Thursday, February 21, 2008

Stopped by a Song

In the moments I get to be alone with my thoughts (which are few), I've been brooding over whether to share my impressions of the Bike Ride for the Homeless, post some recent lessons from Isaiah 58, or compose a short essay comparing Philip Pullman's and Mary Shelly's concepts of the zombie and their implications toward an analysis of the soul. (Brace yourself, it's coming.) Too little time for any of these lately.

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.


S Himes said...

Just wanted to let you know that I read your blog and watched the video. After watching the video and hearing the song there's nothing I can say!

Lori said...

WOW!! There's really nothing else to say...GREAT song and video!

Joe Church said...

Bill, heard you guys this morning talking with Sarah, and WOW. Thanks for doing the blog, they are great resources!

Anonymous said...

Bill - it's okay. Everyone wants comments and few are lucky enough to get them. It's not you. It's them.

Linda said...

Bill, I read this blog the other day but did not comment; now after hearing Sarah this morning, I have to. Our church just finished a five-day missions conference and a recurring theme for me was just absolutely confirmed with this blog and Sarah's song, and that is: what am I doing for Jesus? I only get one life ... we all have a specific purpose ... what if I miss mine? Or have I missed something already? This is all causing much introspection and re-evaluation of where I am headed and what I am being called to do ... Thanks for making me think, and for causing me to actually stop to listen for a change ...

christianwhosenameisamy said...

I'm so glad you played that song this morning! I listen to "When the Saints come marching in" nearly every day, but to learn about the inspiration for the songs and to hear track #8 was very exciting. It was a great thing to hear about for someone who may never get the opportunity to go overseas and help... but it makes me ever the more confident that I could in fact do it with no fear because God is watching over us all. Again, thank you.

bonnie said...

This is inspiring. Please play the song often. Just so you know I have never commented on a blog before. I didn't even know what a blog was. Does that give away my age?? Just for you I even signed up for a Google/Blogger account. Has anyone done THAT for Carmen??

Unknown said...

Thanks for posting the great piece on
your blog... We certainly take a lot for granted !!
Greg from Tampa

Unknown said...

Thanks for posting the great piece on
your blog... We certainly take a lot for granted !!
Greg from Tampa

Beth said...

I am speechless. I heard the song on the radio this morning and the interview with Sarah, but the faces of those children in the video are what captured me. In 2006 my husband and I adopted three siblings, through the state. I can see their faces and their pain in the faces of those children. Makes me want to go to Rwanda and bring home 10 more.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to share my thoughts with you. Thank you for sharing your profound thoughts in the way that this song has touched your heart. I've heard the song many times, but have never really paid much attention to the verses until this morning. My heart's desire is to be like these saints. I am going through a heart-wrenching struggle with an upcoming divorce and the hurt and anger that I feel has been overshadowing my hope that the Lord can use this to make me stronger and allow me to minister to others. Thank you for bringing out the meaning of this song for me. I want to be able to be so on fire for the Lord relying on His strength to get through this hard time. I want to be strong enough to be used to help others as these hurt people in the song have helped me see that God is so full of grace and forgiveness.

Anonymous said...

Listening to Sara this morning reminded me that my husband found Jesus after taking a trip to Mississippi during Katrina. He was there to work and stumbled upon a church tent that was providing supplies and shelter to the victims. He spent about a week with them and said that he witnessed God's love and provision through the work of the volunteers. He realized that material things are here today and gone tomorrow, but God's love is here for us forever.

Unknown said...


It is the DIFFERENCE between you and them. Carmen gets the comments because she seems like folks - while there is more to her, she seems approachable. Many people will read what you have written and take it away as food for thought (remember what Peter said about Paul's writings). It's in your nature and the nature of the niche that develops your thinking that the distance exists. (speaking from decades of personal experience)

Bill Martin's Personal Ramblings said...

Thanks EVERYONE for your kind word and comments -- Peter: I've never had my writings compared to PAUL'S before! Just glad that I'm making some connections with Sara's songs, because they need to be heard for their art, sensitivity and depth. God used her record in my life; nice to know I'm not the only one.

Anonymous said...

That was really deep. Keep blogging. I like reading it. :)

Godsgirl47 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.