This post is dedicated to my Seattle-based agent Jenée Arthur, who was kind enough to buy me a copy of Charles R. Cross’sCobain Unseenafter I signed with her. Thank you for all your hard work, Jenée. Enjoy the read.

I spent an hour with Seattle’s lost son Kurt Cobain a few nights ago.

I walked on our treadmill and watched something like a bootleg collection of television interviews with Nirvana on Netflix, and found myself magically transported back to 1992-1994. Who says man has yet to perfect time travel? In archival footage such as this, we have what my film teacher John C. Tibbetts once referred to as a specimen of “time trapped in amber.” The moment has been preserved, and we can visit it again and again without any contraption from an H. G. Wells novel.

While I have written at great length about Nirvana’s influence on me in high school in the opening essay of my book, The Stained-Glass Kaleidoscope (which my agent is currently pitching to major publishing houses), the footage I watched the other night brought a few new things to mind. I will not rehash here what I have written about in detail in my book – consider this piece supplemental in nature. Suffice it to say, Nirvana was and still is a big deal to me. As a musical baby, I cut my teeth on the band’s barbed-wire punk.

I initially failed to connect with the band’s MTV Unplugged session. I thought of Nirvana as a musical sledgehammer, and the Unplugged session showcased the band whacking the world with a rubber mallet instead. There was something incongruous about this image of Nirvana when compared to the more common depictions of the band trashing its equipment on stage. Nirvana was a form of musical violence, at least in my mind.

In one of the interviews I watched, Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic speaks about the MTV Unplugged recording session, saying, “I’ll never forget, after we did Unplugged, how happy Kurt was – he was so happy – and he was the person right there in the center. He was really, really happy after that.” He was at the center of the proceedings, the sun around which the people in that room revolved. Even though Cobain famously detested the trappings of fame, there was a sense in which he seemed to need the affirmation he found when he performed. If he truly wanted something other than fame, he could have refrained from signing with the David Geffen Company. He could have stayed with Seattle-based Sub Pop Records. He could have played local shows in Aberdeen on the weekends and lived an otherwise conventional life. But he signed with the David Geffen Company, and suddenly found himself in a spotlight that may as well have been an interrogation light.

Why stand in the spotlight if you want something other than fame? What else can the spotlight deliver other than temporary blindness? In his book Searching for God Knows What, author Donald Miller traces the human need for affirmation to the account of the Fall of Man in Genesis 3. Miller essentially asserts that we were made to stand in the sunlight of God’s love – to grow in its warmth, to be defined in relation to Him and His life-giving presence.

Miller writes, “And then I started thinking about my own life, how I need people to love me and like me and how, if they don’t, I feel miserable and sad and how I am tempted to believe what they are saying about me is true. It is as though the voice God used to have has been taken up by less credible voices. And when I think about this I know that Genesis 3 is true; I know without a doubt I am a person who is wired so that something outside myself tells me who I am.”

If we believe the Christian narrative, then it is indeed reasonable to think that Miller is right. If we were made for a relationship with God, and the Fall severed our connection with him, then we are likely to feel disconnected – cut off from a sense of meaning and purpose, at least to some extent. Without that connection with our Creator, we are like modems that dial again and again in search of a server. We still need to be told who we are. So we establish ourselves as the centers of our own universes, hoping all of the people who revolve around us will define us and give us meaning and purpose.

I cannot help but think that Kurt Cobain sought something of the Divine love in the spotlight, perhaps even unaware. Might it be reasonable to assume that the applause of millions might seem like a suitable substitute for the applause of God Himself?

There was a hole in Kurt Cobain’s life, and he sang about it all the time. He circled that hole with his lyrics. He injected heroin into that hole. He sang into the blackness of that hole – that empty echo chamber – and his words disappeared into it as if it were a black hole capable of sucking all of the light and life out of the universe. I would say “Kurt Cobain had a gaping God-shaped hole in his life,” but that would sound preachy, and my dad is the preacher – not me. I am just playing the spiritual Sherlock Holmes here, looking under rocks and smashed guitars for clues.

But on a related note, in Bill Maher’s documentary Religulous, Maher ridicules the notion of a God-shaped hole existing in the human soul, and understandably so. It does sound patently absurd, admittedly. Maher resents that God would even make creatures with God-shaped vacuums in their hearts. In his eyes, it is a form of cruelty. It is as if we have a form of copyright protection on our hearts, and no one else can own us but God. We have no choice in the matter. This sort of exclusivity reminds me of Apple and its inventive products. Even its MP3s are encoded with special DRM protection. Apple’s fingerprints are all over its products, insuring that no one mistakes an iPod or an iPad for anything other than a product of Steve Jobs & Co.

But if God made us for Himself – if He made us to relate to Him as a parent and child joyfully relate to one another at their best – then the hole is not a cruel vortex, but a wound. It is not a form of copyright protection, but an absence of love. It is like the hole that opens up in a family when a mother dies, or a sibling disappears, or a father walks out and never returns. And it is the reason Jesus came to us. He came not just to fill the God-shaped hole in the human heart, but to bring humanity back into the home of God. He came to restore the Divine family – to make sons and daughters out of all of us who would allow Him to do so. Kurt Cobain came from a broken family, and he was vocal about the pain that accompanied living with a familial wound.

I say all of this not to disrespect Kurt Cobain’s memory or story – I did not know him personally. I cannot pretend to understand why he did what he did in life or in bringing about his own death. But I can speculate, and I can think about what I do know of his circumstances. He was the sun around which my musical universe revolved for some time, and if nothing else I like to think I can honor his memory by thinking about his life through the lenses I see all things through.

On a closing note, my friend Mark and I once covered “Dumb,” a song from Nirvana’s black swan song In Utero, at a Southern Baptist coffeehouse. Yes, we sang, “My heart is broke / but I have some glue / help me inhale /mend it with you / we’ll float around / and hang out on clouds / then we’ll come down / and have a hangover” at a Southern Baptist coffeehouse. The song is about descending from Mt. Sinai after worshiping God, right?

We expected people to hurl chairs at us, or at least hymnals, but the bored response suggested the audience thought “Dumb” was from a Baptist hymnal. So much for controversy. I like to think we honored Kurt Cobain that night by remembering his brokenness. Sure, he tried to mend his heart by sniffing glue, or at least his lyrics say so. But he was honest about the state of his heart: It was broken, just as ours so often are. He was disconnected from the One who wanted a relationship with him. He only wanted to feel better. He wanted to be happy, like he did after the band finished the MTV Unplugged session.

May we take our hearts to our Heavenly Father for mending.