From Relevance to Resonance Under an Orange Sky

by Brian Walsh

The question was a good one, though the questioner wasn’t sure.

“When Alexi Murdoch sings, ‘In your love, my salvation lies,’ is he talking about God, or is that the wrong question?”

The question was occasioned by a song played at that morning’s Wine Before Breakfast worship at the University of Toronto. For the last nine years we have ended each service with a musical reflection. After the Eucharist and before the Dismissal, we sit and the band plays a song for us. A reflection song. Something to think about as we leave the service.

And that morning the band performed Murdoch’s simple, yet compelling song, “Orange Sky.” When they got to the chorus, many of us joined in, “In your love, my salvation lies.” Over lunch later that day, the question was put to me, is Murdoch talking about God in those lines, or perhaps just to his lover, or to friends? Or is that the wrong question.

I think that it is a perfectly good question to ask about what an artist might have meant by a lyric in a song or a line in a poem. But my friend had a hunch that it might have been the wrong question because of the way in which the song was employed at the end of Christian worship. After celebrating the Eucharist, after rejoicing in the love of God through Jesus Christ, how else might we interpret these lines? It would only be natural that we would sing along “In your love, my salvation lies.”

So what does it mean when we take a song out of one context and put it into another? What are we doing when we use a song like “Orange Sky” to end a worship service? Is this an attempt at relevance? Is that what this is all about? Take songs from the world of contemporary music – whether it be rock, folk, hip hop or whatever – and use them in Christian worship to give a sense of the relevance of Christian faith to the world in which we live?

Well relevance has been getting some bad press lately. And rightly so. Relevance can be so cheap. And manipulative. Not honouring the art work in its own integrity we “use” it to give a sense of being hip, in touch, somehow connected to life outside of the inner circle of Christian worship and community.

But are we honouring the integrity of a song like “Orange Sky” when we place it in the context of Christian worship? Murdoch didn’t write this as a song of worship, did he? And if we aren’t seeking relevance, what are we doing?

I think that we are looking for resonance, not relevance. You see, that song already resonates profoundly with so many of us. I mean, the metaphors in this song of being on a long road with a broken heart are pretty universal. And when the artist sings from the midst of the journey that when he has “lost all care for the things I own/that’s when I miss you …/you who are my home” then it isn’t surprising that biblical images might come to our minds.

What is the biblical story about if not exile from home and a sojourn towards home? And what was Jesus on about when he said that we needed to not worry about all of our possessions and what we should eat or what we should wear, but to seek first his Kingdom, if not a call to lose “all care for the things” that we own?

Do you see the point? I am not saying that Murdoch had all of this in mind when he wrote “Orange Sky.” But I am saying that the universality of metaphors of journey, relinquishment and home legitimately will evoke certain resonances when we place a song like this into the context of Christian worship.

The song already resonates with our lives. And now the song sets off resonances with the biblical story that we come to remember every time we break bread and pour wine together. And really it goes both ways. Maybe it is that hearing the song in the context of Christian worship means that the biblical story resonates with the song in such a way that we hear in the song biblical meanings. The song is interpreted in light of the biblical story simply by virtue of it being performed in Christian worship.

But I think it goes the other way as well. It is not just that we interpret the song in the light of the biblical story but also that the biblical story gets interpreted in light of the song. Now before hermeneutical alarm bells go off all over the place, just stop and remember that no interpretation of the biblical text ever happens in a vacuum.

All interpretation is contextual, all interpretation is informed by all kinds of things. Everything from traditional understandings of orthodoxy, the history of biblical criticism, the placing of texts in a liturgy, the economic class of the worshippers, the gender dynamics of the community, the ethnic diversity or homogeneity of the community and a whole host of other things, shape how we hear and interpret biblical texts. No text ever simply speaks for itself because all texts speak in a context of other voices.

So what happens when we allow a song like “Orange Sky” to become one of those voices? With a beautifully simple melody line and a disarmingly vulnerable performance Alexi Murdoch speaks to his brother and his sister of a dream under an orange sky. In that dream he knows that we are on a journey, bearing the weight of broken hearts and the memory of home. And in the midst of this dream journey, in the midst of the longing and the relinquishment of all that would impede his path home, in the midst of all of the doubt and struggle of the journey he sings:

And here is what I know now
here is what I know now
goes like this
in your love, my salvation lies
in your love, my salvation lies
in your love, my salvation lies …

And the truth of Murdoch’s song resonates with the truth of our lives. We know that this is true, “in your love, my salvation lies.” With Murdoch we can sing these lines to the one we know as “You who are my home.”

