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. In the 1980’s he had also upset the gay rights agenda in the USA by refusing to stand as an icon for them. He had recently told reporters that he had only flirted with bi-sexuality and was now a confirmed heterosexual. 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.
The struggle is real, but so is God.
David Bowie, musical genius, died of liver cancer on the 10th of January 2016. On the same day, David’s wife 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. Just a few days later, Britain’s Daily Mirror published an article with the heading, ‘David Bowie didn’t fear death after turning to God following terminal cancer diagnosis.’
There were also a few articles from 21st century bigots 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. Some 1st century bigots dismissed Jesus Christ as a fraud because he was not like them. If we try to put God in a box, we will end up in very big trouble. And it is likewise impossible to clone every example of Christian awakening! I propose that we let this story speak for itself. Something very powerful and very like God’s way of doing things has happened in David Bowie’s life over a period of more than 20 years.
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 wonder what God thinks about it? I wonder what God thinks about the man who had the courage to kneel down and 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 for our move from the UK to New Zealand. I even prayed for him while I was listening. I didn’t know at the time that Mr Bowie would die in a few weeks, but God knew and I wasn’t the only one praying for David Bowie on 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 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 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 into Buddhism and Christianity and 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 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? I reckon he did, totally.
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. 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.”
We cannot be certain of the condition of any person’s heart, only God knows that. But I am left with an intriguing question; how many other rock stars do you know who have got down on their knees in front of a huge live audience from all religions and none, and prayed the Lord’s Prayer, the very words of Jesus Christ, without the slightest inhibition?
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?“
Story by Ralph Burden