Why We Need To Sing A New Song
Just like childbirth, the present moment will get harder before it gets better
When I was pregnant for the first time, I read books about labor and took a childbirth preparation class. More essential for a music lover, I crafted a playlist for birth.
Determined to script the soundtrack of bringing new life into the world, I gathered pump-up jams, classic rock, mood music, sentimental tracks, worship songs, soothing chants. I perfected the song order over the months, imagining what I might want at the beginning or need by the end.
The playlist is now lost to the ages, buried somewhere in an ancient version of iTunes or an old iPod. But I can still remember how it felt to search for the right music to birth my child.
I’d never done that hard work before. I knew I needed new songs.
I spent this week in Nashville with The Porter’s Gate, crafting songs with musicians, pastors, and other writers. Sitting at the (literal) feet of artists I’ve followed for years, watching them pick melodies out of thin air and strum a song into being, I was awed to share their creative space.
We talked about work and worship, prayer and poetry. We challenged what is broken and dreamed about what could transform. We shared the kind of ecumenical exchanges that energize like nothing else.
At the end of our gathering, Isaac Wardell offered one thought I can’t stop pondering: the revival of our institutions depends upon the revival of our imaginations.
Example 1: the civil rights movement depended upon the Harlem Renaissance. Example 2: the temperance movement failed because it never captured the collective imagination to show what an alcohol-free society could look like.
All week I’ve been carrying this revolutionary idea, turning it over like a stone in the pocket, irresistible to touch. How could we renew our cultural imagination? What parts could artists, writers, musicians, and church leaders play?
What new songs do we need?
Right now the U.S. is embroiled in angry debates about a thousand issues, but this week has dragged into the limelight two topics that have defined my life over recent decades: pregnancy and breast-feeding. The recent Supreme Court draft leak and the baby formula shortage crisis have turned Twitter into a hellscape of hot takes.
I’m struck by our utter lack of nuance over these two subjects: each intensely important, each embodied and emotional. We bludgeon each other and then retreat to our corners without listening to any response or counter-response.
We need new songs.
Songs to deepen our personal commitments. Songs to embolden our collective activism. Songs to remind ourselves who we are, what we believe, and where we want to go.
If we stay stuck in the part of the soundtrack that was meant for earlier parts of the work, then we won’t get anywhere new.
The art of the mix tape is lost, but the playlist lives on. I made a new collection for every baby, part pregnancy project, part birth preparation.
Songs for early labor, the ease and excitement. Songs for hard labor, the pain and fear. Songs for transition, the intensity and exhaustion of nearing the end. Songs for pushing. Songs for strength. Songs for joy. (I never knew I’d need laments, too.)
Every song lifting the same bone-deep prayer, the inexpressible groanings of the Spirit, the still small voice.
Let there be life.
I scribbled a list in the back of my Nashville notebook: what we need now.
Labor songs. Rest songs, sabbath songs. Love songs. Justice songs, healing songs.
By songs, I don’t just mean words and tunes, but whatever sparks our imagination. Whatever gives language to the ineffable. Whatever weaves together—as songs do with words and music—to create something new.
What do we need to do the hard work right here and rise above right now?
Christians hold this wild tension between immanence and transcendence: believing God is among us and above us. We pray and sing to a God who is mysteriously around us in the neighborhood and far beyond us in the cosmos.
Music ties both together. We sing it with mouths, lips, lungs, and throats. We feel it with heart, mind, and soul.
What happens when we write and sing new songs, when we hum them under our breaths, sing them with a choir, or shout them at a protest? What new songs are we singing together—and what ancient hopes are we still carrying?
Let there be life. Let it us have it more abundantly. Let our imaginations be set aflame.
Let our Laboring God—groaning and pushing, planting and picking, carving and building, baking and feeding—give us the words and songs we need for now.
O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth (Ps 96).