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Posts Tagged ‘songs’

summer sunset view porch

I hear a bird chirpin’ up in the sky
I’d like to be free like that, spread my wings so high
I hear the river flowin’, water runnin’ by
I’d like to be that river, see what I might find

—”Bird Song,” The Wailin’ Jennys

I stood at the kitchen sink late one night last month, plunging my hands in their purple rubber gloves under the stream of hot running water. I was tired from a long workday, answering emails and wrangling story assignments, and a long evening at home, taking care of other tasks.

I reached for a turquoise sponge, scrubbing bits of food off crusted plates and greasy pans. My smartphone sat on the ledge above the sink, playing this song on repeat, Heather Masse’s voice lilting along the familiar lyrics. Every time I hear her sing it, I can see her in a blue dress, swaying onstage at the Indian River Festival in PEI, three summers ago. My shoulders drop, and I exhale.

My musical taste tends toward the soulful and quiet: most of my favorite musicians are singer-songwriters who tell true stories with their notes and words. (The notable exception to this is Hamilton, but I tend to eschew the driving rock beats and funky mashups my husband loves.) I have a particular fondness for a handful of bands and solo artists, whose words and tunes have wound around my heart, knit themselves into the fabric of my soul.

This year, I’ve found myself turning often to a few beloved songs, as a balm, a solace when the world is too much, too fast, too insistent, too loud. I’ve begun to think of them not simply as my favorites, but as grown-up lullabies.

We sing lullabies to children, of course: to soothe a fractious baby or smooth a fidgety toddler’s way toward sleep. My nephews ask, over and over again, for the songs they have heard all their lives: “Edelweiss,” “General Froggie,” “Three Little Kitties.” My dad used to sing the latter two to my sister and me: his mother, my Mimi, also sang them to him and his brothers when they were small. (I love that these old folk lullabies are three generations strong in my family.)

It’s been years since anyone sang me a lullaby in the usual sense. But these days, “Bird Song” and a handful of other quiet, lilting songs are my lullabies: they soothe my anxious soul when the hurt and the frustration are beyond logic, beyond explaining.

Some of them are gentle folk ballads, sung by the Wailin’ Jennys, Grace Pettis, Hem, or my college friends Alex and Kara (known as the Light Parade). Some are old hymns that live deep in my bones: “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” “I Love to Tell the Story,” or “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah.” Some are the last remnants of the Christian pop music I loved as a teenager and have never entirely outgrown: words from Nichole Nordeman and other wise voices. And a few are newer songs that periodically lodge in my soul: the Magnificat, in particular, never fails to soothe me, and Annie Lennox’s “Into the West” has a kind of distant magic.

These songs aren’t an instant cure for what ails me, or the world: I know singing a few verses won’t heal all wounds. But they are a salve for my weary soul, a way to quiet my running mind and gentle my anxious heart. I sometimes find myself matching my steps to the rhythm of these familiar voices, or swaying slightly as I stand at the kitchen sink, as though I were rocking a baby to sleep.

I’ve come to believe that grown-ups need nurturing too, and we often have to provide it for ourselves. These lullabies, and the peace they bring, are saving my life these days.

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tiny christmas tree bookshelf

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men

And in despair, I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth, I said
For hate is strong, and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men

Then pealed the bells, more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor does he sleep
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men

—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”

After the headlines of the last few weeks, this carol is resonating more deeply than ever.

I’m taking a few days off to celebrate Christmas with my family. Wishing you peace and joy in this season, friends.

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christian cds nichole nordeman

Until recently, I thought I had grown too cool for Christian music.

Don’t mistake me: I love a good old-fashioned hymn, especially the ones that periodically set up camp in my soul: Be Thou My Vision. Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. I Love to Tell the Story (which I always hear my dad’s voice singing). Amazing Grace.

I’m also deeply attached to a few praise songs I learned as a university student: Holy is the Lord. In Christ Alone. Blessed Be Your Name. And oh, how I love the Magnificat.

