David Bowie – A Man of Prayer.

A Courageous Prayer

On 20th April, 1992, David Bowie knelt down on the stage in front of 72,000 fans at Wembley Stadium in London and prayed The Lord’s Prayer aloud, and unashamedly. The number of people who saw and heard that prayer via TV link would have numbered in the millions.

The occasion was a tribute concert for Queen frontman Freddie Mercury. Mercury’s bandmate, guitarist Brian May, was confused and shrugged his shoulders, adding, “He didn’t do that in rehearsals.” The rock’n’roll world just didn’t get it, and Bowie was in the firing line again.

So what was happening? Bowie knew that he would be criticised by so many with no faith or of other religious convictions. He also knew that he wasn’t praying just any prayer, he was praying the very words of Jesus Christ that are repeated by believers in millions of churches worldwide every week. These words are not prayed by those of other religions, only Christians. Bowie also knew that Jesus Christ claimed to be the Son of God, that Christians the world over believe Christ to be God incarnate, ‘God made flesh’ if you will. What on earth was this man up to? Did he want to lose most of his fans? He calmly prayed,

“Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name;
Thy kingdom come;
Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us;
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory
Forever and ever

David Bowie, rock legend, artist and one time unabashed bi-sexual, was now deliberately identifying with Jesus Christ and the Christian faith.

Love and marriage

In his younger days, David Bowie had searched for meaning in a number of ways. In his ‘Ziggy Stardust’ era in the early 1970’s he dressed outrageously for the era, sometimes in women’s clothing, often wearing heavy makeup. He was searching for meaning in many different ways, and his music was often very experimental. He also experimented with his own sexuality. In 1972 he had told journalist Michael Watts that he was gay. Then, eleven years later in 1983, Rolling Stone magazine wrote an article on him called ‘straight time’ because he had changed his mind. Bowie declared that he was straight and he said that the previous declaration had been “the biggest mistake I ever made.”  This seemed to be confirmed by the fact that he also refused to stand as an icon for gay rights activism in the USA in the 1980’s. By this time he was telling reporters that he had “only flirted with bi-sexuality” and was now a confirmed heterosexual. Of course his fans were confused, but Bowie reserved the right to change his mind and refused to be labelled. All of this was just so un-rock’n roll! If anyone wanted to reduce his album sales by the millions then this man was going the right way about it. Something was happening in the life of the musical genius that he was happy to share with the world, and it was not what anyone expected.

David was married to his first wife Angie from 1971 until 1980. Angie, an actress and model from the United States, was the one who first got him signed to a record label. He said,

[Angie’s boyfriend was] a talent scout for Mercury Records. He took her to a show at The Roundhouse, where I happened to be playing. He hated me. She thought I was great. Ultimately, she threatened to leave him if he didn’t sign me. So he signed me.

Although married for nine years, David and Angie both said later that it was more of a friendship and a marriage of convenience than a love affair. Angie says that David married her so that she could get a work permit.

Love at first sight

Following his divorce, David was to stay single for a decade until he met supermodel Iman. David’s close friend and hairdresser Teddy Antolin introduced them at his birthday party. He knew that David was lonely and he had a hunch that David and Iman would fall for each other. Teddy said,

David arrived in a white Mustang sports car, wearing white jeans and a white jacket, all denim. Iman showed up in a black Mercedes wearing all black leather. And I thought, what could be more perfect. The minute she walked in all the attention went to her, she just claimed the room. She had a big smile and her and David looked at each other and it was love at first sight, you could feel the electricity, something went off.”

The couple had a quiet formal marriage ceremony at Lausanne City Hall in Switzerland on 24th April, 1992, just four days after his Wembley appearance. But David did not consider this to be a ‘proper’ marriage ceremony because it was not a church wedding. Consequently he arranged a full Christian wedding service a few weeks later. The service was held at St James American Church in Florence, Italy and was conducted by Rev Mario Marziale. There was a considerable contrast between the two occasions. The legal wedding was attended only by an interpreter and two witnesses, whereas the Florence event was attended by sixty-eight guests including the U2 singer and born-again Christian Bono. Life for David Bowie had changed considerably from his hedonistic days of the 1960’s and 70’s.

