Poetry & Words

POETRY & WORDS :: And I’ll Sing in the Land of my Sojourn

And I'll Sing in the Land of My Sojourn by Gina Munsey on Oaxacaborn, with quotes by Rich Mullins and Frederick BuechnerIt’s quiet, at least as quiet as an afternoon can be on the second floor of an apartment building, perched at the edge, where the gully dips down into rain-soaked grass and back up again to meet the ragged blacktop edge just before the toll booth.  This little corner of earth where residential and interstate meet is not a destination or a landmark, but I think Rich Mullins would have sung about it [1].

I think he’d have seen the gold in the way the sun fights for light here, like a farmer sees hope and life in the tiniest green shoot.

Maybe he’d have heard a melody in the rumble of the trucks which coast and pull their rattling brake just before the bend in the road, like he did when he sang “And the coal trucks come a-runnin’  / With their bellies full of coal  / And their big wheels a-hummin’  / Down this road that lies open like the soul of a woman…” [2]

He saw beauty, somehow, where others only saw the tired corners, where others only saw the afternoon traffic jams and the faded street signs and the plodding of sojourners down the cracked and uneven sidewalks. When you know everything around you lies in shadow, waiting for the great awakening, when you know we’re all living just on the very cusp of seeing clearly and not through a glass dimly, well, then, there’s beauty in everything broken. Because as soon as that Star shown down into the stable and as soon as He was born, well, redemption was set in motion and that was “When the old world started dying / And the new world started coming on”. [3]

There have been sojourners as long as there has been time itself, mendicants wandering [4] yet wandering with purpose, through the dredges that are made holy with that same purpose. Sojourning is different than drudgery. Drudgery is repetition without hope on a horizontal plane. But sojourning! Ah, sojourning takes the repetition in which drudgery despairs, and views it with eyes opened by the God of Wonder Himself.

“If you think you are seeing the same show all over again seven times a week,” Frederick Buechner writes [5], “you’re crazy. Every morning you wake up to something that in all eternity never was before and never will be again. And the you that wakes up was never the same before and will never be the same again.”

And so, in the midst of the traffic chorus outside my window, and the unwashed laundry and  the unanswered emails, in the midst of confronting evil and doubt, in the midst of working long into the night and consoling a child’s fever and answering unspoken fears, in between the lost moments of sleep and the sunrises awash with new mercies and endless grace, in the arms of everlasting love, “I’ll sing my song / and I’ll sing my song / in the land of my sojourn.”[6]

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Poetry & Words

“What Does Mercy Mean?” How to Answer a Child’s Question

What Does Mercy Mean? How to Answer a Child's Question | How can I explain to a three year-old child the concept of mercy? I don't feel like I can reduce these mysteries to a sentence.  I'm worried I'll go wrong somehow.

“Do you love Bible?” She looks up at me with those big eyes of hers. “And does Papa love Bible too? Because I love it. So much.” It’s spontaneous, this declaration of hers. She keeps talking, looking up at me as she pushes her unruly honey-colored hair out of her face. “Where’s God now?” “What is a soul?” “What is mercy? Read more Bible, mumma.”

We just returned from seeing Fernando Ortega in concert, and she is humming the songs as she asks me these questions. “Why,” she asks earnestly, “Why did dat man say dat song about da fire of angels is sad? Why is it sad, mumma?”

I sing to myself before I answer. I think of all the nights I fell asleep with this melody in my soul:

“I never knew the dusk could seem so sad,
an empty aching in my soul.
In this bright hour I speak your name in the wind,
the shining world outlasts us all.

Even the mountains seem to know you’re gone,
the foothills shimmer where they stand.
The sky is still and much too beautiful,
and I am missing you again.

Lift me over the San Gabriels, leaning into the southern sky.
The foothills burning in the afterglow, an angel fire passing by…”
[Fernando Ortega, Angel Fire]

At three, her tender heart knows nothing of the aching in one’s soul. “It is sad, baby, but it’s beautiful too, though, isn’t it, that song?” I can feel the tears begin to burn. How can I untangle these questions, when even I don’t understand why people slip away and leave behind the empty foothills, burning in the light?

How can I explain to a three year-old the concept of mercy, when I still can’t wrap my head around the marvel of it all?

And what is this intangible thing inside me, this soul of mine?

She stands in front of me, eagerly, waiting for answers.

What Does Mercy Mean? How to Answer a Child's Question

I don’t feel like I can reduce these mysteries to a sentence.  I’m worried I’ll go wrong somehow. But I know Jesus told us to learn what mercy means [1]. And I know love and mercy is how everything — all of this, this big, overgrown mess of earth and humanity — is made whole. Death is swallowed up[2], and the old system of law is fulfilled [3, 4].

So I tell her what I know. I tell her about His love.

My words aren’t perfect, but it doesn’t matter.

“We must try to speak of His love. All Christians have tried but none has ever done it very well. I can no more do justice to that awesome and wonder-filled theme than a child can grasp a star. Still by reaching toward the star the child may call attention to it and even indicate the direction one must look to see it. So as I stretch my heart toward the high shining love of God someone who has not before known about it may be encouraged to look up and have hope.” [A.W. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy]

And when it comes right down to it, it’s that high shining love and mercy He crowns us with [5], not rules. The rules can never redeem, transform, make whole. And so I point her to that great Love, toward Him, and I take her hand as we run toward the rain.