But for a few years, the Christian contemporary music that filled my ears and my CD player during my high school and college years got pushed aside. I grew tired of the often formulaic melodies and refrains, the sometimes too-packaged theology. I’ve spent the past decade or so walking into a more complicated faith, one that leaves a lot of room for gray areas and messy edges. The bright, happy sounds of ’90s Christian pop didn’t seem to fit any more.

But earlier this year, Nichole Nordeman – whose music I have loved for nearly half my life – released her first new album in ten years, an EP called The Unmaking. I downloaded it a few weeks ago, and I cannot stop listening to the title track. The musical style is familiar, but the lyrics are wonderfully honest and fresh:

This is the unmaking / Beauty in the breaking / I had to lose myself to find out who You are. 

Even before that, during these last few difficult months, I’ve caught myself humming snatches of other songs I thought I’d forgotten, half-remembered lyrics that, to my surprise, still ring true.

Keep on looking ahead / Let your heart not forget / We are not home yet, from Steven Curtis Chapman (who headlined the first concert I ever went to). I believe that He loves you where you are, from Mark Schultz. Lines from Nichole’s older songs: Gratitude, Healed, Brave, We Build. On the night of the recent Paris attacks, sick with worry and fear, I finally soothed myself to sleep by singing an old Point of Grace line over and over in my head: God loves people more than anything.

These songs wouldn’t always pass muster in a theology class, nor would some of them win any awards for musical style or originality. But I don’t care about that as much as I used to. These familiar words and melodies (and the newer ones from The Unmaking) are bringing me comfort these days. They often say what I can’t articulate, or help succor me when I’m raw and hurting. These singer-songwriters are old friends, and their voices help me feel less alone.

I don’t plan to reconstruct my entire CD library from the early 2000s, but I’m keeping the songs that have come back to me. These are the good ones. And since tomorrow is Thanksgiving, I will definitely be humming Nichole’s song “Gratitude.”

I’m linking up with Sarah Bessey for her Out of Sorts book synchroblog. This post was partly inspired by the playlist she made to go along with the book.

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Gratitude

harvard yard autumn light leaves

Send some rain, won’t you send some rain?
‘Cause the earth is dry and needs to drink again
And the sun is high and we are sinking in the shade

Would you send a cloud, thunder long and loud
Let the sky grow black and send some mercy down?
Surely you can see that we are thirsty and afraid

But maybe not – not today
Maybe you’ll provide in other ways
And if that’s the case

We’ll give thanks to you with gratitude
For lessons learned in how to thirst for you
How to bless the very sun that warms our face
If you never send us rain

I have loved Nichole Nordeman’s song “Gratitude” for a long time, since the days when I listened to K-LOVE religiously and went to several Christian concerts a year. As a high school student, I saw Nichole open for Avalon, quietly playing the piano in a college gymnasium full of eager, revved-up teenagers. In a culture always impatient for the next thing, her music prompted us to slow down and listen.

Daily bread, give us daily bread
Bless our bodies, keep our children fed
Fill our cups, then fill them up again tonight
Wrap us up and warm us through
Tucked away beneath our sturdy roofs
Let us slumber safe from danger’s view this time

But maybe not – not today
Maybe you’ll provide in other ways
And if that’s the case

We’ll give thanks to you with gratitude
A lesson learned to hunger after you
How the starry sky offers a better view
If no roof is over our heads
And if we never taste that bread

I later saw Nichole play at a megachurch in my college town, still quiet, still soulful, still disarmingly honest about the gaps that sometimes appear between faith and reality. I own three of her albums; this song comes from Woven & Spun (which also provided the name of my original blog). I know every word, every piano chord, and I always pull out the CD around this time of year. But it is particularly apt as we approach this Thanksgiving.