“The struggle is real, but so is God.”

David and Iman Bowie had twenty-six very happy years together. Tragically, in their twenty-fifth year of marriage, David was diagnosed with Liver cancer. Always a hard-worker and constantly creative, David Bowie’s parting gesture to the world was one final album entitled Blackstar. The musical genius died on the 10th of January 2016 with his beloved Iman at his bedside. On the same day, Iman posted on her Instagram page,

“The struggle is real, but so is God.”

So this God stuff wasn’t just from David. Both David and his wife had been on a faith journey together for many years. Just a few days later, Britain’s Daily Mirror newspaper published an article with the heading, ‘David Bowie didn’t fear death after turning to God following terminal cancer diagnosis.’

God in a box?

There were also a few articles from those suggesting that Bowie was definitely not a Christian because he didn’t express his beliefs the way they thought he should. But there’s nothing new here. Respected, religious people dismissed Jesus Christ as a fraud in the first century because he was not like them.  If we try to put God in a box, we will miss the point entirely.

Jesus said to his followers, Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.” (John chapter 14)

In the Book of Acts, chapter sixteen, the disciples in turn told their listeners, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household.” It is not by following religious practices and traditions that a person becomes a Christian, it is simply by believing and trusting in Jesus Christ.

Trusting in Jesus Christ

So, on 20th April 1992, just six weeks before his church wedding to Iman, David Bowie knelt on stage at Wembley stadium before millions of people watching on TV and prayed the Christian prayer of faith taught to us by Jesus Christ himself. What more evidence should we expect to show that David had, by this time, put his faith and trust in Jesus Christ? 

I propose that we let David’s life story speak for itself. Over a period of twenty years the rebellious hedonist had turned from his old ways and chose to follow Christ. Something very powerful had happened in the life of David Bowie.

Mr Bowie was not the kind of believer you could place in your ‘converted rockstar’ box alongside rock’n’rollers Pat Boone and Cliff Richard, but I am quite convinced that he saw the light, quite literally. Many lifelong Christian believers would struggle to kneel down  in front of a physical crowd of 72,000 and pray aloud, but this prodigal was unashamed to do so. David Bowie had the courage and the passion to pray the Lord’s Prayer, the very words of Christ, on stage at Wembley Stadium. I wonder how many of us would do that?

The Soundtrack of Our Lives.

David Bowie’s first hit was “Space Oddity’ in 1969. If you are in mid-life like me, then his music has been part of your life since you were at junior school. His last hits were rocking the charts in 2016 as I watched my youngest child finish her university education. His music has become something of a soundtrack of our lives. In the autumn of 2015 I played through my double CD of his hits one day while I was packing to move house. I even felt constrained to pray for him while I was listening. I didn’t know at the time that Mr Bowie was very sick and would die in a few weeks time, but God knew, and I wasn’t the only one praying for him that day. There was something about the man which was intriguing. There was something about his search for God that every Christian could identify with. And there was something about his boldness when he unashamedly knelt down on a stage in front of a crowd of 72,000 people and prayed The Lord’s Prayer that all Christians need to grasp. Criticise his dress sense, criticise his music if you don’t like it, but never criticise his courage when he knelt down and prayed that powerful, life-changing, healing prayer in front of so many people. That was just so not rock’n’roll! That was just so not what anyone expected from David Bowie.

Those who were close to Mr Bowie say that he had researched a lot into Buddhism and Christianity during his life. In 1982  Bowie and Mercury had a number one hit single together with ‘Under Pressure.’ They remained friends and the death of Freddie hit David hard. Friends say that he had been searching for God for many years, but became even more deeply spiritual as he dealt with the prospect of his own death.

Look up here, I’m in heaven

So did David Bowie really find God? Is he in heaven? We could rely upon our own preferences of what we think a ‘Christian shape’ actually looks like, or we could see what God himself says in the bible;

Those who honour me I will honour, but those who despise me will be disdained. (1 Samuel 2:30)

I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me. (Proverbs 8:17)

God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17)

Was David Bowie searching for God? It certainly looks that way. Did he honour God when he prayed the Lord’s Prayer on his knees before 72,000 onlookers? Did he honour Jesus Christ when he prayed the prayer Christ gave the church in front of the masses? Absolutely.

