As the pandemic has made us painfully aware, women are often the first to give up. We give up our jobs to take care of the children, after first giving up our bodies to bring them into the world. We give up our needs to make sure that others’ are met. In many contexts, this means we lose our time or our money (or the possibility of making money), but what about the context of worship music? Women are worship leaders and musicians, songwriters and lyricists, but when we give up our places in the church to serve other needs, we give up our very voices. But the church and the world need our voices.
Cardiphonia Music has been aware of this for some time; they’d been asking women to contribute to their liturgical music compilations, but finding that women just didn’t participate. This summer, they launched an album project designed to correct the problem. They asked Rachel Wilhelm to produce an album of songs by women, centered on the theme of lament. Rachel helps lead the Liturgy Fellowship Group (a collection of pastors and worship leaders) and leads the Women Church Musicians Group, both on Facebook. Even before she started asking women to contribute songs to the album, she knew that many of these women, who serve as worship leaders in their congregations, lacked the recording equipment and studio time that their male counterparts have as part of the job. Many of these women had given up time, equipment, and extras, so as not to “burden” their congregations or seem to ask for too much. How, then, could they contribute recordings to an album without the resources to record?
In a crumbling world of disconnection, Daughter Zion's Woe was a coming together; it was taking each other's hands across great distances and raising them to God in supplication.Kate Bluett
Rachel had been in exactly that position before, and was well equipped to come up with a solution: Facebook itself. For all its ills, it was connecting women to each other as worship leaders; why couldn’t it connect women to recording opportunities, too? Using the connections of the Liturgy Fellowship Group, Rachel asked for volunteers to help produce, engineer, and mix tracks remotely, allowing women to be heard in their music. The response was overwhelming, and Rachel matched artists to engineers all over the country—as well as Canada and England! She coordinated pairings by phone, coached artists and writers long-distance, and even worked out guest musicians on each other’s tracks. The result is the new Cardiphonia album, Daughter Zion’s Woe.
Born of the circumstances of 2020, and responding deeply to a world in agony, Daughter Zion’s Woe is a cri de coeur from voices the world needs to hear. It’s also, though, a love song to that same tortured world. Its creation, in Rachel’s words, consisted of “the Body of Christ in action”: “Men helping women. Women helping women. Friends helping friends. Strangers helping strangers! A real labor of love.” The only thing this world needs more is Christ himself, and the songs plead with Christ for the world. As musical duo Sister Sinjin describe their contribution, “Silence,” this way: “We do not take our sackcloth and sadness to the corner for a pity party, we sing from the hilltops and through the valleys because only by acknowledging what is wrong can it begin to be made right. Lament is not bitter acceptance, it is protest.” These songs are begging for healing for the whole world.
Artist Keisha Valentina found healing in the process of writing her lament, “Sing Away the Dark”:
This song was brought forth out of the depths of a troubled soul on raging seas. Having struggled with debilitating anxiety since childhood and wrestling through hard things the last several years, I didn’t think I could write a single note when Rachel approached me with the project. Her response to my concerns was to “take all those anxious thoughts and turn them into something beautiful.”
That resonated with me and reminded me of why I began to write music in the first place. It’s always been a place of comfort for me. Where I see God. The minute I begin to worship the anxiety flees and my soul is at rest. That is why music means so very much to me. Why I can’t write about anything other than the God who saves. Because He has saved this weary, restless, tired soul time and time again. Amy Carmichael once said, “I believe truly that Satan cannot endure it and so slips out of the room more or less —when there is a true song.” So with trembling voice this song was brought forth. Just another weary soul standing alongside generations of others. Proclaiming the goodness of a God through the mess trying to create something beautiful.—Keisha Valentina, on the writing process for her song “Sing Away the Dark”
Even women who aren’t worship leaders are represented on Daughter Zion’s Woe. I’m a stay-at-home mom who homeschools her two children and writes hymns and lyrics when they are occupied. I don’t lead music; I make lunches. But I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with Rachel on a number of songs. When she asked me for a lyric of lament—something simple and soulful—I was happy to oblige. Her email got tangled up in my head with a description I’d just read by Frederick Douglass of enslaved people walking through the woods and singing their woes to God. I wrote something that, in my head, sounded like the wailing of women in a world without justice. I’m no worship leader, but even I, in my suburban existence living with white skin in 2020s America, have to grapple with the systemic injustices of the world in which George Floyd isn’t breathing any more.
Karin Simmons and Rachel Wilhelm wrote an equally wailing tune, and Rachel sings it over Jered McKenna‘s instrumentation. The result is something I’m proud to have the world hear. But if it weren’t for people coming together in charity, unity, and solidarity during a global pandemic, no one would be hearing it.
In a crumbling world of disconnection, Daughter Zion’s Woe was a coming together; it was taking each other’s hands across great distances and raising them to God in supplication. It was community and prayer, and we needed it.