A Stream Across the Path

By

I was reading through the responses to the Sigur Ros video and decided to grab a line or two from each one. It’s remarkable to me how varied the reactions were to this piece, and it’s taught me something about the way we all approach art differently.

I’ve so often been exasperated by the lack of widespread success of some artists, wondering why more people don’t rush out and buy this or that songwriter’s albums when the music is so clearly powerful and emotive. But then I see the responses to this video and I’m reminded of the almost mystical nature of art and imagination. God has created music, words, visual art to carry a kind of spiritual power. They speak to us in ways that can be as profound as anything we might come across in this world, much like magic beckons and guides in fairy stories.

Have you ever been stopped in your tracks by a lyric in a song, maybe even one you’ve heard a thousand times? Frederick Buechner says that the moments when tears spring unexpectedly are the times when you’re brushing up against the eternal. Those are the times when you’d better stop and take note. Pay attention. Write it down so you’ll remember that moment when your heart grew softer. Remember, because this is something that can actually happen, even to us.

But we’re all on the journey, aren’t we? Some of us are in the valley, others on the side of a hill with a long view of the country ahead or behind. George MacDonald described Jesus’ parables as springs that ran across the path rather than beside it; they’re bubbling with life, but we might not drink of it until we reach that part of the journey when we’re able to understand it. Or, we’ll understand it differently when we’re farther along.

This has been true for me. I grew up with the Scriptures and am still largely baffled by them. But when those moments come in my journey when the pieces click into place and I get that long, cool drink of water from something Jesus said, I’m reminded of MacDonald’s wise words. I learn that there’s nothing wrong with mystery. I learn that my heart is finding its way.

The Spirit-wind blows where it will, sometimes howling out of the imagery of a group of brave children leaving their old lives behind and charging up the mountain with a mighty roar, leaping into the great wide freedom of their faith’s reward.

—————

It’s important to realize that a difference in reaction to a piece of art does not your maturity define. Not to keep harping on MacDonald, but I’ve found great comfort in something he said about what he called “the secret chamber in the heart of God.” He said that God has reserved for each of us a unique chamber in himself into which only we may enter. The relationship that you have with Jesus, the intimate nature of your connection with him, is not exactly the same as mine. You have things to teach me about the mind of Christ, insights into his Word that I cannot see on my own. There are things about him that may be very clear to you that have never crossed my mind. His Spirit lives in you, and it lives in me, and we are not the same.

Someone asked the late Mike Yaconelli what it meant to be “spiritual.” He said that “being spiritual is nothing more than paying attention.” People have asked me about songwriting and that’s the pat answer I give them: keep your eyes open. Look for meaning, because the world is fraught with it. If you believe that behind (and beyond) the veil of this world is a Creator who knit us together, cast us into history, and gave us the gift of his presence–a living wind that is as much God as Jesus is, living within us–then life is no longer meaningless, but infinitely sacred.

I don’t mean that we should superstitiously look for answers in places where we shouldn’t, like studying tea leaves or lines on your palm, but that we should look deeper and see the thing for what it is: tea leaves make tea–why should that be so? Because God filled this world with good things (especially good if the tea is sweet and iced, and you’ve just finished mowing your lawn). Look at the lines on your palm. There’s no answer to your employment or relational dilemma there, but if you look closely you’ll see calluses, maybe scars that tell part of your story; you’ll see that you’re unique, or maybe you’ll notice what a profoundly useful contraption a hand is–and placed just so, at the end of your arm, where it can hold a hammer and nail to build house or a music box, where it can press the strings of the guitar in a way that just might make someone’s heart leap in their chest when they hear the song, where it can feel the smooth skin of your baby’s back or turn the last page of the book so you can find out what happens in the end.

We must learn to see. And if we don’t see, we must learn to try.

Now, I don’t mean that there’s something wrong with you if the Sigur Ros video didn’t float your boat, goodness knows. That would be silly and elitist. There were lyrics in last week’s song comments that didn’t move me one bit, and that’s fine too. To change MacDonald’s water analogy a bit, artists are digging wells and diverting the water to make streams that cross the path. Our hope is that people on the journey will stop and drink and taste something eternal. Maybe this video was a stream you haven’t reached yet–or maybe it was a few miles back and you’re hungry for something deeper.

(Of course, there’s only one place to find living water, and he is the source of all joy and meaning and grace. The above analogy only goes so far.)

Here’s a compendium of the responses to this stream on the path, which will hopefully help us to appreciate the diversity of our experience and the power of resonance. When the artist touches the pulse of someone, something beautiful happens. For those of you who “didn’t get it”, I’d be interested to hear some examples of when you felt your heart leap from a piece of art or writing or music.

