For me this incredible song by Arcade Fire is somewhat ambiguous. At one level it’s about a dying relationship, asking questions such as what happens after a relationship ends and “can we work it out?” On another level it seems to be asking questions about human existence in general, questions like “where do we go?” and “when love is gone, where does it go?”
The ambiguity around the word afterlife makes me wonder if this song is entirely secular. Things secular emphasise the earthly and material aspects of life while setting aside the immortal and immaterial. Does this song do this? Not entirely, I think.
A spiritually balanced view of the world would see the mortality of earthly existence as holding within it immortality. This is a view which Christian theology would name as pan-en-theistic, that is the divine within all creation. For me, this song has something of this in it, as if the writers are asking (perhaps unconsciously) can our relationships, as part of creation, have within them divinity and the experience of divinity?
If, for a moment, we accept the possibility of the immortal within the mortal (or material), what could this possibility mean? If it is true, for what reason would divinity be so ‘intimately with’ the “breath”, “dirt”, and “fire” of this earthly life?
Christian spirituality names this immortal in the material as uncreated love (or Love). This was, broadly speaking, the message of Jesus. Christian spirituality affirms that this Love already saturates our relationships and wants to be expressed in and through our relationships. This divine Love is the context, the home, within which all other relational experiences reside. In this residency our relationships become energetically alive with the gift of divine life for the world.
So why would divinity bother with the mortal, with us? In short, to enable us to experience what we are ultimately made for, both now and after this material part of life: divine Love. We are made for what made us. The experience of Love is an experience we can all have now, whether we believe this Love to be divine or not (such is its unconditional nature). Both the giving and receiving of this Love is part of the experience. This giving and receiving is best done without reference to ourselves (as is the nature of God). As we grow in love we forget our own consciousness and live instead so that others may be loved.
The practice of Christian meditation, for many, is a vital part of their self-forgetting and growing in Love. Bringing our attention always back to the mantra is a very practical way of, inwardly, growing in the forgetting of our own consciousness. The mantra takes attention ‘down into Love’ where the heart of our being has a home. In this way loving from our being is also loving from Love, something we do relationally and (over time), as our meditation practice deepens, less fearfully and with less egocentricity.
“Oh when love is gone where does it go?” For me, this question (posed by Arcade Fire) is laced with divine possibility. If love is only material, created somehow by us as we relate to each other, then there is no afterlife for love. Love dies with our relating. Is this, however, our experience? Deep in us, beyond rationality, could we possibly somehow sense that love is actually Love and that this Love lives on in all things? And could it be, then, that human relationship is a divine invitation into the divine nature of love and relating, as Christianity maintains? How many of us have sensed a mysterious ‘other presence’ in our relating with each other? Dare we call this other presence a God who is Love?