The world received news of the death of Whitney Houston and began to mourn. I never saw or heard her in person, but her voice and her music left an indelible imprint on my life and the lives of so many.
As a United Methodist preacher, over the years I have found ways to draw from another icon of popular music, Tina Turner. Her scathing song, “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” enabled me to say in response, “God is love….Love is NOT a second hand emotion….and broken hearts can be healed.”
Whitney Houston provided her own counterpoint ballads, “Saving All My Love for You” (1985), “Greatest Love of All” (1986) and “I Will Always Love You” (1992) and inspired all of us to believe in love again—even sacred love.
I have contended over the years that we who are people of faith must not divide life into the sacred and the secular. Rather, we find the sacred in the secular. Whitney Houston answered Tina Turner’s question about love. No matter how often she sang about human love, her magnificent voice also bridged the gap between the human and the Divine.
When I heard Whitney sing her love songs, I often thought of those three Greek words for love: Agape, Philia, and Eros. Sadly, we sometimes separate eros from the other two words because people of faith have been taught to be cautious about eros/erotic. We often do not feel eros can be of God, because they are linked to the sensual and sexual. But to do this is to deny the breadth and depth and wideness of God’s love.
As we offer prayers for the life of Whitney Houston and for those she leaves behind, may we remember the totality of her life with all of its ups and downs. Whitney Houston, like of all of us, lived her life between the valleys and the mountaintops. For many of us, she helped take us to the mountaintop.
Whenever she sang about love, I could not help but remember that “God is love.” The emotions that she evoked reminded me that all love is of God, and thus I found the sacred in what some see only as secular. May your spirit rest in peace, Whitney.
Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell
Asbury Park, NJ
February 11, 2012