"Double Rainbow!" "Oh, My God!" "What Does It Mean?"

I am very late to this video party, but by reading the year-end New York Timesaccount of memorable phrases in the USA from 2010, I came across this one: "double rainbow." Did I miss something? It turns out I missed, in a theological and also in a mystical sense, everything. For the "double rainbow" in question is a remarkable video made by a man who lives in Yosemite and was overwhelmed by a rainbow that he saw outside his house.

This clip, which attracted many millions of views, has attracted a fair number of makers-of-fun, skeptics, and killjoys. But color me utterly captivated. If we take it as what it presents itself, as a man overwhelmed by a rainbow, nay not even a single rainbow, but something I had never even considered possible to observe, a double rainbow, then this guy seems to be having something close to what many of our religious traditions would call a mystical experience. How could I have missed it -- especially teaching undergraduates this semester? Why did they keep this pearl of great price buried?


Take a look for yourself, and notice the variety of ways in which he allows himself to be overwhelmed by the suchness of the rainbows having residence not only in his landscape, but in his world, in his existence, his feeling of presence-to these rainbows. It is enough to remind one of the famous phenomenologist of religion, Mircea Eliade, for whom the encounter with "this rock, this tree, this city, this mountain" -- in the words of Eliade's friendly interpreter, theologian David Tracy (in Dialogue with the Other, page 66) -- are elected by the sacred to disclose "the sacred time of the origins of the cosmos." We are in the presence of a "disclosure of power," argues Tracy.

And when this fellow, "Bear" Vasquez, whose mystical experience became a media event, appeared on the Jimmy Kimmel show, he came off winningly, with humor and a rare pop-culture relativization of sexual and drug experience in favor of a nature mysticism.

And then I thought back to the train trip I took several years ago in which I ran into Jon Anderson, lead singer of the famous rock band Yes. When we got to a little talking about theology, Anderson asked me if I knew about the Harmonic Convergence in 1987, which evidently made a deep and lasting impression on Anderson. I did, due not to academic study but to an old girlfriend with hippie tastes for whom the Convergence was a key spiritual reference-point. That I would be seated next to Anderson on Amtrak talking about the Harmonic Convergence made thoroughgoing sense in terms of the mystical cosmicity of much of Yes music, which would be at home in the theology of Tracy, Eliade, or "Bear" Vasquez. Here is Anderson with Yes performing "Heart of the Sunrise" in 1991.

And such nature mysticism, in which the "heart of the sunrise" becomes the disclosure of the all in and toward which one (and all) may live, this nature mysticism in rock is of course rendered available through electronics, electricity, electrolove. Cords coil chords. The elevation is dependent on the plugging-in, the plugging-in headed for elevation. And having fancied these connections, I wondered when it was that we all might find experiences like those of "Bear" Vasquez even in rock culture. Theologian Gina Messina-Dysert wrote recently of something like an intimation of mystical union at a Dave Matthews concert.

As is true for so many others whose lives are deeply placed in the cultures of secular music, there must be a catalogue of hundreds of such events that call such attention from me. Among them I number several songs from guitar overlord Steve Vai. For example, check out this performance of his tune "Building the Church." I understand pretty well how musical experience is culturally, psychologically, historically bounded, but see if you cannot fail to be taken in even briefly by his extraordinary bodily wherewithals in the nimble performance he unleashes amidst those eight employable fingers and two thumbs that do more than their share as well. We have here what functions for many as nature mysticism in secular, or culture mysticism.

And so we are taken back to the crucial, understated, almost interplanetarily overloaded phrase after Vasquez's identification of the double rainbow: "All the way!"

Our culture knows few ways to handle such walls-of-the-world-imploding experiences at the level of electronic expression except to render them in popular song, threatening to destroy and immortalize them in the same motion. And so soon after "Double Rainbow" went viral, we got this creative auto-tuned treatment.

Thus does popular culture make handle-able Vazquez's presence-to that has captured the imagination of millions in our society. Where does all this take you?

Tom Beaudoin

Hastings-on-Hudson, New York

Cross-posted to Rock and Theology

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Beth Cioffoletti
7 years 8 months ago
Though you speak of metal being the medium of nature mysticism, hasn't it always been this way with drums as well?  There is a frequency to which humans can attune and be brought in harmony, so to speak, with nature.

Not only does the music make the experience handle-able, but it also leads to the experience.

COMMENT: I agree with all you write. What I meant by the song making the experience handle-able was that the auto-tuned "Double Rainbow" song was a way that electronically-mediated culture provides for finding a digestible melody for a deeper melody that, in soliciting our attention, calls out -- that deeper melody being the somewhat "embarrassing" awe at the double rainbow. But it seems you make a further point, that the auto-tuned "Double Rainbow" confection can draw into the experience, too. That such things happen seems irrefutable. Thank you! TMB
7 years 8 months ago
My impression of the video is that this guy should get a life.  He is looking at a common event.  Not one that everyone sees but which happens frequently some place in the world.

When I was young, a plain rainbow in Southeastern Pennsylvania was an infrequent but pleasant occurrence and we would tell all our friends when one appeared.  But there are some places where they are so common that no one takes notice and you are likely to see one every day.  Once while in Tahiti, a rainbow ended about 50 ft from where I was standing.  I couldn't start digging for the pot of gold since it ended in the water near me.  It was there that I saw a couple double rainbows.  Here is one comment I found on the internet

''How lucky to I feel? I caught a quadruple rainbow on the way home. Not your plain jane, blase double or triple rainbow, but a full-on 4-deep sky full of rainbowey goodness. ''


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