Church musicians are not usually celebrities. It was a special music store (back in the days of music stores…remember them?) that carried very much in the way of liturgical music. And there were certainly no posters of the St. Louis Jesuits in the back of the store. But whether or not you can plaster their likeness to your wall, liturgical musicians often play an important role in helping us form a religious vocabulary and imagination.
Every so often, though — usually during the opening or closing hymn in church — I find myself asking “where did that come from?” St. Augustine says that a hymn praising God is not just song, but love of the one it praises. But since we are praising God with someone else’s words, I often find myself wondering in the pews: what is the experience behind this song?
Not long ago, I had the chance to peek inside one such song. My friend Paul Melley’s album “God Is Love” was recently released by GIA. The title track, which features a Kenyan vocal ensemble, was heavily influenced by his experience accompanying a group of students from Holy Cross on an immersion trip to Kenya. Describing the trip’s influence on his music, Paul wrote:
“Feel free.” All over Kenya, I heard these words. No qualifications were ever added to that staggeringly generous invitation. It is the suggestion to “feel free” – of want, brokenness, inadequacy, fear, and whatever else that holds us captive. In its most elemental form, it is an invitation to encounter the Risen Jesus, the one who sets us free. This is why the invitation is heard so clearly in the voices of the marginalized, the poor, and forgotten.
Armed with that, you can preview the rest of the album over at iTunes.