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.