…[she] grew up in that Florida rain
They were carried along like leaves on a river of faith
They’d float
All the way home…
And they walked in the rain of His mercy
Let it soak them down to the bone
And they splashed in its puddles
And danced in its streams as they’d go
And, oh, they walked in the rain of His mercy
All the way home….”
[Andrew Peterson, All the Way Home]

What Does Mercy Mean? How to Answer a Child's Question

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Poetry & Words

Rich Mullins, the Homeless Man

Rich Mullins, Ireland, Photograph by Ben Pearson
Image Credit: Ben Pearson

September 19, 1997. Seventeen years ago. Seventeen years ago, Rich Mullins walked right out of this earth and slipped out of his body and right up through the veil that the Cross had already split apart for him and for us all. Seventeen years ago he went “out like Elijah, with a whirlwind in a chariot of fire”, just like he used to sing.

It was seventeen years ago, and I remember exactly where I was standing in the kitchen in the middle of a tiny town in Wisconsin, and how the words echoed out of the little fridge-top radio when I heard that he had flown. And I remember how I was just a teenager and just figuring things out, and how I wore out my Rich Mullins cassette tapes that year, until you couldn’t even hear the scratchy songs anymore. A little later, I sat in the basement of a tiny church and listened to Mitch McVicker, who was with Rich in the fatal car accident, sing songs from Rich’s posthumous album, The Jesus Record. Tears streamed down my face and into my heart and I knew Jesus was my own deliverer, my very own, and I knew right then and forever, “He will never break His promise, He has written it upon the sky.” And then later still, when I was yet again a little older but still figuring things out, I didn’t even get a chance to wear out An Arrow Pointing to Heaven because I kept giving my copy away and buying another one.

I can’t even tell you what passages or words or songs of his mean the most, because how can you pull out one line from a poet’s canon and separate it out from all the rest and say, “This is it.” You can’t. It doesn’t work that way. In the documentary “Homeless Man: The Restless Heart of Rich Mullins“, Father Simon said, “And I think that’s one thing that Rich and Saint Francis had in common is that they were both poets. They both had a vision and they were both willing to live that vision. Their poem was their life, not so much what they wrote.”

When Rich sang of Abraham “how one star he saw had been lit for me, he was a stranger in this land, and I am that, no less than he,” I could see the sojourning thread that ties us all together. Being one of Abraham’s stars and having roots all over, but none deep in one place, can sometimes feel like the edge of being from nowhere, the edge of not belonging. But we’re pilgrims, all. Rich was a sojourner and Jesus was a sojourner — and if the Son of Man sometimes didn’t have a place to rest His head and that detail didn’t mess up redemption one bit, then I know that anything that happens to me is gonna be okay, too.

And this man — who was once mistaken for homeless outside a church before one of his concerts — this man really was the single most influential person I’ve never met. He’s where I learned that this life is a little crazy and it’s a little hard; but nothing, really nothing, of earthly value worth holding on to that tightly, anyway. We’re not put here to pretend to be perfect, and piece together these unblemished lives and create a nice bubble for ourselves, we’re here to be real.

And to be alive.

And love and live with wild abandon.

And stand up loudly in the land of our sojourn, not caring what anyone thinks, and just be those wild arrows, pointing straight to heaven.

Nobody tells you when you get born here
How much you’ll come to love it
And how you’ll never belong here
So I call you my country
And I’ll be lonely for my home
And I wish that I could take you there with me

…When the old world started dying
And the new world started coming on
And I’ll sing His song, and I’ll sing His song
In the land of my sojourn

In the land of my sojourn
And I will sing His song
In the land of my sojourn.”

And in that new world, I think, music will be danced out across the strings of a hammered dulcimer.

LISTEN NOW to Land of my Sojourn, I’ll Carry On, and Elijah.

Inspiration

INSPIRATION :: Oh, September :: A Playlist

Oh, September - A Playlist of September Songs

September morning // still can make me feel that way” -Neil Diamond

Oh, September. It’s hard to think of another month (aside from the Christmas season) which has inspired more songs.

I love this month.

Here’s a playlist of my favorite September songs.

September When It Comes (Feat. Rosanne Cash) – Johnny Cash
September Grass – James Taylor
Pale September – Fiona Apple
September – The Shins
September – Pomplamoose
One September Day – Nina Simone
Wake Me Up When September Ends – Green Day
Indian Summer (Up Close) – Stereophonics
Asleep In September – The Woodlands
September Morn – Neil Diamond
Sweet Grace – Fernando Ortega

(Images taken from a moving train somewhere between France and Spain, 2009)

Inspiration

INSPIRATION :: Listen to ‘Winter’ from John Smiths’ album ‘The Fox and the Monk’

The Fox and the Monk by John Smith
“Once upon a time
One day a baby was born
And on that day it rained like it had never
Rained before
Kings were there in human form
They came around from everywhere
To see his first born
In the winter
The ancient man in hallowed halls
Said he’s the one who saves us all
He’s the one of whom I’ve been told
I was there
I was there
In the winter
In the winter

The king bowed low
Laid down his sword….” -John Smith

Listen to Winter by John Smith on Grooveshark