I was driving on I-94 West, on the way to deal with another layer of trouble. My heart was weighed down and weary. With some semblance of slight perseverance, I decided to listen to a “Faith” playlist I’ve been building in recent weeks. Some of these songs are like spiritual legacy touchpoints. They meant something to me in my spiritual development. However, some of them don’t quite resonate anymore.
Not all the legacy songs are outdated or smack of my own version of “old time religion.” As I drove, one of them grabbed a hold of me and didn’t let go. It’s a song I’ve always felt deeply. It’s called from The Jesus Record by Rich Mullins and a Ragamuffin Band and is simply called “Jesus…”
Back in the 90’s, Rich Mullins was one of my favorite artists. He was a part of the Contemporary Christian Music industry, where the waters can be very shallow and religiosity can pervade. In contrast, Mullins’ lyrics and approach always seemed earthy and real and his music was part of my spiritual soundtrack.
Mullins died in a car accident in 1997. At the time, he’d been working on the songs which would comprise The Jesus Record. The double album was released in 1998, with one disc containing field recordings of Mullins’ demos of those songs. The other disc was recordings of those same songs by his friends and colleagues. “Jesus…” was sung beautifully and hauntingly by Ashley Cleveland. This tragic backstory is part of the reason this song and that album have always meant much to me.
On this day, as I traveled toward trouble, the song set up shop in my heart and soul in a new, richer way.
“Jesus” is a prayer. Honestly, it’s more like a desperate plea. The singer knows all the Bible stories. She’s heard of Jesus’ miracles… walking on water, calming the waves, making a lame man walk again… She doesn’t refer to these in a disparaging or faithless manner. No, it’s clear she believes the stories.
While her belief is strong, her personal connection to that story is lacking. She sounds destitute. The troubles in her life have overwhelmed her and she needs just a touch of that miraculous power. And, it’s almost as if that touch is being withheld from her, even as she endures those troubles.
Jesus… They say You spoke and calmed an angry wave
That was tossed across a stormy sea
Please teach me how to listen, how to obey
‘Cause there’s a storm inside of me
“…there’s a storm inside of me…” The wind rushes. The rain pelts. The thunder crashes. The lightning flashes. I get this. In the midst of my multiple layers of trouble, I feel the storm inside of me all the damned time.
Even as she sings of the storm raging in her, she is not hopeless. She reckons leaning into Jesus is the key. Somehow, she believes learning how to listen and obey can fend off the storm.
The chorus gets right down to it. She wants to move from belief to experience. She longs for more than mental ascent and blind faith. Such things seem irrelevant in the middle of the maelstrom. She wants to feel Jesus’ power at work while the storm rages.
Jesus… write me into your story
Whisper it to me
And let me know… I’m yours
There is hope undergirding this request. Why even ask if there’s no hope that it can happen? Again, she’s leaning in and expressing the desire for more, for deeper. She’s read the story, but that’s not enough: she wants to be in the story. Being written into the story would provide assurance that this faith is directed at something very real and intimate.
Despite the hopeful basis of the chorus, the song ends somberly.
Jesus…They drove the cold nails through Your tired hands
And rolled a stone to seal Your grave
Feels like the devil’s rolled a stone onto my heart
Can You roll that stone away?
Oh, that damned stone. I know that stone. For Jesus, it’s the final “nail in his coffin.” verifying he was dead. For the singer, it sounds like a stone formed by trouble, weighing down her heart, keeping her from feeling God’s presence, love, and power. Perhaps it’s even making her heart hard, like the stone itself.
I know that dynamic. When the trouble just keeps on coming, the pressure, stress, and pain begin to accumulate. The sediment begins to calcify into what can feel like a monolith. That monolith not only lays on my heart but can seem to encapsulate it. Sometimes, in those moments, hope begins to wane. I can feel lost and unsure that help is even available or accessible.
This singer’s experience resonates with mine. Notice, she asks Jesus if he can roll the stone away. “Can you?” is significantly different than “Will you?” Perhaps there’s no question about Jesus’ desire to help. She is wondering if he is able to help.
Again, that’s all very real to me. When I experience these stony and stormy moments, I can lose sight of who I’ve always believed Jesus is. While my faith is constantly morphing and cutting fat, it is still alive. And I trust God is always trying to pierce through my armor and break the stone. That trust is not built on maxims, quips, or even bible verses. It’s based on my own experience. Too many times, I’ve sensed God’s love and peace busting through it all and invading my heart.
Lately, I’ve felt the storm and the stone, every damned day. At times, they feel all-consuming, and hope seems distant at best. But, I know… even as my eyes moistened while driving toward more trouble and listening to this song, Jesus has always shown up. He has always, eventually, calmed the storm and moved the stone. It just doesn’t always happen as quickly as I’d like. But it happens… every time… eventually.