Thoughts at Midnight

Quick bout of self-loathing at my inability to express myself sufficiently… at instead, expressing God’s love in a way that looks stupid and unreal. Rummaging around with my clumsy hands and getting my foot stuck in my mouth is one of my shortcomings. Perhaps the reason why I would not make a good psychologist is because of my own failings at speaking.

However, I was led to this conclusion…

… maybe my happiness is found in knowing that I am enfolded in a Love my small, stupid, undeserving, unlovely heart cannot even begin to grasp.

…  maybe that’s why I can keep trying, even though I am stupid and small and undeserving and unlovely, because to those eyes I am deserving and lovely.

And because I know deep down inside that this Love is not an illusion…


Music is Expensive

Picture from Amazon


Let me begin by saying that I have spent a lot of money this break.

Somehow, I ended up buying a lot of CDs. I don’t regret that. I’m just sad because I’m broke.

Anyway, if you have a chance and want to listen to some good music, listen to these:

1. Frame the Clouds by Christa Wells

2. The Invitation by Meredith Andrews

3. Amarantine by Enya (Christmas gift from my my younger sister, actually)

4. Fireflies and Songs by Sara Groves

5. My Medea by Vienna Teng (I got a couple of songs from Warm Strangers and Waking Hour, and by far, “My Medea” is my favorite.)

6. Us by Regina Spektor (Soviet Kitsch)

7. Hero by Regina Spektor (500 Days of Summer)

Links lead to their respective Amazon pages, if available.

"these are the scars that silence carved on me... I am a constant satellite of your blazing sun"

A friend of mine introduced me to Vienna Teng by sending me a link to “Gravity”. I noticed three things: that Vienna Teng was Asian, classically trained in piano, and that the song was awesome. Most of her songs are a sort of hit and miss with me – if I hear a song and I love it, then I’ll really love it and listen to it on repeat for the next 48 hours. If I don’t like it, then I really don’t like it. Some of the lyrics don’t catch me, and some do. However, there is no doubt that Vienna Teng is gifted in words and melody. Her music has a very unique feel.

“My Medea” is a good example. Haunting and intense, the song refers to a woman in Greek mythology who left a trail of destruction wherever she went. She murdered her children, murdered a pair of lovers, tried to destroy her former husband, Jason (yes, that Jason). I wonder what eventually happened to her. Vienna Teng also drew from the legend of the labyrinth (Crete?) and “a curse for every mile of ocean crossed” which sounds familiar but which I can’t place. Ouch.

It took me a while to understand the song.

Amarantine is my favorite Enya album so far. Even with the songs with the made up languages, I was humming along, not knowing whatever the heck I was singing. It was cool. “Amarantine,” the title track, is my new favorite love song. I am also in awe of Enya’s lyricist, Roma Ryan. She paints pictures with words, while Enya, the “sonic architect,” builds towers out of sound. Altogether, the music has the effect of making me feel as if I’m a pilgrim who has been on a long journey and has only just found her way home.

And indeed, home is a theme that Roma Ryan and Enya explore in this album.

You know when you give your love away
It opens your heart, everything is new
And you know time will always find a way
To let your heart believe it’s true

— Amarantine

(Who says that rhyming poetry is for 5th graders? Heidi Montag has nothing on Roma Ryan.)

Amazon had a $5 for one mp3 album deal over break, and I got “Fireflies and Songs” by Sara Groves. I hadn’t listened to any of her music beforehand, just heard references to her by Meredith Andrews and Christa Wells (Sara Groves’ vocals are featured on “Frame the Clouds,” incidentally). A housewife and mother of three children, Sara Groves released nine albums, her most recent being the one I just bought. I immediately fell in love with her songwriting, but her voice was an acquired taste. At times, I felt that her voice was a little too scratchy. The real beauty is perhaps in her lyrics. They are very very honest – so much is about everyday life. Kitchens, fireflies, friendship, tables, and houses. So much is about singing “for the beauty that’s to be found” as written in the gem “Setting Up the Pins.” Another favorite is “Love.”

love I made it mine
I made it small I made it blind
I followed hard only to find
it wasn’t love
it wasn’t love

love of songs and pen
oh love of movie endings
takes out the break
leaves out the bend
misses love

love not of you
love not of me
come hold us up
come set us free
not as we know it
but as it can be

People can identify with the small things, like chairs and tables and children and kittens, but perhaps that is where we look last for the important things. Things we need to be reminded of. To me, her songs will always be about the beauty found in ordinary things, the aliveness to be liven in everyday life, the grace of God reflected back in little simple things like friendships and kindnesses, and a love that is bigger than we know.

