweet
Oh I could drink a case of you
And I’d still be on my feet

“It’s just so true,” we moaned. There was a well-blazed trail of teardrops running down her cheek, cried for her current love interest—the guy from her film class who wore paisley button downs and didn’t want a serious relationship. And there was an identical trail on mine, cried for the love of my life—the guitarist in the youth group, the funny one with the already-receding hairline, who liked my friend, not me. This is it, we thought, I’ll never love like this again.

We were bleeding heart hippies, sixteen years old, the only ones in our group of friends not yet disillusioned with love. We basked in melancholy because we didn’t know what else to do.

Joni Mitchell’s songs made sadness something I could enjoy; even look forward to, if it was a docile enough sort of sadness. I would lie on my bed, let her words float over me and paint the room blue, think, well this makes heartbreak worth it.

What arose in me when I listened to Joni Mitchell was my longing for a love that is fiery, intoxicating, heart-stopping, and free. For someone to be so close they’re in my blood. And then the frustration that these experiences with love seem to be short-lived:

Still I send up my prayer
Wondering where it had to go
With heaven full of astronauts
And the Lord on death row
While the millions of his lost and lonely ones
…search for love that sticks around

The love I experienced was often like a fire but seldom was it also an ember—something that could stay warm after the winds came. It was quick to blow out, usually on his end before mine. I, too, was on a “search for love that sticks around.”

So why does it come as such a shock
To know you really have no one
Only a river of changing faces
Looking for an ocean

There’s a sort of “I regret falling in love but I’m totally gonna do it again” vibe to her music—something I’ve always identified with. Her songs do weigh more on the side of disappointment and disillusionment as her career progresses, though, leading her to write things like:

Jealous lovin’ll make you crazy
If you can’t find your goodness
‘Cause you’ve lost your heart

And, after describing a typical bar romance scene, haunting lines like: “You’re mean when you’re loaded; I was raised on robbery.” This was the norm: Introductions, seductions, ambiguities, maybe alcohol, false promises, tears, and repeat…by the time I’d experienced even a fraction of it all, I came to agree with her; I had been raised on robbery.

What Joni Mitchell understood about my teenage plight was that even more than the oh-so-deserving boys who received my affections, it was love itself I had fallen for. Eventually, the boys would be more or less forgotten, but the way I felt, the way I wanted them to feel about me—that I would search for as long as I needed.

What are you gonna do now?
You’ve got no one to give your love to

This love was not restricted to romance in its conventional sense. It could be for a friend, or a sibling, or maybe a parent (if you’re not sixteen). Sometimes I would catch myself beginning to fall in love with the person on the park bench across from me I was so hungry. But could this love be for a god?

Or, perhaps the more important question is: could it come from a God?

A few years before Mitchell’s career took off, Bob Dylan wrote and recorded “It Ain’t Me Babe.” The song sounds as if he’s responding directly to her cry—or mine.

I may be spoiling my ending here, but listen to that song and find me one attribute the “babe” is looking for that does not eerily characterize Jesus.

You say you’re lookin’ for someone
Who’s never weak but always strong
To protect you an’ defend you
Whether you are right or wrong
Someone to open each and every door

Who’ll pick you up each time you fall
To gather flowers constantly
An’ to come each time you call
A lover for your life an’ nothing more

… Someone who will die for you an’ more

But it ain’t me, babe
It ain’t me you’re lookin’ for, babe.

The Song of Solomon (also referred to as “the greatest love song of all time,” though I realize Joni Mitchell is hard to beat) was read by the early church as a model for the way God related to his people. It’s referred to far less often now, as it’s mostly just seen as passionate erotica. As irreverent as this may sound, is it possible it’s both?

tumblr_nytxe6DYPc1uma917o1_1280The bride sings:

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—
for your love is more delightful than wine (Song of Solomon 1:2 NIV).

And, from the groom:

You are altogether beautiful, my darling;
there is no flaw in you…
you have stolen my heart
with one glance of your eyes,
How delightful is your love, my sister, my bride!
How much more pleasing is your love than wine. (4:7, 9-10)

No, the bride and the groom are not brother and sister—the Hebrew word for sister implied something more along the lines of, “my equal.” God’s way of relating to his people is romance, not religion. He not only gets in our blood like wine; he gave up his blood for us so that we could be made “equal” enough to be the lovers of Christ. And now we have stolen his heart. Male and female, young and old: we are a part of a love affair that is not G-rated or kosher, though it is holy. It is passionate, it is all-consuming, and it is the desire of the nations. It is, to employ an understatement, a “love that sticks around.”

[Love] burns like blazing fire,
like a mighty flame.
Many waters cannot quench love;
rivers cannot sweep it away (8:6-7)

Following the days of sixteen and youth group boys, I got a bit disillusioned with love myself. I got into an unhealthy relationship that left me writing songs about “thieves I’ve loved,” singing, “oh killer, killer…where have I gone to?” Darker stuff than I was used to.

But when it ended, I found the real deal I’d been looking for, and I surprisingly found it in the God I’d met when I was three years old. I learned that being the “bride of Christ” is no cheap metaphor. I fell in love. But only ’cause He loved me first.

Now I hear Bob Dylan again, singin’ his song. I see him in my mind, and then he starts to morph into that indescribable way I see God, and now he’s Jesus. He’s picked flowers for me, just like the song says, and he sings, laughing:

It’s me babe,
It’s me you’re lookin’ for