Thursday, March 03, 2005

Envelopes of Light

Writing (or reviewing) songs about the Christian life can be a tantalizing and frustrating prospect. Go to one extreme and you find most of the CCM industry, equally divided between espousing sentiments that are doctrinally correct, but dry and didactic, and sappy odes to Jesus that ignore the harsh realities of living in a fallen world. All the mystery and tension is removed. Go to the other extreme and you find vague expressions of spirituality that can mean almost anything; generic love songs that suffer from what I like to call the "is it Jesus or is it the girlfriend?" syndrome. These songs are nothing but mystery.
So I'm always thrilled and moved when I find someone who finds the balance. A songwriter named Pierce Pettis consistently finds that middle ground for me. When I wrote about depression a couple days ago I recalled the many mornings I spent driving to work with his album "Chase the Buffalo" in my CD player. Listening to that album, I think I realized for the first time that I was probably clinically depressed. Sometimes music opens a window that can't be opened in any other way.
I listened to that album again this morning as I was driving in to work. It's magical. It's beautiful. I am thrilled that I have the chance to lead a music workshop with Pierce Pettis at Calvin College in a few weeks. I hope, when I see him, to tell him how much his songs have meant to me. He finds fresh ways to express old truths. He also helped me realize that depression doesn't have to be the last word, that in the midst of darkness grace shines through. There are little envelopes of light everywhere you look, if you have eyes to see.
What does grace look like? It looks like this:
At the sign of the times
He hesitates to navigate his course
His rite of passage
Up the stream of consciousness to find its source
She watches him go
A sentinel behind venetian blinds
Keeps the home fires burning low
Like a vestal virgin waiting in the night
And clinging to the highway
Like a baby to the breast
The distance feeds his urgency
And his dreams just do the rest
When he's down so dark
She mails him little envelopes of light
Cicadas in the mist
Are rising from a whisper to a roar
The way silk dresses hiss
As ballroom dancers glids across the floor
He's felt the ambience of God
Like a heat mirage on the highway
But the closer he comes
The more it seems to slip away
Just out of reach
A single treetop peach
He's stretching for with all his might
And somewhere in his heart
He comes across an envelope of light
Driving down the road
With a feeling that he can't identify
A scarecrow is hanging
Like a crucifix against the thorny sky
Three days and nights
In the belly of a whale
Three days and nights
In a perfect hell
Then like a phoenix bird
Rising in an envelope of light
And when he's down so dark
He gets these little envelopes of light
-- Pierce Pettis, "Envelopes of Light"


Jeff Cannell said...

"Trying to Stand in a Fallen World" off Chase the Buffallo meant a lot to me.

I almost went and saw him early 1994 at Staches, but instead went and saw a far inferior show- Kingd X, at Newport. That show was very significant for me- It was the second time I met the women who was to be my wife- outside of Newport. It was two weeks after my mom died, (I had been carring for her with my family for 2 months). I was so depressed and fried that Adrienne thought I was on something. She mentioned that to Lyndie (now Bucley) and Lyndie filled her about what had gone down. So I'll always remember the night I almost saw Pierce Pettis.

BTW- Dry Bones Dance ranks with this one.

John McCollum said...

That's a beautiful song.

Thicket Dweller said...

Andy, I just found your blog and thought that you might be interested in knowing that we'll be hosting Pierce Pettis for a houseconcert this coming weekend, Saturday, March 24th, in Charm, Ohio (Amish Country). Check if you want more info. I think you'd be pleased.