Oh, the differences that often are between
Everything we want and what we really need

My nephew, Harrison, was born on Nov. 13, and he and my sister have both been in the hospital for going on two weeks now, fighting infections (first her, then him, then both of them). They are going to be okay, but it has been hard and stressful, and I can hear the strain in my mother’s voice every time I talk to her on the phone.

In a certain sense, we have what we need – Harrison is here, and he and Betsy will both be all right – but it is so far from what we want.

Grant us peace, Jesus, grant us peace
Move our hearts to hear a single beat
Between alibis and enemies tonight

But maybe not – not today
Peace might be another world away
And if that’s the case

We’ll give thanks to you with gratitude
For lessons learned in how to trust in you
That we are blessed beyond what we could ever dream
In abundance or in need
If you never grant us peace
But Jesus, would you please?

I am far away from my family this Thanksgiving (though I will be there next month, for Christmas). It is hard to be far away, to get reports from the hospital of tears and pain, and still be grateful. (It is even harder when I hear bad news from other places too.)

But I am trying – we are all trying – to offer prayers of thanksgiving alongside repeated pleas for healing and peace. We are doing our best to practice gratitude, even while we can’t help worrying. And frequently, this song is the best prayer I can offer.

If you’re celebrating this week, I wish you a Thanksgiving filled with loved ones, joy, peace and gratitude.

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Something was stirring in him; something strong and deep and definite. Suffice it to say he was beginning to know that Christmas was coming — not just on the calendar but in his very soul.

This morning, Cynthia’s reading had explained everything:

‘The Word became flesh, and lived among us, and we have seen His glory.’

Shepherds Abiding, Jan Karon

 

Merry, merry Christmas. I’m signing off for a few days – see you sometime next week!

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Gratitude (Woven And Spun Album Version)

I’ve long loved Nichole Nordeman’s music – I named my first blog after a lyric from her song “Healed.” And this song is one of my very favorites. I carry its lyrics in my heart. Enjoy, and happy Thanksgiving.

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You may have noticed I’ve been missing home this winter. The weather, the distance, the long months of unemployment followed by the transition to a new job – all have had me missing the familiarity of Abilene. Which is perhaps why two songs on the subject have lodged in my heart and stayed there.

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes have been everywhere recently with their folk hit, “Home.” Just watch this beautiful video of a dad and his little daughter singing it and tell me you aren’t sold:

Closer to (my) home, a college acquaintance of mine (Brandon Kinder, who also sings lead for the Rocketboys) recently released an EP, and as a sneak peek, released the music video for a song also called “Home”:

Two lines in these songs, one from each, get me every time. The first, sung repeatedly among all that whistling, is “Home is wherever I’m with you.” I am lucky, I know, to have people in Boston with whom I feel at home – most notably my sweet husband, and our fellow Abilene transplants. (I’ve talked so much about them because I have, literally, clung to them – they are not only kind and funny and wise, but they represent that familiarity I miss.) And I/we have made new friends with whom we also feel at home, and in whose presence we can relax, open up, laugh, cry, be known.

The other line, from Brandon’s song, hits me with more poignancy: “You’re never gonna be that far away from home.” I know in my bones it’s true, in important ways – home is something you carry with you; home is people, not always a place (see above); those people I love in Texas/Nashville/Oxford/all over the place are still home to me, and we’re not that far away, in the grand scheme of things.

But there have been so many times this winter when it hasn’t felt true. When it has felt like we’re a million miles from Abilene and our families and the life we used to have. When I have wondered if Boston will ever feel like home, and if we’ll ever get back home, to wide sunset skies and Tex-Mex food and Friday nights filled with high school football.

I still don’t know the answers to those questions – though I have a suspicion Boston will eventually begin to feel like home. Until then, I’ll be holding both these songs close, thankful for the people who make that Edward Sharpe lyric true for me. And trying with all my heart to believe Brandon’s words…to trust that home is often so much closer than I think it is.

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