My new record, Songs of Common Prayer, was written for my family, the Church; specifically Grace Story Church in Nashville, Tennessee. I really like those people. I love Andrew’s way-too-loud yawns. I love Nathaniel’s uncelebrated yet unwavering service. I love Morgan’s gluten-free breakfast casserole. I love that the nursing mothers shared their milk with an adopted child; quite literally helping to sustain and give her life.
The need to belong is one of our most basic and powerful needs. This belonging is what is offered to each of us in a relationship with God; I knew that when I started attending Grace Story. What I didn’t expect was to experience it so acutely with this diverse group of people.
The first single from the record is called Mystery of Faith. The song emphasizes the Book of Common Prayer’s ancient, liturgical words, “We have died together. We will rise together. We will live together.” It continues, “We are brothers and sisters through our Savior’s blood,” and confidently encapsulates the prayer, “We are the body of Christ.” What a sobering responsibility it is to represent Jesus to one another; and what a privilege. I consider it an honor for my music to be present in the front speakers of a minivan, helping to keep parents sane on a road trip; or to be playing as a child falls asleep; or to offer words of prayer where conversation has stalled.
I write a lot of songs for my congregation. My friend, Mike Crawford, calls it indigenous worship: art that is produced, growing, living, or occurring naturally in a particular environment. That seems about right. I like to think of them as “family songs”: tunes that become distinct in the unique part they play in our collective history. Some mark losses and invoke nostalgia; others move us forward and introduce new practices or prayers; still others encourage awareness and gratitude in the moment. I consider it a joyful burden to know, and be in tune with, my people. As I’m writing songs or organizing a Sunday service, I often ask God and myself: “What do we need?” and “Where does it hurt?” As we address these questions, we are guided to remember, hope and worship; with indigenous “family songs” scoring the soundtrack of our story.
I sent the text above to my friend Tommy the night before his child went in for an operation at the hospital. His reply affected me in a surprising way: I believed him. Finally I realized that we weren’t only a family in some metaphysical reality, but right here and right now. Maybe the practice of singing The Mystery of Faith every week at church had done it’s formational work.
I hope Songs of Common Prayer will inspire new family songs for you and yours; that the well-worn words will connect you to a rich family heritage; and that we will all find more places and more profound ways to belong. May the record be a reminder that what unites us is greater than what divides us; that every denominational difference is not an insurmountable division. May we sing together in harmony as we become more truly God’s one, holy, and catholic Church. After all, we are the body of Christ.