A Source of Comfort

The Daily Mirror (UK) reported what some of those closest to the legendary rock star had said recently. They said that David Bowie had been questioning ‘organised religion’ (mainly Christianity) throughout his career. According to close friends it had been a great source of comfort and strength towards the end. He also reportedly told one friend when he was battling cancer, “You don’t get any atheists on the battlefield.

His parting gift was the album Blackstar, which was released to coincide with his 69th Birthday in January 2016. The second single “Lazarus” was named after the bible miracle where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. The song starts with the line, “Look up here, I’m in heaven.”

In early interviews, he was known for his controversy and avant-garde philosophy. But in interviews during his later years, Bowie regularly discussed his search for a higher spiritual meaning;

Searching for music is like searching for God, they’re very similar. There’s an effort to reclaim the unmentionable, the unsayable, the unseeable, the unspeakable, all those things, comes into being a composer and to writing music and to searching for notes and pieces of musical information that don’t exist. Questioning my spiritual life has always been germane to what I was writing. Always.

Following his prayer at Wembley, Bowie was questioned about his actions. His answer was;

“In rock music, especially in the performance arena, there is no room for prayer, but I think that so many of the songs people write are prayers. A lot of my songs seem to be prayers for unity within myself. On a personal level, I have an undying belief in God’s existence. For me it is unquestionable.”

Songs and Lyrics

Bowie’s first hit record was Space Oddity. From 1969 until his death in 2016 we find references to God, faith and Christian symbolism all over the place. He was always a spiritual enquirer, always looking for God, and we find regular references to God, faith and Christian symbolism in his lyrics. Here is a line from his Space Oddity;

“Ground Control to Major Tom…
Check ignition, and may God’s love be with you.” 

From his 1976 song ‘Station to Station’ (honouring the ‘Stations of the Cross’ celebrated in orthodox church circles)

“Lord, I kneel and offer you my word on a wing
And I’m trying hard to fit among your scheme of things.

At Christmas 1977, David Bowie sang a surprise duet of ‘The Drummer Boy’ with Bing Crosby. David liked the words, which are overtly Christian;

A newborn King to see Our finest gifts be bring 

Peace on earth, can it be?
Years from now perhaps we’ll see

See the day of glory,
See the day when men of goodwill, live in peace

Peace on earth, can it be?

Every child must be made aware
Every child must be made to care
Care enough for his fellow man

To give all the love that he can
I pray my wish will come true
For my child, and your child too

See the day of glory,
See the day when men of goodwill, live in peace again.

From ‘Loving the Alien’ in the 1984 album ‘Tonight’;

“And your prayers they break the sky in two / You pray ’til the break of dawn.

His struggle to understand it all comes through in ‘Bus Stop’ (1989)

I’m a young man at odds
With the bible
But I don’t pretend faith never works
When we’re down on our knees
Prayin’ at the bus stop,”

‘I would be your slave’ from the ‘Heathen’ album (2002)

Open up your heart to me
Show me who you are
And I would be your slave …
Give me peace of mind at last
Show me all you are
Open up your heart to me

And from ‘Lazarus’ on his final album ‘Blackstar’ released 2 days before his death in 2016,

Look up here. I’m in heaven

… and there really is a God

Late in his career, looking towards older age and the future, David Bowie concluded;

All clichés are true. The years really do speed by. Life really is as short as they tell you it is. And there really is a God.

Of course we cannot be absolutely certain of the condition of any person’s heart, only God knows that. But I am left with an overall impression in Mr Bowie of someone who spent his life looking for God, and eventually found Him. For the skeptics, my intriguing question is; “how many other rock stars do you know who have got down on their knees in front of a televised live audience of millions from all religions and none, and prayed the Lord’s Prayer without the slightest inhibition?

WATCH David Bowie: The Lord’s Prayer at Wembley 1992


Story by Ralph Burden

Photo by Adam Bielawski.  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license.




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