I can think of only two songs that transform me from a merry songstress into a tearful mess long before the final note is sounded: “Because He Lives” and “Borning Cry.” When I see the title of either of these pieces written in a church bulletin, I know that I will be able to start singing the song with others in the congregation, but I won’t be able to finish with them.
It doesn’t matter if I try to sidestep this result, either.
I have tried not singing these songs at all to steel myself from this outcome. It doesn’t matter. When the second verse of “Because He Lives” begins or when I get to whichever lyric of “Borning Cry” might best reflect my current state of affairs, I begin busily wiping tear, after tear, after ongoing tear, trying – with great difficulty – to hide my obvious spiritual groanings from others.
And that’s what happened this Easter morning.
As the 3rd stanza of the first verse to “Because He Lives” began, I felt a familiar lump forming in my throat. Then, as I heard “How sweet to hold a newborn baby” at the start of the second verse, I fully gave in to the emotional journey, having learned long ago that I would be whisked away on it anyway. I have come to think of this transcendent trek as the divine order of the world stopping me in my tracks. No way over it. No way around it. The only way forward is through it, pulled by omniscient power.
It’s as if the One who orchestrated my creation has reached out with an intensely personal, extra-sensory message designed purely for my assurance and understanding.
In the case of “Because He Lives,” I can hear my Grandpa Fred playing this classic hymn tune on the electric organ in his and Grandma Delma’s formal living room. I’m a child of multiple ages – all young – listening for his feet to find the pedals. He plays the baseline notes, adjusting the song’s rhythm to match his capacity to locate them.
To my grown self, it doesn’t matter who is playing the hymn or how much better they can play the song than my grandfather could. I can only hear my Grandpa Fred and feel what it was like to hear him play it, long before the song had the capacity to melt me into a teary-eyed mess.
Joined by my grandfather’s presence, I float into the song’s second verse, becoming a mother who is also the caretaker of a child with multiple, severe disabilities. A persistent sense of dread bubbles a cadence in time with the song’s blissful reminder of how “sweet to hold a newborn baby and feel the love and joy he gives.” Then, as if to deepen the reality of that sweetness, the lyrics offer something proposed to be sweeter still: a blessed assurance that my child can face uncertain days because of a God who lives.
That’s the moment I arrive back to the present time, and my heart cries out in groans that words cannot express. It’s an “Oh, please…” and a “Really?” and a “Give me proof of that now” and a “Thank you” and a “How awesome” and an “Amazing!” and a “Please, please be true” and a “God, I know that you know I know that” and a “My life is painful” but also a “My life is rich.”
It is all of that and even more.
It is my reminder that I face uncertain days – extended periods of uncertain duration that weigh heavy with responsibility for an uncertain reality. Most of the uncertainty is tied to my firstborn son who has come to symbolize the shape of my future. A scary, overwhelming-at-times, complicated-but-necessary-to-navigate future.
Who could possibly know the fullness of what that means better than the firstborn of creation?
And who could possibly understand what living for someone else’s future demands than a sacrificial savior? One who was and is and is to come. Living then. Living now and already alive amid my tomorrows – my uncertain days.
Hearing that my child can face uncertain days “because He lives” emotionally wipes me out every – single – time but not because I hear the words and am fully assured.
As big as that promise sounds, what I experience hearing those words is ... well ... bigger. I am confronted with my then, my now, and my not yet. An eternal mystery of divine humanity. Even the possibility of that kind of reality is greater than full assurance.
The actuality of Creator and Creation is fully present in such a moment. I am fully present in such a moment. Whether sitting next to my firstborn as I was today, or sitting alone in the midst of others.
While I can recite the lyrics of the first and second verses to “Because He Lives,” I cannot recite lyrics for the third. It’s as if my soul – at attention in the here and now – cannot attend to things dealing with future days. But that is the whole point, isn’t it? As the song itself asserts, uncertain things are nothing to a living God. So why do they need to be anything more than a curiosity to me?
That is the challenge. The difficulty. The overwhelming sensation that brings me to tears whenever “Because He Lives” is played.
I don’t look for this to ever change. In fact, if this morning is any indication, my capacity to hold off my tears – triggered by my thoughts and feelings as the song plays – will only get worse. But, paradoxically, my capacity to embrace the divine order of life gets better. Not easier. Certainly not. In fact, the embracing of what is to come might even be regarded as more difficult. Yet each successful embrace of my uncertain future makes my present life better.
I cannot explain why. I can only verify that it does. And for that I am grateful.