Will I buy anything else by her? Perhaps.

(And the song “It’s Me” brings a lump to my throat every time I hear it. Shhh don’t tell anyone.)

Meredith Andrews is pretty darn cute, too.

Meredith Andrews is so darn cute.

“The Invitation” by Meredith Andrews was one of those purchases I didn’t think I would love as much as I did. I’m not really into a lot of “Christian” music. Don’t like Chris Tomlin (I can hear the shocked gasps now) because his music and lyrics seem too vanilla for my tastes. Not intense enough. I like more intensity, more edginess. I like to listen about grace, and goodness, and love, and peace, but it all has no form and substance without the fall. Because for humans, so much of our lives has been defined around falling, being crushed, being shattered, being shaken, being broken. Which is why we are so desperately in need of grace. Grace would have no meaning if man had not fallen… the sacrifice cannot exist without a reason. One must acknowledge the fall while being defined around grace.

God is indescribable, unchangeable; but all we know of God comes from our experience of Him. In trying to speak only of God’s qualities, we more often than not come up short because there is so much we don’t know. Yet that doesn’t stop us from trying. The old hymn writers were good at this. Because of our inadequacy, and perhaps from our own inexperience of God, it’s hard to find new and fresh ways of talking about God. As someone who’s tried her hand at poetry, I can say that it’s extremely hard to not fall back onto the old cliches that instead of drawing the soul to something greater, drop them back into blah.


beauty in pain?

That, or a lot of Christian music seems to be cheesy pop love songs with all the words “baby” and “love” and “darling” replaced with “God” and “Jesus” and “Savior.” Don’t get me wrong, I like love songs, depending on the melody or the lyrics. But singing the words “I can’t stop falling in love with you” 8x in a row makes me feel really weird. Seriously, I wouldn’t know those were songs about God except for the words “God” and “Jesus”. God is many things: lover, friend, Father, confidante, brother, etc. He is captivating, etc. But I’m not sure I want to think of God captivating me with his “intimate kisses.” Oh dear. Does that give you weird mental images? I’m sorry. I can’t remember the name of that particular song, so I’ll spare you.

In talking about being shattered, broken, etc., many can identify with such feelings. However, the challenge is in finding a balance. We’re broken, but we need grace. We need grace because we’re broken. One cannot be morbidly upsetting in writing about being broken, and one cannot be so airy and fluffy in writing about grace, otherwise it’s no better than feel-good bubblegum pop that’s all air and no substance. It’s my thought that, similar to the struggle of describing God, many Christian singer/songwriters fall back on the same ol’ same ol’ cliches, and while there is nothing inherently wrong with that, it fails to satisfy.

"I was alone, but you found me where I was hiding"

"I was alone, but you found me where I was hiding. And now I'll never ever be the same."

So I was pleasantly surprised to listen and find so much depth and wisdom in the lyrics. There are such gems as the upbeat “You Invite Me In” where Andrews sings that “You invite me in/Doesn’t matter where I’ve been/Your arms are open wide/There’s nothing left to hide” echoing the account of the prodigal in Luke. Who doesn’t want to leave their shame behind? And yet that is the chance offered.

Or how about “You’re Not Alone”?

My favorite track is the deliciously piano-based hymn-like “Draw Me Nearer.”

In your nearness there is healing
What was broken now made whole
Restoration in its fullness
Lasting hope for all who come

In your nearness I take shelter
Where you are is where I’m home
I have need of only one thing
To be here before your throne

Her music is just so darn uplifting in its message of hope. “God is extending an invitation to you, to you personally, calling you by name,” she says. “He knows where you’ve been and he knows your background. He knows your family situation. He knows the things you struggle with, but he’s calling you by name and he’s inviting you to come in and to meet with him and to know him.” How encouraging!

Christa Wells. Picture from her blog.

And yet, one of the best purchases I made was “Frame the Clouds” by Christa Wells. I first heard about Christa Wells when Amazon offered me a free mp3 off this, her independently produced debut album. I can’t stop listening. She has a way of painting pictures with words. This album is definitely marked by Christa Wells’ plain honesty. The lyrics are profound in their simplicity. Favorite track? “Frame the Clouds.” I recommend this album.

