Friday, April 16, 2010
Recently I've been on a huge Rich Mullins kick. He and John Michael Talbot have been the only Christian musicians whose albums (do we still call them that?) I purchased diligently, release after release, back in the days when I still did that sort of thing.
I started buying his albums when I worked at a Christian bookstore and had them under my nose all the time. My first purchase was Winds of Heaven, Stuff of Earth which contains the song Awesome God. This is the song currently responsible for my Mullins resurgence, as I am trying to coordinate the performance of this song for a benefit concert I'm organizing for next weekend. It is still his most popular song, but by his own admission, he didn't much care for it. It has a strong pop feel to it, which is decidedly different from most of his music.
I was privileged to see him in concert twice in the early 90s. As everyone else was getting seated, he would unobtrusively come to the stage (in ripped jeans, a t-shirt and barefoot) set up his instruments with the band, and just start to play with no fanfare or introduction.
What really strikes me about Rich's music, and always has, is a sense of the sort of beauty in it that makes one's heart ache. Songs like The Color Green or Calling Out Your Name evoke a sense of longing and yearning that is palpable.
One metaphor that appears repeatedly in Rich's music is that of the beauty of the stars, the same stars that Abraham saw. His song Sometimes By Step speaks of how "sometimes [the sky] seems to stoop so close/ you could touch it but your heart would break." I was thinking a lot about this image today, and it seems the perfect one for the longing for the transcendence of God. This Beauty approaches us, we sometimes feel wrapped up in it, but if we try to grasp it and hold it as ours, we suddenly realize how Other it is. We cannot hold it. It is infinitely far from us, yet close enough to completely surround and envelop us, filling us. We cannot grasp God, so to speak, but we can surrender to His embrace of us. This is the sense of the aching longing, of the immense, infinite Beauty of which he sings. His songs can leave one feeling something like sadness, yet it is not really sadness. It is like the sadness of one who has seen the joy of heaven but must live on earth. Ok, yes, it is sadness. But it is the most hopeful kind of sadness possible to mankind.
Rich was killed in a car accident in September of 1997. He was 41 years old. He died on a Friday, and the following Monday he was to be received into the Catholic Church. This seems so consonant with the way Rich lived. He spoke and sang about dying more than once, and as a single man with no children he seemed more than ready. I guess God desired to fulfill His longing not with Sacrament, but with the Reality itself, sans veil.
His life and death still leaves much that Christians admire, discuss and ponder. His attraction to Catholicism was not easy for many Christians to swallow, and because he never did actually enter the Church some deny that he intended to. But none of that matters, and Rich would be the first to tell us so. Giving oneself entirely to Christ, radically, as He calls each one -- that is the thing.
It is impossible for me to choose my favorite song by him. I think my favorite is usually whichever I happen to be listening to at the moment. This one is called Peace: A Communion Blessing from St. Joseph's Square, and is from his album A Liturgy, A Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band.
Rich, I miss you so much! Pray for us.