Susan Boyle, the Whimsy of God, and Heaven

If you are one of the very few people left who has not viewed the video of Susan Boyle singing “I Dreamed a Dream” on Britains Got Talent, then you must do so immediately, or nothing I have to say will stick to your soul. If you are one of the tens of millions who have already sat aghast as her voice broke through from heaven, then you’d best do it again so you are freshly stunned.
In referring to heaven, I am not engaging in literary exaggeration. Boyle’s appearance caused an international sensation precisely because the sensations one experiences in watching her are otherworldly. We are getting a foretaste of heaven. Literally.
The first thing that came to my mind after viewing her was Dante’s Paradiso. One of the complaints of literary types is that hell is more interesting than heaven. I remember reading Dante’s Divine Comedy again and again when I was young. The Inferno fascinates, the Purgatorio educates, but the Paradiso? Well, as many a commentator noted, heaven is boring. Just a lot of flitting around and about as they spiral upward singing, continual images of light, and endless but uninspiring talk about love.
But Dante was right after all, and if I should ever be driven to teach again, I would have the class view Boyle’s performance so they could get some inkling of what Dante was trying to portray — indeed, what Mother Church holds out before us. In heaven, each person is immediately, deeply, and completely enchanted by, and enchanting to, every other. There is no envy, no pride, no thought of the self as opposed to another. Only an outpouring of love.
Sound tedious? Unrealistic? Watch the video again. When Boyle began to sing, the entire audience immediately felt that most peculiar sensation of being absolutely thrilled, filled with joy to the point of overflowing tears, that this very ordinary woman existed, and that out of so earthen a vessel, such ethereal sound could pour. Every heart was entirely directed to her, as if she were a living miracle. No one was bored.
It isn’t just that her voice is so astoundingly beautiful. The strange effect on the audience is that so profoundly beautiful a voice was bursting forth from a woman of no account in the world, a late-40s, frumpy heap of disappointment, all too easy a target of mockery for barbed comments and sibilant snickering. Boyle embodied all that is dross for our society, and yet the whimsy of God carefully hid within her a great pearl, slowly built up over almost half a century.
When she began to sing, no one wanted her to look any differently; the rejoicing was in her, about her, just as she was. Within a very few seconds, a very few notes, the entire audience was completely upended, and swirling around her like flitting souls in Dante’s Paradiso, entranced by the beauty of a new soul entering heaven. Never again wonder why there is singing in paradise, or whether the human voice transcended and transformed, made unearthly by attachment to a divine tether, has the power to draw everyone within its compass upward and suspend each, shimmering with joy, above all the worries, gray agitation, pettiness, and grit of a spoiled world.
Such was the state of the souls surprised by Boyle, souls for a few moments taken outside themselves — the original meaning of ecstasy. Such is the permanent state of the redeemed in paradise. They are supremely happy that others exist.
Let me be properly understood, for this is the most important point. We are each called to such a moment, a moment that will last forever, where we enter heaven and are surrounded by a countless audience of souls, rushing at us in giddy anticipation of the beauty that has been hidden within — hidden amidst the trials, the disappointments, the dismal ordinariness of our lives, all of which served to form the pearl of great price.
Surpassing beauty spun from the ordinary. That we loved our spouses in the most difficult times, that we loved our children when we had no strength left, that we tried to treat others as if they were passionately loved by God, that we submitted to the divine purgation, the fire that burns away all that we have done, said, and failed to do that is not beautiful — all that will be our song.
But it won’t really just be our song. As with song on earth, beauty is compounded by harmony, and rising above and all around, will be a voice of Redeeming Beauty. If we can be nearly broken to tears by the beauty a mere woman’s voice on earth, what will it mean to hear a Voice so beautiful that, like the heat and light of the sun, it cannot be borne directly by the senses without bringing complete destruction? And yet, we shall hear it and live. Forever.

Benjamin D. Wiker

By

Benjamin Wiker is Professor of Political Science and Senior Fellow of the Veritas Center at Franciscan University. His newest book is The Reformation 500 Years Later: 12 Things You Need To Know. His website is www.benjaminwiker.com, and you can follow him on Facebook.

  • Austin

    I have seen the Susan Boyle video several times, and it is indeed moving. She gets the audience behind almost immediately. Even the nasty judge Simon, smiles at her [amazing!]. It is a wonderful thing to see this frumpy, middle aged woman sing like an angel. And it is wonderful to see the audience cheer her on.
    She is not young, beautiful and sleek, but she can really sing.
    She is an inspiration to the rest of us, who are not young, beautiful or sleek, that perhaps, we can also achieve a little bit of greatness.

  • Dan H.

