Sufjan Stevens dropped the first single from his upcoming album, Carrie & Lowell, and it cuts straight to the heart. For the uninitiated, Sufjan’s an indie singer-songwriter from Detroit. (He was named by the leader of an interfaith spiritual community that his parents belonged to when he was born.) His early years were infused with spiritual and religious meaning that gently permeates his music; it fearlessly delves into theological and spiritual themes without having to shout out the name of Jesus in every chorus. To quote one of my favorite – though now defunct – podcasts, it’s Christian music for people who hate Christian music.
Listen to his new song, No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross (NSFW: language):
What do you make of it? When I first listened, I thought maybe this song was the lament of the broken-hearted lover. But after listening again, I think it cuts deeper than that. This is a song of real suffering. It’s a song for someone trying to recover from deep, painful loss. I know it all too well. It’s the kind of loss that cuts to the heart, that leaves a tender, painful scar; there’s no escaping it. Where could we go for protection? The cross is symbol of Christian triumph, and so of Christian defiance. And yet it doesn’t protect me. It doesn’t protect any of us. We can’t hide in its shadow. The light will still pierce us. That cross is the symbol of the pain, and the token of its defeat. But it gives no shortcut around it, no escape.
So here we are in Lent. It’s a time of repentance and conversion. It tells us that we need to turn around – literally. It tells us we need turn and face the cross. Do we see the cross yet, or do we need to keep turning? There are people there, in it’s shadow. They’re the poor, the immigrant, the imprisoned, the oppressed. They’re the ones suffering through loss and sadness. But then, I’m wondering where the light comes from. Maybe it’s me, or you. Could you bring the light that touches them, that pierces through?