Monthly Archives: July 2010

Songs for Life

Two songs have kept replaying in my mind for the past couple of weeks. Night or day, the same snippets of words from each song repeat over and over. The words may or may not be in context with whatever else is happening around me. The words just drop into my consciousness randomly. If I tune in to the intrusions, the entire songs will play through my thoughts.

One of the songs is a Billy Joel favorite. Actually, the part of the track that pops up continually is the phrase sung by the backup singers: “in the middle of the … I go walking in the … in the middle of the … I go walking in the….” Billy Joel fans will recognize the words as the driving chorus from The River of Dreams. Billy Joel chimes in with the verse:

In the middle of the night, I go walking in my sleep
From the mountains of faith To a river so deep.
I must be looking for something, Something sacred I lost,
But the river is wide And it’s too hard to cross
(The River of Dreams, Billy Joel, 1993)

The song is part of an album that I contend is from beginning to end an amazing statement of spiritual hunger and failure to find satisfying answers. For that reason, I advocate listening to the tracks in their order of appearance on the album, not shuffled randomly by an IPod or MP3 player. The songs form a progressive litany of how materialism, professional associations, personal and family relationships, the trappings of fame, and secular philosophy all fail to provide genuine spiritual meaning. The good news is that a ray of hope continues to beckon Joel and the listener to seek satisfaction for the gnawing spiritual hunger. Billy Joel voices the hope that ultimately he will find some yet-unrecognized salvation so that: “Baptized by the fire, I wade into the river That runs to the promised land.” Unfortunately, Billy Joel’s public life doesn’t give any evidence that he has personally come upon anything that can give him spiritual rest.

This brings me to the second song that has insinuated itself into my daily thoughts. I’m not sure if my subconscious mind is playing the songs in contrast to one another or not. The second song certainly offers the only truly satisfying answer to the deep quest in The River of Dreams. The phrase that keeps repeating is the first verse of the hymn, My Faith Has Found a Resting Place. Consider the entire hymn as the true answer for any hungering search for spiritual meaning:

My faith has found a resting place, Not in device or creed;
I trust the ever living One, His wounds for me shall plead.
(Refrain 
I need no other argument, I need no other plea,
It is enough that Jesus died, And that He died for me.

Enough for me that Jesus saves, This ends my fear and doubt;
A sinful soul I come to Him, He’ll never cast me out.
(Refrain)
My heart is leaning on the Word, The living Word of God,
Salvation by my Savior’s Name, Salvation through His blood.
(Refrain)
My great Physician heals the sick, The lost He came to save;
For me His precious blood He shed, For me His life He gave.
(Refrain)
(My Faith Has Found a Resting Place, Eliza Edmunds Hewitt, 1891)

You can hear a very nice solo rendition of the hymn by Mark Miller, with a contemporary accompaniment, at the following URL:

(If you can’t click and play the recording, copy and paste the URl into your web browser.)

For some reason, most recordings omit the crucial third verse. Many copies of the lyrics change “the living Word of God” to “the written Word of God.” I appreciate the desire to lift up the vital role of the Bible for finding genuine spiritual rest, but I believe that the change says much less than the original wording affirms.

God’s salvation touches us through a personal encounter with God’s living word. If we read the Bible merely as we read any other book, it does not necessarily meet us with transforming power. Unless the written word is brought to life by the living word in the divine mystery of the Spirit, it remains just another book. Peter knew the written words of the Hebrew scriptures. He was familiar with the growing corpus of writings by Paul and other followers of Jesus that would come to be recognized as Christian scripture. But he was already committed to proclaim the power of the living word, a way of speaking about the loving, grace-full, redemptive presence of God demonstrated in Jesus Christ and immanently available to each person in the constant moving of the Spirit. Peter wrote:

Through Christ you have come to trust in God. And because God raised Christ from the dead and gave him great glory, your faith and hope can be placed confidently in God. {22} Now you can have sincere love for each other as brothers and sisters because you were cleansed from your sins when you accepted the truth of the Good News. So see to it that you really do love each other intensely with all your hearts. {23} For you have been born again. Your new life did not come from your earthly parents because the life they gave you will end in death. But this new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word of God. (1 Peter 1:21-23 NLT)

Peter describes succinctly the genuinely meaningful life that is God’s gift through faith in Jesus. Followers of Jesus know that life to be what Billy Joel and countless others are compelled to look for. Thank God, by personal faith and relationship with Jesus my faith (and yours, too) has found a resting place.

– J. Edward Culpepper

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