Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Wisdom of a Ragamuffin

I recently placed an order with Christian Book Distributors for a book I'm hoping to utilize with my sweet girl during some schooling times this coming fall (more on that soon...I need to do a bit of reflecting and "thinking out loud" about some terrific homeschooling resources). I ordered that book and one other that D. and I had both been wanting to get, and then I did something that perhaps no bibliophile should do...especially not one as broke as I am. I actively looked for bargains. CBD will sometimes throw books into their bargain bin that I think are incredible finds for just a couple of dollars. And I struck gold (per usual) this time with a small, hardback copy of reflections by the late songwriter Rich Mullins.

If you knew Rich Mullins' name early on in his career (in the 80s) you probably knew it in the small type of the liner notes on Amy Grant's albums. I think I first noticed his name as the writer of "Sing Your Praise to the Lord" on her 1983 album "Age to Age." He also penned other songs she sang, including one of my very favorite songs from the album "Straight Ahead," a ballad entitled "Doubly Good to You." But Rich really came into his own as a singer and songwriter in the late 80s, early 90s. He wrote a couple of songs that became standards in Protestant evangelical worship, including "Awesome God" (which has a very catchy chorus but otherwise is not, I don't think, a very good example of his usually excellent songwriting skills...though perhaps his skills deepened as he aged) and "Step by Step."

I love so much of his work, but the albums that have spoken the most to me over the years are "Winds of Heaven, Stuff of Earth" (1988, and the first of his albums I ever owned); "A Liturgy, A Legacy and a Ragamuffin Band (1993, and a CD I fear that I will actually wear out one of these days); and finally, "The Jesus Record" (a posthumous recording of the last songs he ever wrote -- one CD contains the homemade demos of the songs as he performed them, and the other CD contains the songs arranged and produced by his bandmembers and performed by many people who loved him, missed him and wanted to pay him tribute). One day I would like to spend some time writing more about the songs on "The Jesus Record" because so many of them have worked like contemporary Psalms in my life, speaking my ragged heart in times of struggle and difficulty.

But today I just wanted to note how lovely it is to be reading some of Mullins' written reflections, captured in this little book The World As I Remember It: Through the Eyes of a Ragamuffin. It's primarily a compilation of some columns he wrote for a magazine in the early 90s. The book itself, published by Multnomah, is beautifully designed...small and easy to hold, with sepia toned pages that almost look as though they've been dipped in steeping tea, and full of gorgeous sepia toned photographs by Ben Pearson, a close friend of Rich Mullins. Many of the photos are of Mullins himself, and while I wonder how he'd feel about that, since he was not one to crave the limelight, the photos are such a creative and beautiful study of one man's varying expressions through seasons of life that it's hard not to enjoy them.

Rich was a simple soul, and yet "rich" as his name indicated, rich in the things that mattered most, especially love of God and life in Christ. Just a couple of years before he died at the age of 41 (in a 1997 car accident) he'd moved to a Navajo reservation in Arizona to teach music to children. Although he was an amazing artist -- a good musician and most of all, a fine poet -- clearly the center of his life was not art but God. He practiced art not for the sake of art, but art as an expression of his love for God and his love for the life God had given him.

All of his reflections here are thoughtful and worth chewing on, and I will continue to meditate on them as I go. Some seem especially poignant in light of the fact the he died just a few years after writing the words. Lines like:

"Someday I will rise up like the sun in the morning -- someday I will shine like the saints who watch from cathedral windows. I know this, not because of any evidence I have produced of myself, but because of the witness of His Scriptures, because of the evidence of His grace, and because of the testimony of this sky that washes over me at dusk."

And here's another favorite quote thus far:

"Faith is not a denial of facts -- it is a broadening of focus. It does not deny the hardness of guitar strings, it plucks them into a sweetness of sound."


Erin said...

Sounds like a great book. I really enjoy Rich Mullins and sort of compare him to Jim Croce. Such a shame when a talented, great-spirited person like that departs ahead of his time...

Beth said...

Yes. Another singer/songwriter I loved, Mark Heard, also died very young, about five years before Rich Mullins did. I think the two of them wrote some of the most spiritually profound songs of the end of the 20th century, and I felt more than a bit bereft when both passed so early. Although I imagine they are both still doing beautiful work in heaven!