Since I was a young teenager I have found solace in songs. When yet another girl rejected me or, just as often, Manchester City lost on a Saturday afternoon I went into my music room, the privilege of being an only child, and put some vinyl on the turntable and set the needle down. The songs calmed my angst.
So it has been for forty years. In my pilgrimage of following Jesus songs have continued to be sources of solace but also windows to help me imagine, conduits of guidance, thermometers to take the cultural temperature and fuels to fire my vocational energy.
A number of years ago my friend and songwriter Martyn Joseph was chatting to me about how he saw songs as companions for the journey. I immediately related to that idea. Martyn named his very next record Songs For The Coming Home and on that album there was a song that spells out that belief in the power of the song as a companion; Clara.
Clara is a beautiful story song and instantly became one of my very favourite Martyn Joseph songs. A black girl, called Clara, nurses a rich white unwanted baby and sings to him. Years later that baby has grown up and his life has led him to the brink of suicide. As he heads out into the desert to take his life a song comes to him, from he doesn’t know where, and it pulls him back. He goes on to live the life of a writer who blesses many.
Meanwhile an ageing Clara seeks out the wee boy that she used to look after. She eventually does and at some stage of the meeting she starts singing a song. It is that song. The song that saved a life. Suddenly the writer knows who saved his life. It is moving, profound and a theology of the importance of song.
It is a perfect example of how songs can be companions. The Psalms were Biblical companion songs. The Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120-134) were literally the companion songs of pilgrims travelling up to Jerusalem for religious festivals. Yet, they were for more than just these journeys. They were companions for the entire pilgrimage of faith.
Many times I look for a song to see me through. It might be a song to celebrate and be thankful. It might be a song to help me to be still. Sometimes it is a song to stimulate vision. Many times it is a while in the doldrums with no wind in my sails, a catharsis of blues in the widest sense of the blues. I am thankful that I have been blessed with a few Claras. Martyn indeed is a valuable one of them; thank you sir!
“I hope we all have a Clara
Singing songs unknown
Songs for the healing
And songs for the coming home.”