EDITOR’S NOTE: We are in the midst of trying something a little different for the next few weeks. Each staff member will write a letter to someone they never met but wish they had. Perhaps a hero. Maybe a villain. Maybe someone never known to the larger world. Real or fictional. Alive or dead. Below is Part 2 of our 5-part series. You can find letter #1 here. We hope you find this exercise in literary fantasy thoughtful and intriguing.
You may find this a strange way to begin a letter of gratitude for your life and music, but then I have never gone about things very conventionally.
When I first came to faith it was the songs of Keith Green that spoke loudest to me. I never met him in person, but through the lyrics of his songs and the book No Compromise I was deeply influenced. Like you, my husband and I also began a music ministry. After almost every concert, during the early years, at least one person would come up and tell me I reminded them of Keith. Even my pastor said something similar—and he had been Keith’s pastor also.
When I first came to faith it was the songs of Keith Green that spoke loudest to me.
I found it kind of strange since I didn’t play the piano nearly as well, and I wasn’t what I would call an evangelist by nature. But I came to realize it was Keith’s passion for the Lord, his humor, boldness and honesty that so many found compelling and helped me identify with him.
However, a few years into my walk, it was an entirely different singer/songwriter who stole my heart away.
A couple of dear friends, Rick and Nan Oswald, introduced me to your music. At first, I didn’t really connect with you because I was so deep into Keith Green’s music. Yours was more subtle, kinder.
“There’s a wideness in God’s mercy I cannot find in my own” is probably the one line of lyrics in a song that has haunted me most. While many people remember your Awesome God I am convicted of my hardness of heart every time I hear that single strand of words. I remember driving up the Pacific Coast Highway by the ocean and then through Big Sur—looping that song again and again—crying.
If I loved Keith Green for his incredible zeal and hunger for holiness, I loved you even more for your humility and humanity—for the beauty that was birthed from the ashes in your life.
And no one—no one that I have ever heard—has ever spoken so deeply of the war between flesh and spirit in a song as you have.
And I wake up in the night and feel the dark
It’s so hot inside my soul
I swear there must be blisters on my heartSo hold me Jesus,
Cause I’m shaking like a leaf
You have been King of my glory
Won’t You be my Prince of Peace
Hold Me Jesus
As Michael and I sometimes argued about what I should wear for a concert you dressed like no other Christian artist I ever saw. Barefoot and seemingly untamed by the conventions of CCM (Contemporary Christian Music), you sweated through your t-shirts and jeans as the lines of struggle and time cut into your rounded face ever more deeply over the years. And it didn’t seem to matter how you looked to people or how perfect your performance was or wasn’t. Your
You always seemed more fragile in your voice and soul, like you might slip off the edge of your faith
pointed remarks and self-effacing humor revealed your brokenness—and you weren’t afraid or ashamed to be the instrument God was molding you into. You didn’t hide your flaws like so many of us do. And I drank deep from the pictures your words painted about the beauty of God, and especially of His mercy.
Let mercy lead
Let love be the strength in your legs
And in every footprint that you leave
There’ll be a drop of grace
If we can reach
Beyond the wisdom of this age Into the foolishness of God
That foolishness will save
Those who believe
Although their foolish hearts may break
They will find peace
And I’ll meet you in that place
Where mercy leads
Let Mercy Lead
You always seemed more fragile in your voice and soul, like you might slip off the edge of your faith—and yet, somehow, you didn’t. So many of your songs were threaded with longing for the day you would behold the One who knew and loved you best. Sometimes I wonder if there are certain people whose gaze continually turns heavenward from the very beginning of their walk with Jesus.
I still remember Michael calling me in the middle of a tour to try and break the news gently that you had died that day, September 19th, 1997. So very young, you were only 41.
But when I leave I want to go out like Elijah
With a whirlwind to fuel my chariot of fire
And when I look back on the stars
It’ll be like a candlelight in Central Park
And it won’t break my heart to say goodbye…
Two years after your untimely departure, my mom lay dying on a hospital bed, early one Sunday morning. I had spent all night praying, singing, blasting your music in her room—hoping somehow, some way she would find the truth in the words you sang and the music you played. That God was so much greater than her fear and pain—even greater than death. That God could hold her even in her doubt and bring her into that wide open space—that place where there are no more tears and no more pain as we behold the face of Love
And when You start this world over
Again from scratch
Will You make me anew
Out of the stuff that lasts?
Stuff that’s purer than gold is
And clearer than glass could ever be
Can I be with You?
Can I be with You?
Be With You
So you see, my friend, you have been with me in some very deep valleys and reminded me of God’s goodness there, as well as teaching my heart to rejoice on the height of the mountains with the purity of that sweet instrument—the hammered dulcimer—that I first heard in your songs. You showed me that it’s good to be real and humble before the One who spoke the stars and seas into being. That the groaning of a soul is something He understands much better than we do. And we don’t ever have to fall so far as to fall out of His grace.
I believe what I believe
It’s what makes me what I am
I did not make it though it is making me
It is the very truth of God not the invention of any man”
I am so very grateful for the legacy you have left behind. And I know I will see you on that day I am freed from these chains of flesh and earth, and on my face before the King. Until then, I will continue to soak in your songs and remember mercy in a world grown hard and cold.
Click on picture below to hear Rich Mullins’
That Where I Am There May You Also Be
NOTE: Each of the lyrics above are connected to a YouTube video of that song. If you don’t know the music of Rich Mullins you would do well to let this act as a guided primer to his deep, rich Jesus songbook. Please forgive the brief ad at the beginning of each. They can be dismissed by clicking “Skip Ad” after a few seconds. Enjoy!
brenda burns says
Thank you for your truth, love and open heart. Your music touches my heart and soul just like Rich & Keith’s does. Forever in my prayers and heart until we meet one day and I can love you face to face!
Dusty Tsalkova says
The wild and sweeping strains of The Color Green have been the ones that most moved me. Thank you for sharing this open letter.
Francesca Canzano says
Thanks, Sally, for highlighting some of Rich Mullins’ music I was less familiar with…For the past few weeks my pastor has preached a series, “Love Beyond_______” (Beyond our fear, beyond our differences, and today it was “Beyond our politics”–very challenging right now!)….We have a Higher Calling, which is Mercy–That’s what God wants from us right now, so that He can work His purposes…In our relationships, in our conversations, and deeds of mercy…