HAIM’s Spiritual Rhythms

Joel Mayward

Women in Music Pt. III, from sister rock trio HAIM, is a breezy and confident pop album with underlying melancholic revelations concerning depression, cancer diagnoses, and a sense of “stuckness.” In this sense, it’s the perfect summer album for 2020. With its lackadaisical romantic vibes married to an underlying existential dread, WIMPIII is a soundtrack for those who feel like they’re at a standstill, unsure as to what the future holds, and nevertheless trying to maintain a sense of optimism.

Speaking with NME last November—before the global pandemic, before the economic downturn, before the George Floyd murder—Alana Haim summarized this resilient theme: “The whole mantra of this record is about being fearless and not holding yourself back. I feel like there are so many times when there’s that voice in your head going: ‘Be scared, be scared, stop, stop, stop.’ And with this record, we’ve shut that thing off so if one of us is like that, I have two sisters who say, ‘Keep going.’”

This call to “keep going” in the midst of present-day insurmountable difficulties and anxiety recalls biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann’s understanding of the Psalms. In his little 74-page book Spirituality of the Psalms, Brueggemann proposes a three-part cycle or rhythm for understanding the biblical Psalms, and thus our own spiritual lives. First, there is “orientation,” or a sense of being “at home” and “in the land,” where everything seems as it should be and God’s presence feels close. When we begin to take God's blessings and presence for granted, however, a sense of spiritual apathy can set in, leading to a season of “disorientation,” where all is not well. Prayer is tedious, worship is lifeless, and one feels isolated and alone. When we experience pain, trials, doubts, and frustrations, God feels distant—even unjust or uncaring. This causes us to lament, to cry out to God in anger and sorrow. Or, as Danielle Haim sings on the melancholic “I Know Alone,” “’Cause nights turn into days / That turn to grey / Keep turning over / Some things never grow / I know alone / Like no one else does.”

WIMPIII is a soundtrack for those who feel like they’re at a standstill.

Such disorientation tends to be an inner response to an external circumstance—a loss of status, a broken relationship, death or disease, etc. This is being led out of the promised land into exile; we feel far away from the security of home in the stagnation of suffering. Danielle describes the eponymous “it” from the paradoxically upbeat single “Now I’m In It” as being “just the darkest place you could ever be in,” saying, “I think it’s just going through it. Yeah, going through it. GTI. GTI, ‘going through it,’ and just being in a really dark place . . . I mean, it just, it takes time to kind of get out of this dark place . . . And even to find the blueprint of how to get out of that place. Well there is no f***ing blueprint. I know, unfortunately.”

Thankfully, there is a type of spiritual “blueprint” for GTI. Despite evidence to the contrary, God is present with us throughout this painful season, walking with us in the valley of the shadow of death even while moving us from a period of exile into a return to the goodness of the land, or “reorientation,” the third of Brueggemann’s cycles. This rejuvenation is not due to our own efforts, but in receiving God’s grace. There are numerous biblical allusions throughout WIMPIII, most prominently on “Hallelujah,” the penultimate song of reorientation. Danielle sings of how she met “two angels” who bless and strengthen her, and that “everywhere, you’ve been with me all along”—these are her sisters, her familial community who renew her strength (no true “wimps” here).

Indeed, the band’s very name, HAIM, is both their family Jewish surname as well as the Hebrew word for “life.” As Danielle sings on the chorus, “Why me? How’d I get this hallelujah? Hallelujah.” Such words of prayerful gratitude on the far side of suffering are precisely what the people of God might sing together while being restored to the land with a new post-exilic paradigm. In this, WIMPIII is a celebration of the richness of having a supportive and loving community in prolonged times of suffering, as well as an indirect reminder of the spiritual cycles we endure and God’s faithfulness in the midst of our journey.

Topics: Music