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“One. Two. Three.”
Confession: I’m a wannabe monastic. I even mowed a makeshift prayer maze into my backyard when the grass got high enough. I like to slow my days and wander through weeds; I bet my neighbor Ryman thinks I’m crazy. “Greg must be hopped up on Mountain Dew. He’s shirtless and crying in the field. Who’s he talking to anyway? Should I check on him?”
Counting my steps settles me. “Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight.” If I pace it right, 150 small strides complete the path. The number is an accident, but it conjures the Psalms and invites me to walk in the honesty and hope that they have paved for me. The Psalms serve as the original template for the range of emotion: welcoming us to embrace our desire to be fully known and fully accepted (Ps. 139), giving us permission to speak completely and truthfully about our disappointments and desperate needs (Ps. 88), and inspiring and imploring us to hold fast to hope for a Savior (Ps. 126).
“Nine. Ten. Eleven. Twelve. Thirteen.”
The Book of Common Prayer, written and compiled by Thomas Cranmer in the 16th century, is a helpful tool for some of the same reasons. It was a centerpiece in the Protestant revolution in England and is still used by many denominations around the world. It sets a standard for liturgical worship and, like my well-worn trail through the grass, creates boundaries within which to explore.
My new record accepts Cranmer’s invitation to the journey, walking his words in music. Songs of Common Prayer pairs simple, singable melodies with the Book of Common Prayer’s time-honored poetry (which is often taken from the lavish language of the Psalms). This album is a gift to the Church, whether you belong to a congregation looking to include more traditional elements into your service; a liturgical community looking for fresh, accessible song settings; or you just crave a devotional accompaniment for everyday life. I’ve introduced these songs to my church over the last year and incorporating them into our daily liturgies has been a formative adventure.
Recording the record often felt like a sacramental party with mugs of cinnamon tea and plates of brownies next to candles and incense–prayers, poetry, toasts, and laughter. We sought, through shared vulnerability and contemplation, to create something comforting and helpful. In the end, when I hear the album, it moves me toward the sacred, communal, and celebratory spirit in which it was created. “Eighteen. Nineteen. Twenty. Twenty-one.”
The first single from the record is called “Mystery of Faith.” I knew when I wrote it that I wanted Sarah Masen to sing it with me. Her presence is palpable, offering healing like a mother’s cool hand on a feverish head. The song emphasizes the liturgical words, “We have died together. We will rise together. We will live together.” It declares that life is severely painful and that there is reason to hope.
Died together. “Twenty-two.” Rise together. “Twenty-three.” Live together. “Twenty-four.”
The song goes on. “We are brothers and sisters through our Savior’s blood.” When we sing this song at church, I see real people singing with me—seven-year-old Samuel and retired Ron, Nyk cradling Cosette facedown like a football, Caroline quietly serving in the back, Morgan, Emily, Andrew, Tommy. I’m reminded that it is not only Christ who who has been crucified, resurrected, and who joins me, but a roomful of friends, a city of believers, and a cloud of witnesses from across the ages.
Together. “Twenty-five.” Together. “Twenty-six.” Together. “Twenty-seven.”
As we walk the winding roads of life—perilous and full of wonder—may we slow down and open our hands to receive and accept reality, open our hearts to trust and worship God, and open our eyes to our brothers and sisters beside, behind, and before us. Hand in hand and with a single voice, let us put one foot in front of the other and sing ourselves onward as we march through mystery.
I’m not even close to the end of my journey and I have no idea where I am going, but I do know that I’m not alone. So, for those traveling this same road, I hope that Songs of Common Prayer will feel like an invitation into the tall grass: a place where you can go at your own pace and ask your own questions. I pray that you will find truth and comfort and discover hope when it’s all that keeps you moving.
“Twenty-eight. Twenty-nine. Thirty. Thirty-one. Thirty-two. Thirty-three…”
Greg LaFollette is a musician and producer in Nashville, TN. He is the resident artist at a local church plant, Grace Story Church, and serves as their director of arts and liturgy.
You can follow Greg at his website to hear the new single “Mystery of Faith” and get the full-length album Songs of Common Prayer on October 26th.