“For me, since I dedicated 6 years of my life in college and grad school to studying saxophone and jazz I may be moved by a John Coltrane solo in a much deeper way than someone who never listens to jazz and finds it to be a bunch of noise.”

“I guess my overriding feeling from the piece was its pure joy.”

“I think that each of us see pieces of Heaven in little things, not all of us in the same things. We see these little glimpses and whispers of Heaven that are perfect bits of promise of what God has for us.”

“So in my mind I was wondering why they were alone, where they were going to, coming from, orphans, and really thought tragedy was coming when they charged the hill and it turned into a cliff . . . I admit I’m jaded.”

“I think this is a neat video. But that’s it.”

“My favorite bit (apart from the wonderful diversity of the “follow me” calling scenes) is when they start to run, casting aside every encumbrance in their single-minded pursuit of the goal.”

“I kept waiting for something profound so maybe that was what my problem was. But i didn’t think it was emotional in the least.”

“…it still rings true, and I think that’s because it’s calling to the part of me that believes in something more. Not just the child in me. The hope in me.”

“Each image holds meaning. It’s worth it to watch this several times to lasso further meaning.”

“…and yes, it makes me cry too — when he starts beating the drum and they all charge the mountain in unison…. Whew.”

“Wow. Beautiful. I’m not sure all it’s about but I have about a million ideas.”

“I guess I’m with the minority as I didn’t get the song and video.”

“There is something undeniably powerful about the innocence and the freedom of childhood.”

“I’m not sure I get it. The song is good, and it works well with the imagery, which I sort of feel on some visceral level that I can’t quite articulate…”

“Yeah, I didn’t get any kind of emotional charge out of this either.”

“The world would be a dull place if the same poets moved every soul.”

“I think for me it is the unbridled joy that the kids seem to display, all walking and running together for one purpose. This will preach!”

“I cannot tell you how much I love this video, this song, and this band.”

“Yeah, that’s some powerful stuff. Very cool.”

“I won’t go into detail of the numerous hymn lyrics and scripture than flashed to mind during subsequent scenes, but I will say that I had to try and cover my tears in the manliest of ways.”

As a singer-songwriter and recording artist, Andrew has released more than ten records over the past fifteen years. His music has earned him a reputation for writing songs that connect with his listeners in ways equally powerful, poetic, and intimate. He has also followed his gifts into the realm of publishing. His books include the four volumes of the award-winning Wingfeather Saga.


13 Comments

  1. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    AP,

    I had a dream once, one of those which I call a God-dream. The dream involved a man diving in front of gunfire to save a boy, getting himself shot full of holes, and both of them falling into the river of hades; at that point the boy drowned and my perspective changed into that of being the man. I was instantly healed of my gunshot wounds. The dream is full of relevant symbolism, but the point I’m getting to was that immediately after the river, I was given a day organizer/planner. When I opened it it was full of words, and the words shifted and re-formed as I looked at it; it said, “You must broach this subject at the dinner table,” meaning I must talk about my experience of dying trying to save the boy (a representation of the boy-me – self-protection) and being healed of mortal wounds.

    Here’s the point: when I tried to show someone the message in my book, the words shifted and re-formed again, and to him it was relatively meaningless. It became just an ordinary book.

    When I woke up I realized that’s what the Bible was like – to those in a different place, in a different part of the mansion (or even outside of the mansion), what is earth-shattering and mind-blowing to me may be either commonplace or not understandable to them. They may be beyond or past the level which is blowing apart my inner paradigm; they may not yet be there (or in many cases, may not want to be there…). Therefore a song lyric which contains a truth has to be connected with the other piece of the puzzle – our perception of it, which, unless God gives sudden revelation, is always subjugated to our present level of experience.

    That’s why humility is so crucial. As a fictional example, if one of my favorite guitarists, Pat Metheny, says he loves Wes Montgomery’s guitar playing, and I listen to Wes Montgomery and don’t care for it much, I see that as a lack in myself – an inability to understand it (I do like Wes Montgomery, though). Humility is the key to busting out of our present level of experience. If I could change one thing about my past it would be that I would much earlier have realized that I can learn something from nearly everybody if I have the right mindset – a humble one.

    Right now I am revamping the guitar technique of my right hand because of watching Sierra Hull play guitar and mandolin (16 years old). She is totally relaxed in her approach, no tension, and uses mostly her arm and not much wrist movement. So – I see that and think, “Wow. That’s so much easier and more accurate than what I’m doing.” And I learn from a 16 year old girl who by just sitting there playing tunes with me has changed a fundamental paradigm in my head – resulting in an increased ability to ‘cut the mustard’ in this 43 year old guitarist.

