The Beach Boy’s “Good Vibrations” reminds us that our bodies tell God’s story.
Here’s a story that comes full circle. It starts with C. S. Lewis, swings through Brian Wilson, Teresa of Avila, the ancient church’s catechism, biology, Iain McGilchrist… circling all the way back to Lewis. It’s a full circle reminding us our bodies tell God’s story.
Start with Lewis. As a lad, he was exposed to the writings of Henri Bergson. Bergson held that there’s an emergent life-force in nature that gives off vibrations good and bad. These vibrations reverberate (that is, echo) throughout the universe.
Brian Wilson’s mother found this idea attractive. She passed on Bergson’s philosophy to Brian when he was a lad. It reverberated with Brian, so much so that when The Beach Boys achieved commercial success in the 1960s, Brian grew disenchanted, tired of cranking out surfing songs. He yearned for something transcendent, mystical, reverberative.
He was not alone. In 1966, The Beatles, Jefferson Airplane—many bands—were hungry for transcendence. Many turned to psychedelic music, seeking to alter or widen a person’s perceptions of reality by affecting all their bodily senses. Drugs can do this, but they never bring users into experiencing true transcendence. Music can.
That’s because music is primal. Look at newborns. They’re born already sensitive to the rhythms of language (“baby talk”) which emphasizes the music of speech. Language comes later. Brian put his yearnings for something transcendent, reverberative, to music. His first stab was the 1966 album “Pet Sounds,” where he experimented with complex soundscapes. The album resonates with listeners to this day. Later that same year, 1966, The Beach Boys released a single, “Good Vibrations,” a song about the good vibrations Brian and Mike Love felt reverberating between them and attractive women.
OK, time out. There’s a maxim that says if you analyze music, you kill it. Those who bias their brain’s left hemisphere tend to parse music. Those who bias their right tend to experience music, the mood, the beat. Take a moment and experience Good Vibrations.
Notice the mood? The song tip-toes toward what becomes erotic love—good vibrations that, over time, reverberate in bodily excitations, elation, sensations that rise and fall, much like couples experience in sexual union and consummation.
I’m pickin’ up good vibrations / She’s giving me excitations / Good, good, good, good vibrations / Ah, ah, my my, what elation / I don’t know where but she sends me there / Oh, my my, what a sensation…
Now circle around to Teresa of Avila. This statue, “The Ecstasy of Teresa,” depicts Teresa having what in the mystical tradition is called a transverberative experience of God—a transcendent, vibrating, reciprocating ecstasy that we are all called to in union with God.
Now circle around to Iain McGilchrist. In The Master and His Emissary, he writes that there must exist in the universe “the Other,” a “reverberative, reciprocating” being. Sure sounds like the triune God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—a reverberative, reciprocating being who is love, which is defined as mutual giving and receiving.
Now circle around to the marital gospel. In church traditions founded before the Enlightenment, it was recognized that our bodies are a catechism of the gospel. Catechism means resounding or echoing. Our bodies, especially our genitalia, echo God’s love, particularly in arousal, intercourse, and climax—what Teresa of Avila felt.
Which brings us full circle to C. S. Lewis. In the last chapter of That Hideous Strength, we return to Mark and Jane Studdock. They’re married but their sex life died long ago. The good news is that while separated from one another for most of the novel, Jane has come to faith in Christ. She has no idea what Mark will make of this as she learns she is to return to her home. Jane is hesitant. Ransom assures her that her home is “your own marriage chamber that you prepared.”
Echoes of II Corinthians 11:2—Paul’s hope to present the church as a prepared bride.
Mark has also been humbled. He grieves what has been his “laboratory outlook upon love,” his failure as Jane’s lover, “all the lout and clod-hopper in him… the coarse male boor blundering in where great lovers, knights, and poets would have feared to tread.”
So he decides to go home and release Jane from their marriage. But as Mark approaches their home, a great lady (not Jane, not human) invites him in. He enters and finds himself in a “place of sweet smells and bright fires, with food and wine and a rich bed.” He gets in bed.
Jane, also humbled, arrives at home a short time later. “With one hand on the latch, a thought came to her. How if Mark did not want her—not tonight, nor in that way, nor any time, nor in any way? How if Mark were not there, after all? Then she noticed that the window was open. Clothes were piled on a chair inside the room so carelessly that they lay over the sill; the sleeve of a shirt—Mark’s shirt—even hung over down the outside wall. And in all this damp, too. How like Mark! Obviously it was time she went in.”
Sure sounds like the martial gospel. And that’s why, dear readers, when we go full circle, “Good Vibrations” reminds us that our bodies tell God’s story.
 Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary (Yale University Press, 2009), 102-105.