I realize I’ve not posted anything of much artistic significance in quite sometime, and I apologize – it has been about three weeks since I’ve come back to the Chicagoland area for school, almost straight from my summer job as a youth pastor, simultaneously being a blessing and a curse in many, many ways.
I’ve been pretty occupied with many things: I’m gearing up for an album release for a studio project called Crawl Across the Sky for next year, and I’m writing albums for a couple more studio projects – juggling that with school work, playing in a school ensemble, working on two studio art courses, and attempting to maintain relationships as well as being conscious about self-compassion and care is not an easy feat, at least for me. Everything seems like it’s going at lightning speed, racing past me with inconceivable fury.
Then I listened to this song.
Keith Kenniff, or Goldmund, is probably one of my favorite composers – Kenniff goes under three aliases: Goldmund, Mint Julep, and Helios. This particular album by Goldmund is a really old-timey, Southern sounding album, with plucks of acoustic guitar blended seamlessly with piano.
It kind of makes you want to sit on your porch with sweet tea and talk about the perks of rural living.
Amazing Grace is kind of like that person who tells the same good jokes over and over. They’re really funny the first time, but once he/she tells them for the 1000th time, it gets quite tiresome. This hymn just kind of sits in the back of the shelf, waiting to be dusted off for the occasional, obligatory performance. The lyrics get quite old purely because we repeat them so much – we never really think about and meditate on what they’re saying.
However this rendition is incredibly pleasant to listen to – it’s instrumental and it gives a new spin on the theme of Amazing Grace: it possesses a really nice swing feel and slows the tempo way down. I love that you kind of repeat the lyrics of Amazing Grace in your head along with the song, and you have to really think about what you’re repeating.
And the lyrics begin to ring out.
“Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.”
I get wrapped up in myself a lot – in the sense that my insecurities and anxieties seem to be glaring at me every morning I look in the mirror. It’s easy for me to lean on my own strength, to produce my own joy. It sounds great and convenient: I’d very much like that if I were successful, but the reality is that the fruit of my hands withers away all too quickly.
One thing I’ve come to realize about myself is how so incredibly bitter I am – about people, about God – and it naturally seeps into the way I view myself and the world. Sometimes it feels like an endless cycle of jadedness, something I can’t necessarily wish away. And it’s discouraging, because I feel like I can’t escape my own bitterness. But “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” Grace is particularly amazing and sweet because it draws me closer of its own accord and self-sacrifice. It doesn’t deny my brokenness, my jadedness. I am a wretch. But yet Grace still draws me near to be healed and to be whole. And all that I thought was the world that I saw was little, as a glass darkly – I was blind, but now I see, for the world I see through the lens of the Gospel is magnified through his great Love for me. A lost and wretched sinner, but found, wrapped in his loving embrace.
“’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved; how precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.”
Isn’t it interesting that Grace simultaneously causes us to fear and not to fear? What do we fear? Perhaps it’s the grandeur of grace itself: how could we not fear and be shocked at such a scandalous gift? When you see your own sin and brokenness reflected back at yourself; finding the courage to love yourself is an mountainous task. We often shove our brokenness under the rug, never to be seen again, until it all piles up in one huge lump under that rug called, “I’m okay.” Grace causes us to see the overwhelming flaws we possess and pardons them all. We have to face our sin, and Grace faces it with us. Because it’s grandiose, we fear it – Grace is unfamiliar to our human nature. Yet, it is altogether too familiar – it assures us of our worth in Christ alone. That it isn’t because we have any measure of righteousness, but Christ beckons us to be heirs with him, seated with him, feasting in glory with him. And how precious! When we are lost in doubt and self-hatred, in anxiety and grievance, how sweet does Grace appear – when it shines through the darkness and makes itself known to us. How precious, how precious is Grace to us, in light of such brokenness, of such flaws?
“Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; ’tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me, His Word my hope secures; He will my Shield and Portion be, as long as life endures.”
One of my favorite things about reading novels is the narrative it takes you on. We are narrative creatures – we tell stories to one another: tall tales and embarrassing moments, stories of joy and of loss, of victory and defeat. We spin whole narratives about fictional people and places. You start the novel in expectation, in anticipation for the journey and the development that will ensue. Your protagonist will undoubtedly face trials and tribulations, yet we hope for the resolution (if it’s a comedy). For the sake of my convenience and this metaphor, let us say we’re reading a comedy together. Do you think the main character knows that he/she is in a novel? Of course not – unless he/she breaks the fourth wall and gains some sort of unearthly sentience. He/She doesn’t know that the trials they face in the moment will pass, nor do they know that it is developing him/her in such a way that propels him/her to become the character he/she is destined to be. We are one of the main characters in the stories of our lives – that is not to say that it all revolves around us, but in the same way that the protagonist in the novel is unaware of the larger narrative he is in, so we are clueless to what possible larger narrative that the struggles of our lives contribute to.
And look at how many years you’ve come this far – you’re still alive, you’re still kicking. Perhaps partly due to our own effort, we might say, but ultimately Grace pulls us through this odyssey of life – and we’re still here, by the grace of God. Still alive, still kicking. And grace will carry us to life in death – to this place absent of tears and of suffering. “The Lord has promised good to me, his Word, my hope secures, he will my shield and portion be, as long as life endures.” I love that this promise of good is also our hope. Hope feels like a prison sometimes – we always get caught up in it and it feels like an endless cycle of disappointment. Always hoping, never reaching. Yet, this hope is secure – for his word endures, faithful and true. And he is our portion – our treasure and inheritance, like the man who happens to find this buried treasure in his field, and finds it to be worthy enough of his joy, so much so that he goes and sells all he owns to purchase the field. He is enough.
At least, for the day. And that is enough for now.
“Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail, and mortal life shall cease, I shall possess, within the veil, a life of joy and peace.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow, the sun forbear to shine; but God, who called me here below, will be forever mine.”
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail, surely, and my last breath escapes my withering lips – I shall find peace in death, not because death is peace, but I return home to my Lord. And I possess a life of joy and peace, held within his great affection for me. Joy and peace, naught of any good I claim to have built with my hands, but in this satisfaction that I am dearly beloved by God because of his firstborn love. Naught of good I can claim, no holiness I can attest to, but these weary and frail hands find peace grasping his reaching toward mine. I am the woman desperate to brush her hand against the cloak of her Lord, just so that he might take pity on me, that he might look upon me with his loving gaze, that I might be healed by his great mercy. So I await the day I close my eyes in deathless sleep, and I return to my first and last love.
O’ this Earth shall dissolve like snow, crumble beneath my feet, and the Sun’s raging flames shall become cold, but not so the bright Son, blazing in glory and in victory over my deadness, over my sin and fault, raising me to new Life. And his is a light that shall not tarry to shine over longing Creation, and I am his and he is mine. He has called me here below in frail ground to live and die and live again. Though youthful beauty passes away, though the work of my hands be soon forgotten, he shall be my inheritance and my portion forever, my sweet satisfaction.
My first and last Lover.