“I am so grateful for Rich’s songs. They teach me how to notice, how to worship, how to write, and most importantly, how to live.” That is what Chris Rice wrote for the liner notes to “Awesome God:a tribute to Rich Mullins”. That statement is true of most of Rich’s music, but it is especially true of his best album: “A Liturgy, A Legacy & A Ragamuffin Band”.
“A Liturgy…” is a concept-album. Now, sometimes concept albums feel forced. Often, they feel like songs were crammed into a certain format or style in order to fit the concept. This concept album, though, is quite the opposite. The first song serves as a sort of call to worship. Tracks 2-6 together form a liturgy–a tool used for public worship. First, the Scripture is proclaimed in “52:10”, which is Isaiah 52:10 sung in a way that is reminiscent of a monk chant mixed with beautiful piano and drums. The rest of the tracks in the liturgy section of the album praise God (“The Color Green”), ask for his help (“Hold Me Jesus”), proclaim Christian belief in a musical version of the Apostle’s Creed (“Creed”), and the liturgy closes with a Communion song (“Peace”). Tracks 7-12 form the “Legacy” section of the album. This section focuses on what it means to live out “the Liturgy”, that is, what it means to live as a Christian in the world.
Lyrically, this album is chock-full of beautiful imagery and poetry. Mullins’ songwriting is at its best here. Take these lyrics for “The Color Green”, a song that praises God for His creation: “Be praised for all Your tenderness by these works of Your hands/Suns that rise and rains that fall to bless and bring to life Your land/Look down upon this winter wheat and be glad that You have made/Blue for the sky and the color green that fills Your fields with praise”. Mullins is witty when appropriate, too. For example on the song “Hard”, which discusses the fact that living a life full of values is not easy: “Well I am a good midwestern boy/I give an honest day’s work if I can get it/I don’t cheat on my taxes, I don’t cheat on my girl/I’ve got values that would make the white house jealous”.
Then we come to what I believe is Rich Mullins’ most well-written song, “Land of my Sojourn”. It is the last song on the album, and it sort of combines the Liturgy section with the Legacy section, combining the stories of Scripture with imagery and metaphor from our present life, in a statement that the world we live in now is only the Land of our Sojourn when compared to the world we will live in when Creation is restored. Mullins uses beautiful imagery, metaphor and similes to combine the present world with the stories of Scripture. “And this road, she is a woman/She was made from a rib cut from the sides of these mountains/Oh these great sleeping Adams who are lonely even here in Paradise/Lonely for somebody to kiss them…” Each verse ends with the same line:”And I’ll sing my song in the land of my sojourn”. Through the verses, though, the narrator goes from singing “my song” to “their song” to “His song”. This is a beautiful way to reflect that as a Christian lives and grows in Christianity, we ought to be moving away from ourselves and toward God. There are so many details I could give about this song, but I will refrain from simply reprinting the whole lyric here, which I am sure is available elsewhere online if you are interested.
The music perfectly matches the lyric for each song. The word that best describes the song “52:10” is probably proclamation. The music and singing is strong and refuses to be ignored, which is exactly what is appropriate for proclaiming the Word. “Hold Me Jesus” is piano driven and intimate, which is what is needed for a prayer to God for his strength. The hammered dulcimer, which Mullins is famous for playing, is featured throughout the album. It combines with the drums perfectly on “Creed” to set a meter and rhythm that is the perfect backdrop for a statement of what one believes. The rhythm seems to say that these things that I believe are what keep time in my life–they are what keeps me going, steadily and firmly.
This album makes one a bit sad to realize that Rich Mullins has been gone now for 12-13 years. We will not be getting any new music from Rich for a while. As Andrew Peterson puts it in his tribute song to Rich Mullins, “Three Days Before Autumn”: “the angels in Heaven are dancing around to the music that I wanna hear”. Just think–if Rich Mullins wrote this album while he was still earth-bound, what might he be writing now? I can’t wait to find out!