  2. That different Josh

    An example of a piece of art that has caused the tears to well up: I was listening to Sara Groves’ new record a few days ago. When I got to “When The Saints”, there is a part in that song that when I heard it, I probably rewound it a hundred times trying to take in all the goodness wrapped up a few lines of incredible songwriting. The part was this:

    I see the long quiet walk along the Underground Railroad
    I see the slave awakening to the value of her soul

    I see the young missionary and the angry spear
    I see his family returning with no trace of fear

    I see the long hard shadows of Calcutta nights
    I see the sisters standing by the dying man’s side

    I see the young girl huddled on the brothel floor
    I see the man with a passion come and kicking down the door

    I see the man of sorrows and his long troubled road
    I see the world on his shoulders and my easy load

    And when the Saints go marching in
    I want to be one of them

    I can’t really explain it to you (well, I could actually, but it’d take up too much space), but something in those lyrics tugs at me. It reaches past the cynicism that’s built up in my heart, shoves it out of the way, and lets the light come in for just a few seconds. And those few seconds are one of those times when I know what you’re talking about when you talk about “brushing up against the divine”.

    You know Andrew, your song “The Silence of God” is one of the only songs i’ve ever heard besides Bob Dylan’s “Every Grain of Sand” that is able to completely shut out whatever trouble I may be experiencing at any given moment and remind me that I’m not the only one that gets scared or needs some reassurance sometimes. Thanks for that.

  3. elijah

    Andrew, in response to your query about what makes my heart leap, there’s a scene in the movie Apollo 13 that moves me deeply.

    As the astronauts are circling the far side of the moon and under radio blackout, the men are looking down upon the moon’s surface at their proposed landing area. Fred Hays and Jack Swaggert are by the window and say they have “half a mind to take this baby down and do some prospecting.” Jim Lovell is away from the window, and he imagines himself on the moon’s surface leaping and gazing up at the earth and kneeling down to run his gloved hand through the moon dust plowing five small channels in the ground. He realizes in that moment that he will never realize his dream, and he’d rather go home. His fantasy then ends, and Jim asks his crew mates what their intentions are, and, after a beat, tells them he wants to go home.

    I tear up as in his fantasy he gazes up at the earth from the moon’s surface realizing he’ll never walk on the moon, and I tremble inside as he says he wants to go home.

  4. josh

    To quote an earlier post, “That different Josh” said…
    [“I see the young girl huddled on the brothel floor
    I see the man with a passion come and kicking down the door

    I see the man of sorrows and his long troubled road
    I see the world on his shoulders and my easy load

    And when the Saints go marching in
    I want to be one of them

    I can’t really explain it to you (well, I could actually, but it’d take up too much space), but something in those lyrics tugs at me. It reaches past the cynicism that’s built up in my heart, shoves it out of the way, and lets the light come in for just a few seconds. And those few seconds are one of those times when I know what you’re talking about when you talk about “brushing up against the divine”.]

    I love that part, too. That song hits me every time the way that you described, and I thought the goosebumps would have gone away by now, but I can’t seem to shake them whenever I hear it, especially in the last couple lines quoted about the young girl in the brothel and the Man of Sorrows. Great stuff.

  5. Stephen

    I started reading Lord of the Rings this week, and yesterday I got to the part where Frodo was really coming to grips with what his quest is all about and all that it will cost him. This part got me:

    After Frodo asked Gandalf why he was chosen for this task, Gandalf replied,

    “You may be sure that it was not for any merit that others do not possess; not for power or wisdom, at any rate. But you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.”

    Man, I don’t know. But those lines and the pages surrounding them just really made me perk up and pay attention like you were talking about. I almost teared up thinking about how much faith it took to start out on that journey from which he knew he’d probably never return. He wasn’t anything special. And that’s what is special about him. It just made me think of Jesus. And it made me think of me…if that makes any sense. I just connected with it deep down.

  6. That Other Josh

    So Andrew I forgot to ask you a very important and pressing question yesterday… When in the name of all things holy does your new CD come out? I keep hoping there’ll be something on here about it every time i log in. I can’t wait to hear it.

  7. Jim A

    In the video post from last week, I think Peter B really scratched the surface of an important concept around the universal truth question. He points to a phrase in proverbs and makes a point about the universal truth not making sense outside of context.
    I placed this comment there, but it seems better suited in this thread.

    I think a danger that happens all the time is when a context is created around something that is assumed to be a universal truth and because of how good the “art” is surrounding it, it’s assumed to be a universal truth and somehow, some way, rings true with many who are really just captured by the art. Sadly, they are taken down a path that serves only the creator of that presumed “truth”. For example, imagine picking a small obscure verse out of the old testament and devoting a book, a seminar, countless conferences, a product line (is that art?), and speeches (art?) that is good enough to convice countless genuine Christians that God’s desire is to have ME gain stuff for ME and I can do it by praying for it specifically for a month! Or another such philosophy in which if you pray and believe and then sweet talk the folks at the check-in counter you will get that first class ticket that God wants you to have.
    There’s a universal truth baked in there somewhere and it’s pitched with some good art (or at least very moving art) and it genuinely moves people so it must be true right?

