(Photo Art Courtesy of ICON Media Group)
On Scripture & Songs
Excerpted from “Send Out Your Light” by Sandra McCracken (Copyright 2021). Used with permission from B&H Publishing Group
My dad used to sing around the house all the time when I lived at home. The sound track of those songs still comes to my mind when I turn on the radio or hear a song played out in a restaurant. I have to smile when I accidently sing Dad’s improved version instead of the actual lyric.
Alongside my dad’s singing, I also memorized a lot of Scripture verses. I wrote them on index cards, studied them at Sunday school and thought about them during the day. For me, the words of the Bible became like those songs my dad used to sing.
Dad taught me to sing. Mom faithfully taught me Scripture. She invited me to memorize some favorite passages. Now the words are inside me. It’s not surprising then when the words of Psalm 103 come to my mind when I see a bald eagle on a trip out West. Or when I stand barefoot on the beach and think of Psalm 139, recalling how the millions of grains of sand are like the number of God’s thoughts. Or when I drive through the mountains and think of Psalm 104:32 when it says that God touches the mountains, and they smoke.
Even before we have understanding, we have imagination. When we are young, we talk about imagination. But as adults, we trade imagination for pragmatism. We grow up into more rational, concrete ways of thinking. But in prayer and spiritual formation, imagination is essential for us to grow and move into closer conversation with God.
Scripture brings theology to life, but alongside theological concepts, there is poetry in there too, and dreams and parables and historical records. The words hold together, giving us a better view of God and ourselves and our place in the world.
At any age, when we allow Scripture to soak into our hearts, to saturate our roots like the tree in Psalm 1, we are fed by the nourishment of God’s Word. There is nothing more essential to life…When we sit with his words, we are creating space to let those words tumble around inside of us. It reminds me of the Fisher-Price Corn Popper push toy that circulates colorful balls when a toddler pushes it around, or like a snow globe, filled with white confetti that gets stirred up and circulated when you shake the container.
With God’s words circulating inside of us, we are filled with his life, we are receptive to his Spirit as he activates those words within us, applying truth to the experiences as we move through our days.
Sometimes I have recited Psalm 139 or the 23rd Psalm when I can’t get to sleep at night. First as a girl, then in stretches of sleeplessness many years later, when the world no longer felt like a place for peace. After years of practicing Scripture to help me sleep, in 2002, I wrote a song called “Now and Then,” an accidental paraphrase.
Stay with me now and then. From all sides, hem me in, Sing me a song so I can close my eyes. Before I was born, Every day recorded Your thoughts like the grains of sand; Through the wide-eyed nights and the morning light, “as they days demand.”
(“Now and Then,” from the album Gypsy Flat Road, 2001)
When I took up songwriting as a vocation, Scripture and imagination were the tools I drew upon as I put words to melodies. Hymn lyrics and Scripture phrases spilled through in my songs from the very earliest recordings like “Sunday Morning” (Isaiah 44), “Now and Then” (Psalm 139), “Gypsy Flat Road” (Isaiah 55), and more and more literally over the years until the present day when I’ve recently more focused on writing gospel songs meant for church singing. Many of these new songs are intended to help us sing the words right off the page.
Looking back, I can see that the infusion of Scripture into my work is so central and so important. It’s not something that I set out to do in my music, nor is it specialized because I’m a songwriter. Scripture is personal, but it is never private. God’s Word is ours, together. Scripture fills us to the brim and spills over into our daily lives.
Wherever you apply yourself in vocation and work, whether teaching students or working in the finance department, whether caring for children, gardening in your window box, mapping out accounting spreadsheets, or delivering the mail; every kind of work is touched by God’s words.