Last night I finished Andrew Peterson’s Adorning the Dark (which I encourage you to read), and he’s as love-struck with Rich Mullins as I’ve been with C.S. Lewis. I’m pretty he sure mentions the guy at least once in every chapter, just like I’ve probably mentioned Lewis in most of my blogs. (Can you imagine having a conversation with me? Can you imagine if we talked about Jesus that effortlessly?)
I grew up listening to Rich. I remember the big black radio that was also a cassette and CD player. (It was November 1997, my friends. The thing lasted for over ten years, too. They don’t make stuff they way they used to.) My grandfather bought it for my eighth birthday, but everybody used it–sometimes in the living room, sometimes in my parent’s room at night when Mom and I played cards on the water bed while Dad was working third shift at Wal-Mart. But what I really remember is the nook between the wood-stove that heated our house in the winter (and made the best baked potatoes known to man) and the sliding glass door that led to a patio where we kept wood and could step right onto a carpet of grass with leaves and nuts from oak and pecan and blossoms and sticky seeds from dogwood and paulownia strewn across it. Whether Mom or Dad were cooking, or I was doing school work or coloring, or we were cleaning house, the radio sat in that nook and played the music of Chris Rice, Crystal Lewis, Steven Curtis Chapman, Geoff Moore, and Rich Mullins, and whenever I play those old CDs (or cassettes), I’m transported back to days in that kitchen–the hot and humid ones with the air conditioner blowing from the window above the sink where we not only did dishes but Mom found the perfect depth for bathing a baby; the rainy ones with thunderstorms threatening to snap those beautiful trees in half and awakening a wild feeling in my heart; or the cold ones in which our house was snug and smelled of wood-smoke and the orange peels and cloves Mom boiled in a pan. Although both Mom and Dad would throw their heads back, often swaying to the music, and open their mouths wide (There was no other way of singing for either of them), perhaps one of my most vivid memories is the image of my dad–either sitting in his recliner with one leg crossed or wielding skillets to create “Big Daddy Breakfasts”– belting out “Elijah” with his eyes closed and his hands attempting to play every instrument Rich or Beaker or the Ragamuffin band ever possessed. (He does the same with anything performed by U2, and Mom once told me that in high school he kept a pair of drumsticks in his car and used the steering wheel as a makeshift drum whenever he listened to the radio.) In kids choir we learned “Awesome God” along with sign language for the chorus, and when tagging alongside my parents as they worked with the youth, I heard “That Where I Am, There You May Also Be” sung by Rich and Michael W. Smith.
Needless to say, Rich Mullins and his music is quite nostalgic for me–along with the artists mentioned above (as well as others). But while some artists and songs only bring good memories, others continue to invoke wonder, to reach into my soul and cultivate the seeds planted within it at seven, eight, nine years old. Rich falls into that last category, and you may have noticed that little me wasn’t introduced until after his death in 1997.
The man taught me the Apostle’s Creed, and I didn’t realize it until I was teaching it to middle school students. It was like Scout not realizing Atticus had taught her to read.
We sang “Let Mercy Lead” to my little brother Lucas, tweaking the verses of course to accommodate his first name, Adrian. (Yeah, it was kinda cheesy, but we also had fun with “Screen Door.”) “Boy Like Me, Man Like You” led to discussions with my dad about the humanity of Jesus.
When my grandfather bought me a keyboard for Christmas, one of the first songs I tried to poke out on the piano was “Calling Out Your Name.” I eventually picked up on on the intro and only imagined I could play my keyboard as good as Rich played his dulcimer, my heart swelling with the music and imagery, and then there was always that sweet sadness of not knowing how to teach myself the rest. The song itself evoked the kind of aching joy Lewis talks about–sehnsucht.
As a teenager when I first encountered loneliness and inexplainable heartache, I started singing, sometimes sobbing or whispering, the lyrics of “Hold Me Jesus” as I had seen my mom do on a few occasions. I copied the lyrics over and over again in my journal, and then again in college and adulthood.
On my first missions trip to a Gypsy village in Romania, I sang “My Deliverer” to a little baby on my hip, though we spoke different languages.
In 2017 a friend asked me to join her for “The Behold the Lamb of God Tour” at a church in Dandridge. One of the last songs was a cover of “The Land of My Sojourn.” I was captivated and went on to discover “Peace: A Communion Blessing from St. Joseph’s Square,” “78 Eatonwood Green,” “Here in America,” “Cry the Name,” and “The Color Green.”
I remember sweeping my classroom on a Saturday during a time in which I worked seven seemingly futile days a week crying and praying and breathing through “If I Stand.”
Andrew’s book drew me to “The Love of God,” and through that “Bound to Come Some Trouble.” Both much needed at this juncture in my life, which I why I’ve spent several hours today hunting through Rich’s music, which is why I started writing this blog post.
I made a joke in the title about the communion of the saints–but it really wasn’t a joke. The community known as the Body of Christ transcends time, a truth that continues to be made more and more real for me each day. I needed a date with Rich today. So much about his story and words makes me think we might have been kindred spirits. He “tells me the story I still need to hear,” to use words from one of Andrew’s songs. We need the voices of believers who have gone on before us to point us to Christ and remind us that we will, God help us, survive.