    Now, take “behold the lamb”, this doesn’t make any pretentions of taking something out of context. in fact it strives to pull the whole story from the whole bible, not even taking the “good news” out of context by presenting it as something that just happens in the New Testament. That’s why I think that this Art is so much more powerful from a “universal truth” perspective and why it softens my heart and makes my eyes moist when i begin to understand that it was not a silent night but one with tears of pain, joy, fear, and faith.

    One further observation, I’ve seen the musical “Le Miserables” >5 times and it speaks of universal truths all over the place. And it makes me cry every time. Now, I imagine that if I were to have see this in French the first time, I still would have cried without understanding a word of it. (epinene taking a bullet to save her love, or the young street rat that looks like one of the kids in the sigur ross video running after more ammunition and getting killed) To me that speaks of the universal truth of loving someone so much that you are willing to lay down your life for them and that’s a teary subject. running up a hill and jumping off and pretending to fly just looks like an LSD trip gone bad.

  8. Jenni

    Thank you for writing this – it is beautifully written. Aside from my husband and another friend, I’m kind of alone in my love for Sigur Rós’ music and visuals and until now, I’ve felt odd. But after reading this, not quite so odd. It is indeed a mystery which art grabs folks, and what doesn’t. I love what Buechner said – that which brings us to tears is a brush against the eternal. Music and other art will most definitely be part of eternity, to worship our Creator.

  9. Chris Slaten

    Sorry if this is a long winded way to say ditto/I feel ya.

    Maurice Ravel wrote a beautiful piece of music called “Introduction and Allegro” which is about a 12 -15 minutes long; the perfect amount of time for me to sit and listen to it in my parked car, alone, once or twice a week when I would get to high school early. For about a year this was my song. It was obscure enough to feel personal, like my own discovery and because no one else who I played it for did much more than doze. Not to mention the fact that it is gorgeous and inspiring.

    Throughout highschool despite being blessed with lots of supportive friends and great experiences, I mostly felt alone. (i.e. during a surprise birthday party that was thrown for me with about 40 or more good friends at my house, I went to the upstairs bathroom and cried because I felt like none of them knew me. Yeah, I was one of those kids.) During that time in my life I had prayed fervently that I could see, like Hagar did when she was desperate and alone in the wilderness, that He sees, hears, is very near and that I am not alone.

    One weekend I went to the Chattanooga Symphony by myself. I didn’t look to see what was on the bill for that night. I sat in between some strangers, alone and distracted. Amidst the discord of people taking their seats and the orchestra warming up. I heard the theme from “Introduction and Allegro,” played briefly from the flutes, then another segment from the violas and dischord resumes. I felt a “pinprick to my heart.” Then a woman in a shimmering sequin dress rolled out a big fat harp and my jaw dropped. Robert Bernhart introduced Ravel’s piece and the song took off. The only way I can think to explain why I was weeping, chest heaving, my feet firmly plant against the back of the empty chair in front of me to try to steady myself, throughout the entire piece is to say that I felt that God was singing over me, directly for 15 minutes. Not just because it was beautiful, but because he had brought me to be alone and then surprised me with a personal joy that even my closest friends had rolled their eyes at. Not only did God see and listen, it appeared that he wanted to show me that He knows me and that He was there listening even when I felt alone, listening to this song by myself in my car day after day before classes

    In some ways it seems that the sense of urgency I have in trying to communicate and share the things that inspire me the most is driven by the desire to be known. While the most personally meaningful experiences can be isolating when we try to relate them to our neighbors and spiritual kin when they don’t “get it”, these experiences can also be seen as our most intimate “brushes” with God. That’s enough for me to know to be able to lay off the pressure a little bit when I am trying to convince someone else that something is beautiful. It’s also a reassuring thought for songwriters like myself and probably a lot of other writers in this room who sometimes have an obscure, offbeat, not always easily accessible sound.

    By the way this is my plug for that song. I recommend finding a good recording of it and listening to is all the way through with headphones on, eyes closed. In this phase in my life I feel about the same way about “Daphne et Chloe” also by Maurice Ravel.

    Thanks for bringing this up. It is a great topic for digging at the roots.

  10. Ben

    Andrew,

    These words bring tears to my eyes each time I’m especially fortunate to hear them which is quite often these days…

    “I give you praise, O great, invisible God
    For the sinner who sinks in the river
    And arises again delivered…”

    Why? Because it reminds me of me and what the Gospel has done in and to me…and for what its done in and to you…”

    Blessings

If you have a Rabbit Room account, log in here to comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *