What’s the Value of a Grammy? How Ignatian Spirituality can Explain Miley Cyrus’s Acceptance Speech

by | Mar 5, 2024 | Lent, Music, Pop Culture, Uncategorized

In the 2024 Grammy Awards, Miley Cyrus received two Grammys for her song “Flowers”: Best Pop Solo Performance and Record of the Year. After many years in the music industry without recognition, many fans and commentators alike celebrated that she received the honors she deserved. Although maybe not the biggest Miley fan myself, I saw her start in her Disney Channel show Hannah Montana while growing up. I have followed her journey of breaking the mold of a child star and finding her own way. When I heard that Miley had won, I was intrigued to hear how she would celebrate this moment. What surprised me is that this former child star spoke quite profoundly about two perennial tensions in the spiritual life.

First, Miley’s humility draws attention to the tension of appropriately valuing recognition. I was inspired by how she received her awards: praising Mariah Carey, thanking loved ones and the families of her production team, and claiming that the award is not important. Yet, if the “awards” we seek after are not important, with what attitude should we receive them? 

If recognition is not important, why bother going to the Grammys? Why bother walking to get your diploma when you graduate? Jesus points to this contradiction in the Gospels when he says, “whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:24). It can be puzzling that Jesus一or the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences一grant us something after being instructed by scripture or broader culture that we should first let go of that thing in our hearts. So how does God call us to have a healthy relationship with recognition?

Second, Miley’s story of a little boy who wanted a butterfly raises questions about the value of effort. When the child received a butterfly net from his parents for his birthday, he swung around with much effort but without success. When he finally sat down, let go of the net, and accepted he would not catch one, a butterfly landed on his nose. Does letting go of the nets of our lives mean that it is fruitless to work hard to achieve our goals? Certainly not.  We are right to praise each otherand often dofor the results of our efforts. 

When I used to teach middle school science, I would encourage my students to adopt a growth mindset. Even if their results were far from perfect, I would recognize the improvements they made in the class. Students should take more pride in the progress they earned through hard work and perseverance rather than thinking they were either naturally gifted or incapable of grasping the subject. Forgoing a growth mindset could be particularly problematic in the spiritual life during Lent. What is the point of trying to grow in holiness and becoming a better person if I believe that God loves me no matter what?

Ignatian indifference and God’s grace in action can help us make sense of these apparent contradictions. During the first week of the Spiritual Exercises, the retreatants are tasked with cultivating a detachment of all things that can help us navigate the tension between valuing and distancing ourselves from recognition. In the Principle and Foundation, St. Ignatius offers us the meaning of life: God created human beings to praise, reverence, and serve God, and by doing this, to save their souls. God created all other things on the face of the earth to help fulfill this purpose. From this, it follows that “we are to use the things of this world only to the extent that they help us to this end, and we ought to rid ourselves of the things of this world to the extent that they get in the way of this end” (SE 23). This is Ignatian indifference. Only God’s love can order our wants, desires, and relationships toward created things in a way that will bring us fulfillment. 

Thinking of Miley’s story, I imagine that she learned that even if she never wins a Grammy or fits the mold that others have for her, she can live with that because what drives her is her love of expressing herself through her music. The award is a nice cherry on top, but it is her love of music that sustains her through the ups and downs of the music industry一and perhaps in life. As she stated in her acceptance speech, “this award is amazing, but I really hope this doesn’t change anything because my life was beautiful yesterday.” Her example models Ignatian indifference in daily life. The created things of the world, including prestige and recognition, do not change our fundamental task of life, which is to praise, reverence, and serve God.

Our efforts for self-improvement are worth recognizing and celebrating. Still, they come in second place to God’s unconditional love. As we advance through the Spiritual Exercises, our disposition turns out much like that of the boy with the butterflies. While the First Week focuses on detachment, the Fourth Week shows us that God always chooses us first. In the Contemplation to Attain Love, the retreatant is invited to deepen her awareness of how God tirelessly labors in all things for her good and how everything comes from God as the rays descend from the Sun (SE 236-237). If we see how much God already loves us and is already working for us, it can seem like we have nothing to work for一like the child and his butterfly net. 

However, Ignatius thinks that we do not just merely accept God’s love. In fact, God’s love is so strong, so incomprehensible, that we are always moved to respond to God’s love. Our efforts should not be driven by a need to capture something, like the boy at first does with his net. If we have to work tirelessly to attain, or maintain, something that we long for, it is a sign that we believe it is never ours. The effort, like Miley’s making music, is instead motivated by an awareness and gratitude of what is freely given. And this, ironically, demands of us to devote all that we are to more fully marvel and embrace it. So too in the spiritual life. Although our efforts do not earn God’s love, we engage in penance this Lent as a conscious and concrete response to God that we are grateful and want to more fully embrace this love, by following and conforming our lives to him.

Whether it is in our efforts to write music or in the Lenten penances we take up, may our efforts be rooted in the awareness that God always loves us better than we can. That is always worth celebrating. Although not everyone in the world will win a Grammy, God’s unconditional love tells us that everyone is worth celebrating. And although it might seem we have to earn that love, Ignatian spirituality can help us understand that our life is a response to that love that was already freely given.

Image Note: “Miley Cyrus [HM: BackStage]” by AlexKormisPS (ALM) is licensed under CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/?ref=openverse.


Pablo Velasquez, SJ

pvelasquezsj@thejesuitpost.org   /   All posts by Pablo