The weight of songs (+ a new one).


So yesterday was my first real ‘work’ day of tour. I had a 15 minute slot at the South Australia Synod of the Uniting Church. About 300 ministers and church leaders were gathered, and I got the final quarter of an hour before lunch, a greatly coveted time slot ;). Later that day I had a music practice with the musicians I will be working with on Sunday at Hope Valley Uniting Church.

At the Synod meeting, I shared a couple of songs, one of which was, ‘Christ before me’, the song I wrote based on St Patrick’s breastplate, an ancient Christian prayer that testifies to God being in all things. You can hear it here.

The song moves between words of great comfort (Christ before me, Christ behind me) to words of incredible challenge (Everything is sacred, everything is blessed). My conviction is that the first statement is what undergirds the second. If Christ is all around us, then isn’t everything being sanctified by his presence? I often have this conversation with people who are concerned I am saying that ‘Everything is fine’ which of course I am not. The cross wasn’t fine, but it was most certainly sacred.

Anyway, that conversation has happened a great deal, and will no doubt continue to play out. However, yesterday a different conversation unfolded in response to the same song. A minister spoke to me about how she had just  fareweled a family who had been in the city for cancer treatment for their 9 year old child. The treatment had failed, and they had returned home to begin palliative care for their little one. Palliative care is when death is inevitable, and further treatment is no use. She was sharing some of her grief, and how the words of my song had comforted her. She found strength in the truth of Christ enfolding this child with his presence. Yet I found myself feeling…odd. I had never imagined my song surviving a situation like this and still being able to minister grace. I thought it would shatter under the pressure and be found wanting.

Someone else was disarmed by this new song of mine. It is a contemporary framing of the Aaronic Blessing. I wanted these words to have a fresh life, as they are too wonderful to leave buried in the Old Testament or old hymn books. Here’s a very rough little demo of it.

This person was close to someone who had just been diagnosed with motor neuron disease, an incredibly awful condition, where the body gradually shuts down, while the mind remains active. I remember encountering it when I was interning as a chaplain at Dunedin Hospital. This song gave them peace.

Again I felt odd. For me, these songs didn’t feel robust enough to work in such conditions. It seemed to me people were using a child’s plastic spade to dig a trench in frozen ground. Yet the spade wasn’t breaking. However, I was. I was feeling out of my depth and apologetic for having dared to write something so naively hopeful in a world where 9 years get sent home to die, and where people’s body’s shut down around them. But it didn’t seem to matter. I played my songs, and peace came. They told me their story and while I was humbled and unsettled, their peace remained.

I don’t have any clever answers or piercing insights based on these experiences. Instead I have felt thoroughly undone, reminded that I am just a very small player on God’s stage. I’m mostly glad to be part of it, but at times like this it all feels a bit overawing.

1 Comment
  • ian pittendreigh

    Be encouraged Malcolm – if you use songs that are biblical themes and words The Holy Spirit will minister through them to people. It’s not uncommon for preachers (or singer songwriters) to feel like humble observers. Embrace it and bless the Lord.

    November 2, 2013

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