“Oh I am a lonely painter
I live in a box of paints
I'm frightened by the devil
And I'm drawn to those ones that ain't afraid
I remember that time that you told me, you said
Love is touching souls
Surely you touched mine
Cause part of you pours out of me
In these lines from time to time”
- from A Case Of You by Joni Mitchell
I love telling the story that my friends in Lies Damned Lies told me. In the early 90s they were recording a record with renowned American producer Stewart Levine. One of his many pieces of advice was that you always hide the weakest track on side two, track four; no one will notice it there! That is where you’ll find A Case Of You on Joni Mitchell best ever record, Blue. Come on!
I fall in love with A Case Of You every time I play it! It is so crafted, so beautiful, so sad, so insightful, so objective in its emotionally raw subjectivity. The image of the beer mat in the blue TV screen light and how she gets “O Canada” in there. It also has this ability to be about the spiritually universal truth as well as the very specific individual honesty that is at its core.
The genius of a song to me is when the writer can be objective in their subjectivity. When a very personal story takes universal meaning. When in the details that are very personal to them seem to be about something very personal to us. A Case Of You is that song. I think it was Kris Kristofferson who on first hearing Blue said that it was too personally raw to release. It is. Yet it is about everybody too.
Let me then, as the preacher, draw out a few key spiritual gems. Mitchell has spoken about her born again phase, unknown to the public, but seemingly very real in songs like Woodstock as well as this one. To be “frightened by the devil” but “drawn to those ain’t afraid.” Lovely.
What an image of the Church; a gathering of those who ain’t afraid of the devil and who in this context seem to be a place of refuge for those tossed about in their fear. Oh to create such a positive opinion of Church instead of the bad images I often get thrown at me as a minister; “God doesn’t live in most Churches!” or “I want to bring my kids up to learn about Jesus but not be institutionalised by having to attend Church.” Oh to find an authentic community that would draw the frightened.
“Love is touching souls” is another great spiritual image and the declaration is that whoever this person is they have touched souls with tangible love; “surely you touched mine.” Oh to be a toucher of souls. Again a community showing this kind of love would be a community that would draw those beleaguered souls that, my reading of the Gospels suggests, Jesus wanted to touch.
Yet, this is not just about the Church as a community. In my own love life with my wife I need to be a toucher of Janice’s soul, bringing love and grace and healing. Indeed in all my relationships there is a need to reach into people’s souls. That is where it matters. That is where you can be involved in the transformation of lives and the world. The All You Need Is Love of The Beatles needs to have a pragmatic outworking. It is not a hippie slogan to chant or believe, it is a philosophy of life to be implemented in every personal engagement we have in every single day of our lives whether they are fleeting accidental meetings or scheduled and lengthy dairy dates. Touch souls. Change the world!