Like her friend Sara Groves, Christa Wells sings and writes about the simple things of life, interjected with a lot of grace. However, the way she paints pictures with words is unique and not really like anything I’ve ever heard. Sara Groves’s songwriting makes me think of flowers; Christa Wells’s makes me think of solid oak. She sings of falling in love in “All the More”, citing little things like his grin and the desire of wanting to be kissed “I was raised not to asked to be kissed, otherwise I would’ve.” He was perfect in so many ways, but in the end it was his imperfections, his humanity, that made her fall in love with him further. Or how about “A Thousand Things,” a balladic song about human suffering? Someone suffers, tells about it. But that’s not the end of the story: someone else at the next table, also suffering, hears about this and takes it to heart. “Exquisite” pain draws people together, but so does grace. An outpouring of pain, and grace in the midst of such pain, is like a drop of rain that waters a thousand fields, hence the title.

a thousand fields nourished by a single drop of rain

Then there is the mournful “Life Costs So Much,” a condemnation of sorts against the failure to acknowledge the cost of life , living empty lives our own way, the assertion that “we’ll get along” while hiding our souls in shame. Merely existing, and certainly not living.

“Don’t Call It Love”, “I Want To Know That Man”, “Weightless”… I don’t believe there is a single “miss” on this CD. For instance, in the swingy “Don’t Call It Love”, Christa Wells takes difficult subject matter – passing judgement – and handles it with grace.

I’m tempted to sit back in my overstuffed chair

with a gavel in hand and a tired-eye stare that says
I’m not surprised you’ve messed it up again
I’m tempted to sigh, I’m tempted to yawn
if you’d only do life the way I’ve told you all along
It could be so easy
If you would only be more like me

But oh, that’s the beast that brings us down
It’s the devil in a satin gown
So don’t, don’t call it love (don’t call it love)
love wraps herself around the wound
and weeps while she speaks truth

So don’t call this love

Indeed love does… as well as make music.

"If there's a God who would enter humanity to capture the love of a rebel like me... I want to know his name." - "I want to know that man" Christa Wells

It’s rare to see a singer/songwriter who can spin such melodies and words in a way that they speak to the heart. Or perhaps these singer/songwriters get overlooked over the bubblegum pop babble, the Miley Cyruses and Jonas Brothers and Demi Lovatos and Emily Osments. It’s really a shame, because such artists should get recognition. Such music is in the end more wholesome than empty fluff. One may make a person feel empty-good for a while. The other may make a person feel more challenged, more less-whole, more longing-for-wholeness, more empty. As it should.

The only way I can describe this music is the feeling of a journey to make — a journey to love’s beginning. A journey where instead of walking the other way, one walks into grace. A journey to recognize beauty in faces and places, like the man who “poured himself out for a stranger for years, for no kind of pay.” A journey where one strives to become more Christ-like, I suppose.

A journey I’d want to make. A journey I’m making.

I am listening to the album as I write this, and I feel as if I’m uncovering a new little gem every time. The songs have that much meaning.

It’s also available on iTunes, but I got the CD, available on Christa Wells’s website, because it’s easier to lend CDs to people.

Music to buy in 2010, in no particular order, and because I like making lists:

maybe someone played so well that his fingers bled roses.

1. As Long as It Takes by Meredith Andrews (coming out in March?)

2. Brooke Fraser‘s Third Album (unnamed, and tentatively scheduled for summer 2010. Again, I recommend her. She’s my favorite singer/songwriter, and anything from her is bound to be excellent. She puts so much of herself into everything she writes.)

3. Love Makes Music EP by Christa Wells, Nicole Witt and Other Various People. Two songs written by Christa, two songs by Nicole, and one song written by both.

4. Rest of the Ride by Nicole Witt. Just found about her from the Love Makes Music EP project. She’s good. More country. But good. I like country.

The end of 2010 will possibly see me in debt.

*Update: I only bought a few of the CDS on the list: Meredith Andrew’s was one of them. I also bought Brooke Fraser’s album “Flags,” which I should review at some point, and which was excellent. I highly recommend it. I never did buy the EP by Christa Wells and Nicole Witt, but I did buy “How Emptiness Sings” by Wells, and which I will be reviewing at some point because it is also extremely insightful.

I also changed my mind about liking country.