    Thank you, Mr. Wiker, for a beautiful reminder of our ultimate goal.

  • R.C.

    I, like everyone else, was pleasantly surprised when I saw the YouTube clip.

    And I really don’t wish to be boorish in saying this.

    But, really, is her voice that splendid, sufficient to merit all the superlatives thrown at her?

    It’s quite nice. Better than 1 in 100. Perhaps better than 1 in 1,000. But in any random group of 10,000 women, won’t between 5 and 25 of them (depending on one’s personal tastes) have better voices? And because of the power of modern media to bring excellent talent from far-flung places into our living rooms, haven’t we all heard better voices, at least once a year, for most of our adult lives?

    I think some folks are hearing the voice better than it is because of their delight in seeing it come from a little fireplug like Susan. Were they listening with eyes closed, or without the lead-up shots in the video showing the smarmy contempt of the audience, or were they watching a little size-six blonde in a miniskirt lip-synching it, they’d likely say, “Oh, yeah. Nice voice, that. What’s for supper?”

    I am very happy for her. And the superficiality of the world desperately needed a Susan Boyle to show it up; a swift kick in the pants to remind it that God is no respecter of breast implants.

    Still. Let’s not, in the thrill of the moment, be effusive to the point of dishonesty.

  • F.W.

    Now I understand why I’ve watched that video at least once a day for the past three weeks.

  • Kamilla

    RC,

    You’ve entirely missed the point – it is NOT that Susan Boyle has a perfect voice with perfect pitch and perfect delivery. And if you didn’t get the point after reading the post I actually feel sorry for you.

    Mr. Wiker,

    Thank you for the third delightful enchanting blessing of the day. The first was Tony Esolen’s post elsewhere, the second was Deal’s post of the dance video over on the blog.

    Sometimes heaven draws so close it takes our breath away.

    Kamilla

  • meg

    Not to change the subject but where was the Tony Esolen post? I love his writing.

  • Kamilla

    Tony’s post is over at:

    http://www.merecomment.typepad.com

    I tried to paste in the link but don’t know how to do that here.

    Kamilla

  • Brian Saint-Paul

    Tony’s post is over at:

    http://www.merecomment.typepad.com

    I tried to paste in the link but don’t know how to do that here.

    Kamilla

    Here ’tis:

    http://tinyurl.com/a3vnl

  • meg

    Thanks!

  • Austin

    Yes, Susan Boyle is not pitch perfect, her singing does have a few flaws. However that being said, in this age of everyting being packaged and polished, the sight of this middle aged, frumpy woman with the wonderful voice is a refreshing change from the skinny, young blonde lip synching to synthicized music. Have you noticed so many of the pop singers look alike? They even sound alike, as the music companies package them and even engineer their voices in the studio to sound a certain way. Most of your posters know far more about music than I do, so you know what I mean. Perhaps someone can elaborate on this?

    The lead Gospel singer at many AME Churches sings better than Britney Spears or Madonna, but of course, she won’t get a break because she is not blonde and 105 lbs, thus the “packaging.”

    I wish Susan Boyle well, as she is such a change of pace, so real, in this plastic world.

  • John Hamm

    Where do we really find the great singers of the world? On a “fast-food-mentality” sing-song game show? Come on!? The really talented ones (not to diss Ms. Boyle, however, as a musician, I really need to hear her sing more than two songs – perhaps an opera aria here and there might be a good start) are already out there; singing in our concert halls, singing the music of Mozart, Verdi, Puccini, Handel, Berstein, Haydn, and Bach. These are not the “beautiful people” “so-and-so’s got talent” will ever show us. But if you the real otherworldy experience the author wrote about, instead of the “instant gratification” these “game shows” provide, ragardless of the singers looks, these are the ones you need to listen to.

    I do respect the accomplishment of Susan Boyle on this very biased, “rock-star-mentality” program (she put them all in their places – you go girl!), but the real “who’s-got-talent” that doesn’t require rising above this insane shallowness of physical beauty is not on TV, it’s in the concert hall!

  • Austin

    John, you are correct. Compared to a real opera singer, Boyle is not that good. Compared to the typical pop singer, she is very good. Popular music has gotten worse and worse over the past 30 or so years, given our obsession with skinny blondes and appearance. Also, the music all sounds alike, since the studio executives package and push pablum targeted at stupid 12 year olds. Given the wretched state of popular music, I suppose we will have to settle for the occassional “diamond in the rough” such as Susan Boyle, rather than the really competent opera singer.

  • Shan Gill

    One of the reasons for the phenomenon of Susan Boyle is that the editing of the video on ‘youtube’ presents us with an entire Dickensian drama focused on a poor, but honest, hard-working chap (chaplette?) being true to her self and rising to excellence and success honestly, while soundly and publicly smiting her detractors simply through honest effort and talent – all encapsulated in a venue short enough for even the most attention deficit disordered audience to appreciate.

