(Photo courtesy of Hoganson Media Relations)
Song Stories: Sandra McCracken
By Sarah Komisky
A continuation of her “Psalms” project, Sandra McCraken has taken another candid look at life with God with her recent release, “God’s Highway.” In the quietness of a folky melody, the singer draws from real moments with her God sharing many songs that sound like journal entries. All songs cause the listener to pause. And that’s exactly what she set out to do. With themes like solidarity, silence, intimacy, rest, and worship, McCracken relishes in the “white space” that sparked many of these songs. And it’s this space that she invites readers to.
So join me, as we take a closer look at the stories behind the songs.
Sarah: I pulled quotes from your website about “God’s Highway” to use as a staring point to talk about some of these songs. I was reading about “Call Him Good” and I like that you said: “humility and wonder position our hearts for worship,” so maybe you can talk a little bit about what that means to you?
Sandra: That song, “Call Him Good” is from Psalm 104 largely and it’s these images of creation and looking out at the sky and seeing what God has made and how it invites the wonder and to kind of find ourselves in the smallness of who we are out under the stars. And also to get this perspective that, we have a place in this creation and also that God is so intimately interested in our day-to-day lives. Like that he knows how many hairs are on are head and that he pays attention and that he’s listening. And that he’s made us in this way that is wonderful and full of mystery and complexity. And I think the longer I live the more I realize that there is so much to learn about God and it draws us deeper into relationship with him and with others and with our place, with the place that we live in this created world.
Sarah: I was also looking at the song, “Trinity Song,” and you said: “If worship is a conversation between us and God, space and silence open our ears to listen.” I know that is so hard for us as people to be still at all and to learn to do that. So what does that mean to you to be able to have a space to be able to create that silence before the Lord?
Sandra: That’s a great question. I think not just us in this moment, in this day, in this place in the world. I think it’s always been hard for human beings to be still before God but I think it’s especially hard with all the technology and the busyness and just the world that we live in, it makes it a real challenge. And in that way, silence and being attentive to God, it takes practice and it’s like a muscle, the more we practice it, the more we can get comfortable with it. When I first started trying to spend time with Scripture in silence in the last few years whether it was longer periods of silence and just a small passage of Scripture, it was somewhat uncomfortable because the silence brings up things that you can just go restless or you start thinking about what you need to do or something you forgot to do. I just found that my mind gets filled so quickly. So the practice of trying 30 seconds of silence. So read a verse and then try 30 seconds of silence and wait for God to have the back and forth in the conversation not just “here’s all the things I want to ask you Lord God,” but “here’s some of what I’m feeling but let me just stop.” Psalm 65, like the first line could be translated from the original text: “to you oh Lord, silence is praised.” So not our words, not necessarily our offerings, not necessarily all of those things are good, but before we do anything, He is praised in our silence and that is kind of a revelation to know that we don’t have to try to achieve something before we come to him and he wants to be with us and we don’t have to earn anything for that to be true.
Sarah: I think that connects with my next question with the song, “Love Will Bring You Home,” and you were talking about creativity and white space and how that is so important because we are so overscheduled and don’t make that time to be able to have creativity. So just share your thoughts about that as an artist, as a songwriter, what that means to you.