My hunch is that most people at Wine Before Breakfast that morning didn’t know this wonderful song by Murdoch. But that didn’t matter. The truth of the song resonated with their own lives and resonated with the story that had brought them out at 7.22 in the morning in the first place:

Christ has died
Christ has risen
Christ will come again

In your love, my salvation lies.

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian, a retired CRC campus minister, the founder of the Wine Before Breakfast community, and farms with Sylvia Keesmaat at Russet House Farm.He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is cowritten with Sylvia Keesmaat and entitled Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice.

4 Responses to “From Relevance to Resonance Under an Orange Sky”

  1. andrew

    Back in the Spring, I used a number of popular tunes (from u2 to dylan to curtis mayfield) at a diocesan worship service. After the event, I must have had an hour’s worth of conversation with one priest who accused me of syncretism and cultural accommodation for the sake of “relevance.”

    And yet…I heard Anglicans singing their hearts out in ways I rarely do at a traditional worship service, and seemingly getting something new from a wide variety of music that has been a part of their *cough* secular *cough* lexicon.

    I don’t mean to say that we should do this bait and switch all the time, but it was incredible to hear 400 people singing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” It’s also incredibly hopeful that some of them left the room thinking about worship and music in a different way, and carrying that experience of worship back into the world in which they live and work.

  2. Laurel

    You know, when I first heard this song it resonated about Gods love for me as well. I heard it not in an overtly Christian situation, laying in my bed, next to my husband. Of course, as someone who loves and wants to be more like Jesus, I find he meets me even in the most covert ways and very often through the art found in the “secular” world. Because truth is, the world belongs to the lord and he can and will use anything to find us, and run after us. But, the theme that hit me hard in the heart was this idea of the good good love and home we find in one another. In our brothers and sisters of the world. Our need for the love of others. And this is a calling put upon the Christian heart by the maker of love, and demonstrated best by his Son. Jesus asked us to be his hands and feet out in the world. When we love each other, it’s an extension of the love that we have received from our perfect father. We don’t always love well, but when we do, we can save each other. Love is holy. This is a perfect song to glorify the love we give and receive, vertically with the lord, and horizontally, with one another.

  3. Nel

    songs can be so individually personal…and songs can be or become different things to different people, coming alive as never before during different chapters of our lives…and our personal convictions and relationship with Jesus does reflect on how we see everything, including how we interpret lyrics and make them our own…. God knows the heart and that is what is important… This week, this song has become personal in more ways than we ever could have imagined… My husband and his twin sister were adopted as infants into a wonderful family, but still, that need-to-know desire for their biological family was ever present… Sadly, we lost twin sister a few years ago when they were in their 40’s… But the years continue and this summer, finally, their common dream to find birth family was realized upon finding birth Dad… How wonderful and all the more special to also find a Brother! Bittersweet all the same as the news of our lost Sister hits the heart….and everyone wanted a daughter/Sister… But so blessed to find Dad and so blessed to find Brother, not looking at the what-ifs caused by loss but looking forward to what we now have in each other, in Dad and in Brother….
    Now Heartbroken…. heartbreaking even as we still put our trust in Christ, we can not explain why this week, Brother died unexpectedly of natural causes at age 50… Brother was so very happy to find us, and even with the pain of it, happy to know he did in fact have that Sister he always wanted but never met… Well Brother met Sister in person even before he had the chance to meet us…. We will treasure the long phone calls, texts and photo sharing, along with all the LOVE and JOY we shared as we made plans of our future… God has seen it through His plans though and we trust Him with our broken hearts and unanswered questions…. But what a comfort this song is to us now…Our Salvation is still in LOVE..and GOD IS LOVE…..and we will forever dream of Brother and Sister, together under that Orange Sky… Please pray for our family as you listen now…

    • Brian Walsh

      Nel, thank you for sharing this story of family, loss and love. This is such an old post, but it was a bit of a breakthrough in my understanding of resonance. Good songs will resonate deeply in our lives during different seasons, and within different contexts. In worship we put out a song like “Under an Orange Sky” with no explanation, no attempt to determine what the meaning will be for those in the congregation. We let the song do its own work. I am glad that this song has done its work, indeed its healing work, for you at this time.


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