Sunday Reflection, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 22, 2013): Eric Clapton and Surrendering to God

Eric Clapton is not Pretending about his relationship with God

Eric Clapton is not Pretending about his relationship with God

“I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life.  God is in everyone’s life…Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else—God is in this person’s life. You can, you must try to seek God in every human life.”  — Pope Francis

“You are never more of a mature adult than when you get down on your knees and bend humbly before something greater than yourself.” — Eric Clapton

Sunday is the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time. You can find the weekly readings here. The theme is letting go of material wealth and surrendering one’s self to God.

I am not exactly in tune with popular culture. Yes, I am conversant in sports and current events but in other aspects I am sorely lacking. My experience with movies the past decade have largely revolved around Cars (I am thankful my oldest son is starting to like Percy Jackson:-), I have not watched Breaking Bad or any other mainstream television series and my musical knowledge ends approximately 1991 when I graduated college. As I sons enter their teenage years, it will be easy for them to classify me as an out-of-touch nerd.

However, I do enjoy music, especially classic rock and blues. As such, I have always been a fan of Eric Clapton‘s music. I knew a little bit about his professional career but I knew nothing about his personal life. However, when I started researching for the readings for this week I came across a fascinating homily by Fr. Ron Rolheiser that is available from St. Louis University.  The homily is a summary of Eric Clapton’s autobiography (Eric Clapton, The Autobiography, N.Y., Random House, 2007) and his journey from fame, self-destructive behavior using drugs, alcohol and casual sex to hide inner pain and then a surrender of the ego to have a relationship with God.  I encourage you to read the entire homily here, but set forth below is an extended summary:

“Clapton tells his story with a wonderful intelligence and disarming self-effacement. This isn’t a cheap celebrity, ego-trumpeting book, but a story of art, youth, restlessness, search, falling, near-disaster, and life-saving conversion. And its real interest lies exactly in that latter element since, as Heather King puts it, sin isn’t interesting but conversion is.

Clapton fans won’t be disappointed either at how seriously he takes his art. Throughout his whole career, however fuzzy his head may have been about other things, he was always clear and single-minded about his art, the blues, willingly sacrificing popularity and money for the sake of his craft. For him, art is pure, something near to God, and is meant always to remain pure. His words: “For me, the most trustworthy vehicle for spirituality had always proven to be music. It cannot be manipulated, or politicized, and when it is, that becomes immediately obvious.”

Those are the words of a good artist, but his real struggle was never with art but with his obsessions, addictions, ego, and sobriety.

Success came to him early and the world of rock-and-roll bathed him in a culture of alcohol, drugs, and irresponsibility. He was soon an addict, with everything in his life other than his music spinning out of control. Eventually grace intervened and, during a second trip to an alcoholic clinic, he found grace and sobriety. Here are his own words:

Nevertheless, I stumbled through my month in treatment much as I had done the first time, just ticking off the days, hoping that something would change in me without me having to do much about it. Then one day, as my visit was drawing to an end, a panic hit me, and I realized that in fact nothing had changed in me, and that I was going back out into the world again completely unprotected. The noise in my head was deafening, and drinking was in my thoughts all the time. It shocked me to realize that here I was in a treatment center, a supposedly safe environment, and I was in serious danger. I was absolutely terrified, in complete despair.

At that moment, almost of their own accord, my legs gave way and I fell to my knees. In the privacy of my room, I begged for help. I had no idea who I thought I was talking to, I just knew that I had come to the end of my tether, I had nothing left to fight with. Then I remembered what I had heard about surrender, something I thought I could never do, my pride just wouldn’t allow it, but I knew that on my own I wasn’t going to make it, so I asked for help, and getting down on my knees, I surrendered.

Within a few days I realized that something had happened for me. An atheist would probably say it was just a change of attitude, and to a certain extent that’s true, but there was much more to it than that. I had found a place to turn to, a place I’d always known was there but never really wanted, or needed, to believe in. From that day until this, I have never failed to pray in the morning, on my knees, asking for help, and at night to express my gratitude for my life and, most of all, for my sobriety. I choose to kneel because I feel I need to humble myself when I pray and with my ego, this is the most I can do.

