When T-Mobile made the move to free music streaming from my data cap I decided I’d give it a try. It might come as a surprise to people who know me, but I’m really not much of a music listener. I never understood people who were defined by the music to which they listened while I was growing up, and to this day the whole concept of “musical celebrities” leaves me rather confused.
On the other hand, I adore singing. There is very little which wakes my soul as meditating on as song as I sing it. “Be Thou My Vision” makes my heart ache in hope, and “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing” usually brings a tear to my eye. This verse,
Hear Him, ye deaf; His praise, ye dumb,
Your loosened tongues employ;
Ye blind, behold your Savior come,
And leap, ye lame, for joy.
absolutely reeks of the ultimate Christian hope of New Creation. How can I not weep in longing?
Just listening to music isn’t really something which moves me. For me to really sit down and listen music needs invoke a sense of longing, a depth which I find all to rare. Longing is probably the defining aspect of my character, to be honest. It’s captured in my blog’s title Painfully Hopeful.
Now, there is some music which stirs me this way. “Comfortably Numb,” a Pink Floyd Classic, leads me to this place as it highlights the death of humanity at the hands of medicated calm. Some U2 leads me to longing, “40” is the obvious mention from their corpus. Rich Mullins, one of the few “Christian” artists with whom I find any sense of connection, wrote three particular songs which stir me deeply – “Step by Step,” “The Color Green,” and “If I Stand.” Bruce Springsteen’s “Rocky Ground” could be described as the cry of my heart if it weren’t for the end of Return of the King and “Into the West.” I could listen to that song over and over, and actually have 1.
So I have a rather narrow focus when I explore music. I don’t particularly care about genre, I just need to be able to peer into a song’s depth and see some ache for the horizon. I think it’s because I believe, deep in my heart, God put that ache there for us to feel.
This leads me back to music streaming. Some artists which have managed to cross my path in recent years are the Lumineers and Mumford and Sons. I set these two bands up as the basis for stations in iTunes Radio and allowed them to take me where they went. To my surprise one group kept popping up in both feeds, NEEDTOBREATHE. The first song I encountered from this group, “Multiplied,” is very much a worship song, which surprised me. It turns out the father of the two brothers who form the core of NEEDTOBREATHE is a Pastor, and their faith surfaces throughout much of their music without resorting to the “ra ra Jesus” shallowness which infects far too much “Christian music.” I very much enjoy “Multipled,” but it’s their song “Brother” which hooked me. This verse, in particular, made me want to shout, “He’s talking about me!”
Face down in the desert now there’s a cage locked around my heart
I found a way to drop the keys where my failures were
Now my hands can’t reach that far
I ain’t made for a rivalry I could never take the world alone
I know that in my weakness I am strong, but
It’s your love that brings me home
The truth is, I’m not difficult to figure out. I am my own worst critic and when I look in the mirror all I tend to see are my shortcomings. Except in small doses, I am not bold. I have no desire at all to be “out there” for people to see. In fact, I want the world to leave me alone. Deep inside me, however, there’s an ache which I can’t escape. It sees people ignoring their own history and beckons me to take on the roll of teacher. It witnesses my own collusion with ignorance and oppression and calls forth the penitent prophet who cries out, “This is not ok!” It leads me to people who are grieving and invokes a compassion alien to my normal personality and dares me to ask God, “How long?” But my arms aren’t long enough to reach out into my own sense of failure and unlock the cage I put myself in. I depend on others, lost in their own struggles and anger and sorrow and doubt, to pick up the keys and remind me the cage is not where I belong. In these broken others the presence of Christ is revealed to me anew, and horizon of the world made new is painfully stitched into my heart once more.
And all I can say in response to my painfully hopeful existence is, “Lord have mercy. Save us from ourselves, and make things new.”
- I have a friend who wants “Into the West” played as a meditation at his funeral. I think that’s a fantastic idea, and I’m actually bummed I didn’t think of it first. ↩