By Jerry Mooney
Along my wending spiritual path, I have been influenced by many sacred teachers, like Jesus, Buddha, Rumi, Hafiz and of course Van Morrison.
Yes, I know, you’re more likely to find Van listed in a famous whiskey lover’s magazine than you are in chronicles of great spiritual avatars. But the more I listened, the more I saw a deep seeker reminiscent of my own journey.
Perhaps this came from spending too many hours trying to discern what it meant to “be stoned like Jelly Roll”. I was surprised to learn Jelly Roll was a person and not a pastry. I always assumed that Tupelo honey was particularly sweet, but I was surprised to learn that it doesn’t come from Mississippi, but instead is one of several surprising things that originated in the Florida panhandle.
After these two pop song mysteries were solved I found myself sliding onto the path of his more mystical lyrics. I noticed a profoundly spiritual man penned these songs and my appreciation grew beyond the catchy tunes.
Although Van provided me with hours and hours of evidence of his spiritual messages perhaps I wasn’t ready to hear. Until one day in Costa Rica, listening to his greatest hits, I wondered, “What’s a dweller on the threshold? Threshold of what?” What I discovered, in that tropical paradise, was that I was listening to a fellow seeker, philosopher and a teacher who tapped into an irish folk-jazz-blues-rock muse.
Enlightenment (from the album of the same title)
Chop that wood,
What’s the sound of one hand clapping?
This first lyric is a nod to the Zen saying, “Before enlightenment I chopped wood and carried water. After enlightenment I chopped wood and carried water.” And of course, what’s the sound of one hand clapping is a Zen riddle designed to center the mind. In this song, Van goes on to say,
I’m in the here and now,
and I’m meditatin’.
Still I’m suffering,
but that’s my problem…
Enlightenment, don’t know what it is.
I admit, at first I had no idea what he was singing here. I had to look at the title, then I understood.
Like a full force gale,
I was lifted up again.
Lifted up again by the Lord.
No matter where I roam
I will find my way back home
I will always return to the Lord
This song and lyric signify surrender and that his source is God. It also indicates that the power of God is great and that when we stray from our path the power of God cannot be resisted.
Whenever God Shines his Light (Obvious I know)
Whenever God shines his light on me,
open up my eyes
so I can see.
It repeats the theme and then he sings,
Reach out for him
He’ll be there
With him your troubles
You can share
This one is meaningful to me in the same way Dweller on the Threshold is. It is an example of the sincere, but often failed attempt at spiritual connection until you surrender.
Standing on the highest hill with a sense of wonder
you can see that everything is made in God.
Head back down the roadside
And give thanks in God.
Into the Mystic (You knew it and I knew you knew it)
This song is more about a sailor who is returning home to his love, but he has a spiritual way of describing that union.
Let our soul and spirit fly into the mystic.
Is about being a spiritual seeker, hungry for spiritual connection and wanting to see through the veils that obscure or glamour our true vision.
I’m a dweller on the threshold
and I’m waiting at the door
I am standing in the darkness
I don’t want to wait no more
I have seen without perceiving
I have been another man
Let me pierce the realm of glamour
So I know just what I am
Feel the angel of the present
In the mighty crystal fire
Lift me up consume my darkness
Let me travel even higher
There are, of course, many more examples of Van Morrison songs that reveal the depth and breadth of his spiritual journey. Herein are a few that might pique your interest in a spiritual Van ride.
Feature photo courtesy of Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license
Jerry Mooney is co-founder and managing editor of Zenruption and the author of History Yoghurt and the Moon. He studied at the University of Munich and Lewis and Clark College where he received his BA in International Affairs and West European Studies. He has recently taught Language and Communications at a small, private college and owned various businesses, including an investment company that made him a millionaire before the age of 40. Jerry is committed to zenrupting the forces that block social, political and economic justice. He can also be found on Twitter @JerryMooney