This is the third installment of a mini-series in which I comment on a few songs and hymns that continue to lure me. Some songs seem to have these friendly-octopus “tentacles”—pulling us toward them, time after time, without letting up over the years. I’m commenting on these categories:
- contemporary (congregational) worship songs
- songs from hymnals
- other contemporary spiritual songs
- secular compositions
“In Christ Alone” and probably “How Deep the Father’s Love” deserve places in the first category – contemporary worship songs. “Jesus Is Lord,” more of a category-2 song that started in category 1, is also time-tested, with broad appeal — at least until it fell out of use in the last ten years or so. Here, now, is some commentary on some songs from category # 3. Since most of these were conceived more as solo songs than as congregational ones, I’ll opt for the societal convention of speaking of them in terms of the solo singer.
Twila Paris sang “I Will Listen to His Voice” . . . and I listened to hers. It’s not that I didn’t listen to His; the point, of course, was to listen to God more attentively and obediently. It was Twila’s heart, coming through her voice, that caused me to hear the utterly trusting, creaturely, worshipful thoughts of this song. Along with expressions of trusting dependence, Twila sings,
I don’t know the way to go from here,
But I know that have made my choice.
And this is where I stand
Until He moves me on,
And I will listen to His voice.
“I Will Listen to His Voice.” © Ariose Music.
Words and Music by Twila Paris.
And then there was Rich Mullins, the benevolent ghost of Christian music past. (Rich was tragically killed several years ago in an auto accident, and his memory has appropriately lived on.) There’s the “submarine song” called “Screen Door,” and “Step by Step,” composed by Mullins’s friend and band member David “Beaker” Strasser. Or what about “Awesome God”? For me, though, “If I Stand” is the tentacle song:
If I stand, let me stand on the promise that You will pull me through.
And if I can’t, let me fall on the grace that first brought me to You.
If I sing, let me sing for the joy that has born in me these songs,
But if I weep, let it be as a man who is longing for his home.
Words and Music by Rich Mullins and Steven Cudworth.
© Universal Music Publishing Group.
Fernando Ortega’s music often rises to the level of “heart music”; as with these other singer/songwriters whose material I’ve highlighted here, there is much to choose from. I like many of Ortega’s folkish arrangements of gospel songs and hymns, but not many of those keep grabbing me through the years. I love his original “Jesus, King of Angels”; it probably draws me as much as the song I’ll name here as the best Ortega tentacle song: “I Will Praise Him, Still,” which touches many sensitive hearts for good reason.
Michael Card has inspired me — so many times, in so many ways — that it’s difficult to know which of his creations to highlight. I only know he deserves a place here. Is it the well-remembered “El Shaddai” or the also-early “I Have Decided”? What about the beautiful blessing “Barocha” or the heart-rending “Maranatha”? Any number of the songs based on biblical texts/books are as artistically memorable as they are compelling: “Jubilee” and “In the Beginning” and the Job trilogy and the prophetic voice of “I Will Bring You Home”? Or “Joy in the Journey” or “Could It Be” (that has the line about questions telling us more than answers ever do)? When it comes down to it, I can’t choose a Michael Card song. There are too many that draw me over the years.
I was naturally disappointed when Jennifer Knapp departed from biblical morality, but one or two of her songs are in this “tentacle” category for me, as are some of Rebecca St. James’s and Michael W. Smith’s. Smith, at least, is a songwriter with the creative talents of a Billy Joel or Paul Simon or Jimmy Webb, but Smith’s voice quality keeps me from dwelling in his music all that much.
I suppose I’m a “groupie” for some of the above musicians, virtually following them around through the years. I haven’t named Glad, yet this group was perhaps the first “contemporary Christian” one that seemed to tap my shoulder, inviting, “Listen to this. Share this music with us.” So many of the songs from the original A Cappella Project album are worthy, and the Romans album is meaty, as well. The Symphony Project was my favorite album for a while, and then there was Floodgates; “Mary, Mary” and “Hallelujah” and “When He Comes Again” are songs I return to at least once a year. But if there is one Glad song I might choose to possess while marooned on a desert island, I think it’d be “Gloria” from the A Cappella Worship I album. This song not only energizes me musically, but it spurs my heart to worship the great and mighty God. It must be said here that worship, even more than music, reaches its arms out and holds me, too.
The above are “tentacle” songs that keep reaching out from the annals of “CCM” to grab me. There will be one more list—presumably, in a week or two.
[This is an installment in the Monday Worship Music series. Find other, related posts through this link.]