Then I got stopped in my tracks by a song.
It happens every now and then, usually unexpectedly. When you're in my profession, songs roll over your ears like dollars through a teller's fingers. They are currency - valuable, but familiar and objective. When a song reaches out from the speakers, through the ears, past the broca, into the heart and then back up to the lachrymal glands, I've got to share the experience. In this case I was tracking through Sara Groves' latest CD, Tell Me What You Know. We're playing her song, "When the Saints," which is not getting a lot of airplay around the nation because you have to listen to more than just "the hook" to be grabbed by it. Our listeners allow us to mix in some meatier songs, so the song is doing quite well on our air. But it's another song, track 8, that I'm gushing about.
"I Saw What I Saw" was inspired by Sara's work with the International Justice Mission and a recent trip to Rwanda. Unlike previous quick forays into disaster relief and social justice, Sara says that on her Rwandan mission, she realized how much we miss knowing Christ until we know him in his suffering. We come to know Jesus this way by entering into the suffering of the poor and oppressed. A major theme in the Christian life, we hear little about redemptive suffering in the context of comfortable American evangelicalism.
Sara's song grabbed me, reached my soul, wrung me out. I thought of going to India just after the 2004 Tsunami: walking the beach in Muttom, seeing the photograph in the foyer of a wife and mother who were silently swept away, as a grieving husband invited us into his tiny house; surveying the rubble, reading the pain on the faces of the villagers who were skeptical of our being there. I wondered if my two trips to the southern tip were the "quick hit" type of mission, or if in my heart I really entered into their suffering. I think it's a bit of both. "I Saw What I Saw" took me there and stood me before my Lord with empty hands.
Everything about this song penetrates the hard shell of familiarity: the simple, plaintive chord structure led by Sara on piano, the always-perfectly complementary countermelody of John Catchings' cello, and the deliberate, falling melody over marked rhythms and pedal tones, balancing a tense, stepwise, upward movement in the chorus, a setting for these hope-filled lyrics:
your pain has changed me
your dream inspires
your face a memory
your hope a fire
your courage asks me what I am afraid
and what I know of love, and what I
know of god
If I say anymore, I'll just ruin the song. You have to watch the video. Oh, and I'll be talking to Sara next week for the show. Make sure you listen.