Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me…
This wretch was indeed saved by a sweet sound: the music of faith, hope, and love. The testimony of generations past, methodically, melodically drummed into my mind and heart, since before I was born. What chance did I have, with parents who met in the middle school choir at their small Christian school. I felt it before I knew it, in 3/4 and 4/4 time, with the occasional 6/8. I loved it before I understood it, born and bred a mockingbird, listening intently and repeating back by heartfelt heart. The sweet sound of amazing grace made me who I am.
But now the calluses on my left hand fingertips have just about faded. Not long ago I would half-jokingly boast that I’d take these calluses to the grave, as I’d play my guitar, mandolin, bass or banjo at least daily, mixing in the older songs I grew up on (usually a touch modernized and syncopated) with the newer songs that fed my soul all the more. The old songs, with their Thees and Thous and folk tunes stripped of their pep, were deep theology in verse. The new songs featured simplified, emotional lyrics, with plenty of build up and laser-guided, tear-jerking bridges. Playing, and writing, both styles felt like the perfect balance of head and heart. I was constantly amazed that I got paid, in part, to make this music every Sunday morning.
Until I didn’t. Now I can’t even listen to it without my stomach flipping. But not long ago, at funerals, at weddings, at recovery meetings, Bible studies, and church services, I’d loudly sing of once being lost and now being found, of once being blind but now seeing.
A mockingbird can’t not sing his song. Sometimes he’s content to sing to himself while going about his business. Other times an irresistible urge comes over him, and he flies to the very top of the tallest tree, displaying and exposing himself at great risk, hoping for a great reward, throwing his head back and exploding in a kaleidoscope of rhythm and melody. If all goes well, his territory is defended and strengthened by his sweet sound. But if a hawk takes notice, it could be his swan song.
After a lifetime of climbing, I saw the very face of God at the top of my tree. I heard the music of heaven itself and repeated it back to anyone who might listen. But I was knocked from my perch, or did I just lose my grip? Either way, I look up from the ground, wings broken, ears ringing, hoping to remember the wretch-saving, sweet sound of grace I once knew by heart.