If you are asking me why I do all of this, I will tell you … because it works, as simple as that. In all this time that I have been sober, I have never once seriously thought of taking a drink or a drug. …. In some way, in some form, my God was always there, but now I have learned to talk to him.

I read those words in a catechism book when I was a little boy and knew, already then, that they contained a truth that perennially needs to be asserted in the face of human pride. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin says something similar. At a certain time in your life, he says, you realize that you have only two choices: genuflect before something greater than yourself or begin to self-destruct.”

Resources:

Fr. Ronald Rolheiser Website
Fr. Rolheiser Reflection
Eric Clapton Article in Christianity Today

About William Ockham

I am a father of two with eclectic interests in theology, philosophy and sports. I chose the pseudonym William Ockham in honor of his contributions to philosophy, specifically Occam's Razor, and its contributions to modern scientific theory. My blog (www.teilhard.com) explores Ignatian Spirituality and the intersection of faith, science and reason through the life and writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (pictured above).
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9 Responses to Sunday Reflection, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 22, 2013): Eric Clapton and Surrendering to God

  1. My son, at the time, was not much older than Eric Clapton’s son at the time of his tragic death. His hauntingly beautiful song Tears in Heaven is his lasting tribute to his son as from his father….I remember how I felt then as a parent… had the person trusted to care for my child, turned their back for a spilt second, as anyone would or could have, to only have the terrible accident unfold…how helpless I would be as the parent…I wasn’t there for my child….lots of guilt, but serving no redeeming purpose as it would not bring him back nor undo what was done.
    I wondered, at the time, what this would do to Clapton…would it send him back to his dark past.
    But he had been through the depths of internal evil and had prevailed by and with Grace….this time, he turned to his music as his catharsis and slowly but surly emerged from his deep sorrow and mourning…always missing his son, but now trusting in His Heavenly Father as best he could….

    • Beautiful thoughts Julie. As a parent who has had a very close call with an accident of of my youngest child the thought of losing a young child is haunting.

      You also read my mind as “Tears in Heaven” video is in the que for tomorrow :-). Hope you have great weekend! God bless, W. Ockham

  2. Lynda says:

    As I read what Eric wrote, I thought of a few things. First of all, our times in the desert bring us to our knees as we realize that we cannot do it alone – no matter what “it” is. I also thought of perseverance as Eric wrote that he prays on his knees every morning and evening – we need to be disciplined in our spiritual lives and sometimes we can feel very dry and as though no one is there listening; but it isn’t about feelings. I was also reminded that my youngest daughter is in charge of nursing practices at a 300 bed hospital which treats mental health and addictions patients only. I will send her your post. Thank you very much.

    • Lynda, these are very astute comments. Thank you for sharing. I am fortunate that I did not have to reach the depths the Eric Clapton (and others have) but my own journey reached a point where I realized I could not do it on my own and that there was a higher power and calling that I needed to heed.

  3. ptero9 says:

    Eric’s book is definitely worth the read and remains one of my favorite reads! What an amazing life he has lived, not just because of the fame, but because he survived so much tragedy starting early in his life. He was raised by his grandmother and grew up believing that his mother was his older sister.
    The other thing that makes Eric’s book so wonderful is that he is a great writer who started journeling when he was quite young. He easily articulates his learning process on the guitar in a way that many rock stars’ books from this genre simply can’t do because they lack the writing skill.
    What a great quote by Pope Francis too! Thanks for this delightful read Sir William!

    • Thank you Debra. I will need to buy Eric’s book. I love his music but did not know his personal story until the past week. I am looking forward to learning more about his life and experiences.

  4. Hi there, nice blog you’ve got here! The last line of your post is so interesting and I could discuss it for hours… But quite simply, it feels like humanity is at a place now where the majority are trying hard to figure out option C of not self-destructing and also not feeling beholden to anything external.

    • Eric, thank you for stopping by. I am glad you did as it led me to your interesting blog. I look forward to checking it out in more detail. I agree that much of Western Society is trying to find an Option C. Sooner or later we will realize that Option C is a dead end; I just hope the “collateral damage” is not too bad (although one could look at WWII and the other horrors of the 20th century and say that the cost has been significant).

      Peace,
      W. Ockham

  5. Pingback: On non-religious religious music | Steve Prestegard.com: The Presteblog

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