Seven songs was written and recorded to serve as a companion piece to the book Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church, written by my sister Rachel Held Evans. Rachel chose the sacraments to anchor her recounting of her own personal history with the church (in her own words) “because they have something of a universal quality, for even in churches that are not expressly sacramental, the truths of the sacraments are generally shared.” She wrote in the prologue:
“The church tells us we are beloved (baptism).
The church tells us we are broke (confession).
The church tells us we are commissioned (holy orders).
The church feeds us (communion).
The church welcomes us (confirmation).
The church anoints us (anointing of the sick).
The church unites us (marriage).”
While song lyrics don’t allow for the same in depth retelling of my own personal journey with the church, you will find in this album my personal reflections on how I’ve engaged with the truths illuminated by the sacraments.
I can't say I remember the exact moment when the inspiration for this album began. I can trace many of the themes back to a few key moment, moments they may not have been monumental in and of themselves, but were a steady prodding from the Lord and even my own artistic sensibilities that it was time to show more courage in the stories I was telling, to be more openhanded with the lessons I was learning and the secrets I was keeping.
We heated our first home in Boone with a wood stove; my husband would hurriedly build the fires in the chilled gray blue twilight after returning home from work. The fire would keep us warm for the remaining hours of the fading day until we at last would drag our weary selves to bed for sleep. But some nights, when the conversation would run late, or anxious thoughts would hinder sleep, we would huddle around the stove watching the pulsing glow of the dying coals, hands raised towards the warmth, faces lit by the flickering amber, orange light. These were the moments of intimacy between ourselves and our Maker, where the hidden thoughts and unspoken stories of our hearts were slowly released and hung precariously in the shadowy spaces of the late night. Sometimes it seems that the later the hour, the greater the courage. The friends and loved ones that remain until the last embers, they are the ones that know our true hearts, the doubts, the fears, the triumphs and tribulations, the ghost stories from our pasts, and the folklore of an imagined future. Growing up in Appalachia, I've sat around enough campfires to know this. The good stories come with the last embers. These were the moments I tried to capture in this album.
Over the two years I’ve written these songs, I’ve huddled around campfires in Northern Iraq, cooking fires in Niger, coal fires in D R Congo, hearth fires in the mountains of North Carolina, and bonfires in my husband’s hometown in Wisconsin. While deeply rooted in the musical style of my home in the mountains, a large part of this record is a reflection of my travel to difficult places, and a need to process the things I’ve seen and learned in those places. They say that hardship, like fire, refines us, and that God gives beauty for ashes. But these songs hopefully capture the uncertainty of that process, and the hushed waiting that must occur before something refined and beautiful emerges from the ash and coal. But the prayer is for courage in the face of it all, and the freedom to speak, and in this case sing, truth.
SONG TO MY HEART - Coming October 2019
The best advice anyone has given me about grief is this:
You cannot go around it. You cannot ignore it. You cannot numb it. You cannot avoid it.
You cannot make it feel better. You cannot make it go away. You cannot rush the process. You cannot fill the void.
You simply have to endure it.
Our culture is not good at giving ourselves over to pain. We deny, anesthetize, and bypass at all cost. Even the church has a habit of rushing the process, of checking off the boxes next to the circumscribed laments, then quickly moving on to the bit about the hope, and the redemption, and the better days to come.
I have found that the best thing I can do for myself during this season of grief is to give myself over to it. I must treat it like a rip current and allow myself to be pulled out to sea rather than struggle against it. I must let it bury me. I must let it close in around me. And then I wait. I wait out the long, arduous work of grief, which is a labor of love - love for the one I lost, love for my family, love for myself. And love for God. I wait for the muscle and sinew of my heart to break down, reform, and begin flexing again. I wait for resurrection. God breathes in the underground, beneath the waves, off the map, and in the empty, formless void.