Sandra: I think it is connected to this idea of practicing silence and not just talking to him but listening for him. The idea of white space, a friend mentioned it a few weeks ago, but I think it is a continual challenge for me to try to make room for that. So sometimes if I take a day off, it can feel so uncomfortable to just like not have anything that I am producing or cleaning or [laughs] but if I take a day like that, it can be really uncomfortable at first but I find maybe a week later, some creativity will bubble up because I value that and put it aside. And I don’t really know why it’s that way, I don’t know why God took the seventh day for rest, but that was glorious white space and provision for us to also know that even when we are asleep, you know, in the Jewish tradition, Sabbath started the night before, they would light the candle and say the blessing on Saturday night, the traditional night before Sabbath, and everything is prepared for that day of rest. And what’s beautiful about starting the night before is that while we are asleep, God is doing his work of restoring us and maybe even more so when we are asleep in his arms, there is this sense of, he is still applying everything we need and he is accomplishing his purposes for his, and I think it’s a reminder that it’s not all about us and our productivity is what that white space or that Sabbath or day off is. Hymns are so important to our design and our nature of who we are and it’s really a gift and we think of it as a rule, like it’s a rule, like it’s one of the ten commandments, like remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, and it’s like the rules are there because they bring us into flourishing. They are made for us to flourish. So it’s one of those that I find when I submit to it, that there is such fruitfulness that comes back out of it and I don’t know why that I continue to find it so hard [laughs].
Sarah: I really like how all these songs are interconnected. That brings me to the song “Doxology,” and you said, “Worship is the re-centering of our affections.” So what does that quote mean to you?
Sandra: I read a book recently by James K. A. Smith about that we are what we love; you are what you love. We were made to love and it’s kind of how, it’s our constitution. So throughout the day, you wake up and start to finish, I think there is this sense that we are looking for things to worship and lift up. And even when we don’t know we are doing it, whether it’s advertising, or getting dressed in the morning and what clothes we have and what our education is like and the people we’re around and I think we were made to love but all these things that we’re given in life are meant to be signposts of loving him in a primary way. And like Augustine said, our hearts are restless until we find our rest in him. This restless is because we were made to worship and love. So in Paul’s words in the “Doxology” song that, I borrowed his words for that: “to him who is able,” it’s like just the emphasis on just to him, to him, I keep coming back to and it’s life-giving to me to keep coming back to that center point which is that he’s the one whose worthy of our love and he can hold it and he’s the one whose deserving of it and all the things that we love and all these good gifts in our lives, family, friendships, beauty and art, they are reflections of that primary beauty which is God himself. And as we look at Jesus, as we continue to come back there, I think that’s what worship is, it’s a way of saying, oh man I’ve been running after everything else but I remember and will continue to put that in front of me that he is the one who is the object of our love and our affections and in that, everything else comes along behind it. Everything else takes it’s rightful place and is secondary to the one who is worthy of our love.
Sarah: I watched you performing “God’s Highway,” so maybe you can share where it came about?
Sandra: “God’s Highway” is the title track from the album and it was actually written during the same time as the last album, the “Psalms” record. And, so, it’s a continuation of a time when I felt like I was being really carried by the Lord in very personal ways and very tangible ways and at the same time it was a really difficult life season for me, it was also a really sweet season of fellowship with God. And I think because He promises to be close to those who are broken, I have experienced that in my own life and that was a season that was happening. And so the song “God’s Highway” was, I feel like that was a way by which he was giving voice to that. And for me, giving me a new melody to sing his faithfulness back to him. So the song kind of sings us forward a little bit. I think at the time I was feeling like my feet are tired, my eyes are foggy, like I don’t know. So I don’t know what’s happening and even in that confusion, the lyric speaks a promise of God saying my eyes are clear, my feet are strong, I don’t know the way and there’s humility to say that I don’t have this all figured out and when I put my hope and when I take those steps forward, he continues to make the path clear. I think the song speaks of that I really experienced that and I continue to experience that on a daily basis. And, it doesn’t always feel like triumph, there are days when it feels like there are tears in singing that and then on other days it feels like defiance, and like defiance against the things that are broken and it’s just this longing. I think since we were born we have a longing for things to be made right you know? When we experience disappointment, sickness or sin in our lives and in the lives of the people around us. And in all of that, I think God is pressing in close because he wants to meet us in it and show us who he is and make us into more of who we are. And giving us himself, he does it by this idea of walking with us, which is such a picture of friendship.
Check her out Sandra on tour with All Sons & Daughters this fall and find out more about her at: http://www.sandramccracken.com