Last week, I wrote about the spiritual journey of Billy Corgan, the lead singer, guitarist, and songwriter for Smashing Pumpkins. His journey has taken him from a nihilistic lack of faith to a spirituality that embraces many faiths – including elements of Christianity. The band’s excellent 2012 album Oceania reflects Corgan’s spiritual state, and Judeo-Christian themes run throughout the songs.
Track 2 of Oceania has an odd title. I’ll admit I had to look up what a panopticon was. Wikipedia explains the concept of a panopticon this way:
The Panopticon is a type of institutional building designed by English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century. The concept of the design is to allow a watchman to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) inmates of an institution without their being able to tell whether they are being watched or not…
The design consists of a circular structure with an “inspection house” at its centre, from which the managers or staff of the institution are able to watch the inmates, who are stationed around the perimeter. Bentham conceived the basic plan as being equally applicable to hospitals, schools, sanatoriums, daycares, and asylums, but he devoted most of his efforts to developing a design for a Panopticon prison, and it is his prison which is most widely understood by the term.
In the song, Corgan may not be in a prison, though he speaks of “rest[ing] in the shells I’ve designed.” Rather, I see him as the observer in the tower (perhaps the tower on the album’s cover), looking out into the world around him. And he is seeking – seeking God.
Rise! Love is here
Oh, don’t make me wonder
Life’s never clear where choice is a gift
To use and abuse
To build on proof
Oh don’t make me wonder
To ask on behalf of you
Of you, where are you?
Where are you in you?*
The concept of seeking God is nothing new in Judeo-Christian circles. In fact, we see this idea pop up throughout the Bible:
5 They will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God their Savior. 6 Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, God of Jacob.
But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.
My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek.
4 This is what the Lord says to Israel: “Seek me and live…”
6 Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.
Of course, God tells us in the Bible that we will receive rewards for earnestly and wholeheartedly seeking Him. Even in our modern world, His timeless promises are true. In Jeremiah 29:13, the prophet quotes the Lord as saying, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
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In Luke 11:9-10, Jesus tell His followers, “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Paul tells the men of Athens in Acts 17:24-28
The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ [emphasis mine]
And the author of Hebrews says, in Hebrews 11:6, that God “rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
I haven’t seen where Billy Corgan has referred to himself as a seeker, but it’s clear that his spiritual journey is taking him on a search for God’s truth. If his search leads him to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – and of Jesus – God will reward him. That’s my prayer for him.
Stay tuned as I look at other tracks from Oceania in the coming weeks.
**Editorial Encouragement and a tip for growing the series: Hey Chris, how about you also check out Mary Star of the the album Corgan made in 2003 with his post-Pumpkins project Zwan. As “Jesus I/Mary Star of the Sea,” the song I embedded above — that your wonderful piece reminded me of — show Corgan’s journey out of the darkness has been going on for some time now. And in the lyrics of this track he speaks more explicitly about being born again and carrying his own cross. If one didn’t know that Corgan had written the song its lyrics could easily be mistaken for a Christian rock song. Keep up the series! This is great! -DMS
*”Panopticon” written by William Patrick Corgan (c) 2012 Faust’s Haus Music