    She sings powerfully, and with control and discipline – the sign of a professional – and enamors us all with her commonness and peaceful demur even under the most rattling of environments: a studio audition in front of an audience of millions under the brightest of lights and a ‘one-take’ chance to get it right.

    Bravo, Susan Boyle! Honestly. Bravo!

  • SC

    Dear Mr. Wiker,
    Thank you for putting into words all I felt weeks ago, watching through tears the video of Susan Boyle singing in the contest. The first interview she did in her home showed a Sacred Heart of Jesus statue on a shelf behind her. I cried again for her and wanted to reach out to protect her from the ugly world that was sure to descend upon her through the media hype. Your piece is a timely reminder and I think all Catholics should pray for her to maintain her dignity and peace of soul. She is a pearl indeed.
    SC

  • R.C.

    Kamilla:

    No, read what I said more carefully.

    I got the point; I’m just worried that other folk, who also got the point, are so excited by it that they’re saying things about Susan Boyle’s voice that just aren’t true.

    It’s quite possible to agree with the point of the piece while saying that her voice was unexpectedly lovely, rich, and almost professional-sounding, instead of treating it as a one-in-a-million phenomenon.

    That’s all I was calling for: That our thankfulness and jubilation not sacrifice truthfulness.

  • Judy

    To those who were searching for Tony Esolen’s posts the site is [www.merecomments.typepad.com]. The # 7 & 8 commenters left the “s” off the word “comments”.

    Benjamin Wilker, You have translated into words the depth of genuine joy so many experienced upon hearing Susan Boyle break into song – discovering “the diamond in the rough”.

    To the dissers [if there is such a word]and perfectionists out there, give it a rest and just enjoy

  • Rose

    I was probably one of the last people to watch this video, but as I was watching it tonight, I had tears in my eyes. Susan Boyle, not to mention the fact that she has an amazing voice, is such an example of how we should not judge by appearances. How many other people may not have been given a chance in life with a special talent because of the way they looked? I hope Susan is an example to anyone who has felt put down and not given a chance. God is definitely using her in a special Way!

  • Bob

    God’s ways are NOT our ways. We are limited but God can do anything……..Ms Boyle seems to be an example of that.

  • Kathleen

    Mr.wicker’s comments and insights about Susan Boyle and heaven were superb. Susan Boyle was wonderful to watch and her voice is a great talent. I watched her over and over, surprising myself and wondering why I couldn’t get enough of it. But Mr. Wicker captured the essence. We long for the “heavenly” that ordinary souls hope to have in Paridiso. I believe it will be that selfless outpouring of Joy for all who rejoice in the Lord, endlessly embracing the Loving God who showers His exquisite generosity upon mere humans both on earth and far more in our real home to come!

  • Roger VAca

    Beauty comes in many ways!
    I would like to hear her sing the Ave Maria!
    Her singing taps on our deepest soul and reflects Gods Greatness of beauty and perfection.

  • Peter

    Susan Boyle’s singing voice surpasses that of professional singers such as Barbra Streisand and opera singers. Her natural talent produces a voice that is not only beautiful and rich and vibrant, but which also possesses an additional melodic cast that reaches the heart through the ears. It almost seems as if an entire choir is singing through this one specially gifted lady.

  • Nick

    Without a doubt Susan Boyle’s voice is outstanding. Perhaps there are others with even better voices. But, that is not the point. The point is that this woman shows us that the standard set by the world in giving value to the human person is wrong. As one of the judges said, This is the biggest wake up call ever.” Now the challenge to us is, “Am I willing to wake up and re-evaluate how I have been valuing the human person. Is there room for me to change my thinkinf and perseptions of who is worth it and who is not?”

    Let’s not it all end with a performance. Let this be a time of personal re-evaluation and change.

  • John

    Bravo, Miss Boyle!

    Bravo, Mr. Wiker!

  • teraangel

    Susan Boyle’s voice is excellent for someone who is not a professionally trained singer. She does not sound like one of the myriad of breathy, soulless singers so popular today. She does not look like any of them, either.

    And that is why is is absolutely perfect: she is what so many of us see in the mirror. We wonder if we’re good enough… will we ever have the right looks and style, and will we be accepted, warts and all? And many of us keep in the shadows because we don’t feel we will be accepted. Susan had the courage to stand up to bat and hit a homer right out of the park, and didn’t care if she looked the part or acted it. She just gave it her best shot and that gives us all hope that we can do the same.

    IMHO, of course…

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