Your cries have awoken the blogger
In the past few months, I’ve noticed that every time the topic turns to Mike and Kelly Bowling’s big new song, “Your Cries Have Awoken the Master,” people get prickly. When I was in
Was “awoken” grammatical (yes, it is, but even if it weren’t, since when has grammatical excellence but an abiding concern in gospel music)? Was the song biblically based? Is it blasphemy to suggest Jesus needs to be “awoken” by man since scripture says God slumbers not nor sleeps? And so on. Similar stuff is getting kicked around here.
I guess if you look to religious pop culture for strict theological expressions of biblical literalism, these last few questions might interest you. But I thought most people, even in gospel music, understood that songs concern themselves primarily with states of mind, feeling, and the expression of feeling. Creative license and all that …
Religious songs are no different, except that they concern themselves with religious or spiritual states of mind, feeling, and expression of feelings. I suppose there are people who are moved by religious music because it carefully restates technical theological doctrines in abab rhyme schemes (Gosh, Mildred, isn’t it brilliant the way they found a matching rhyme for “premillennial eschatology”?). But most of us listen for and respond to more amorphous aspects of songs. Sure, it’s not nothing that songs often can reinforce our sense of belonging to a wider community of like-minded individuals (be they Deadheads or Hardpan Baptists). But more commonly we value songs for their ability to evoke a unique constellation of feeling within us and, in the best cases, for awakening parts of us that remain dormant much of the rest of the time.
On this score, I think “Your Cries” works. In part this is my way of saying subjectively, I enjoy the song. I like the swells and rolls of the rhythm’s cadence (not, I suppose, unlike the tooing and froing of a boat in a storm) and the way the chorus conveys the sense of building anxiety and concern that is finally resolved, harmonically and conceptually, in the awakening of “the master.”
Because you prayed all night
‘Cause you held on with all your might
Child, your cries have awoken the master
Lyrically, this feels deeply human to me. Sure, the jot-and-tittlers may tell us that evangelical Protestantism’s omniscient, sovereign God does not need to be “awoken” by the lamentations of the suffering faithful. But don’t a lot of people experience life this way all the same? Who among us has not called out to the heavens in times of strife, beseechingly needful of some sign that our pain or fear or anxieties or despairs aren’t going unnoticed, and so might yet be ameliorated in ways that seem beyond our fallible reach? And whether, according to the dictates of orthodoxy, it should be this way or not, doesn’t belief for most people rise and fall on a felt sense that our prayers don’t go unheard?
In the Varieties of Religious Experience, William James has this to say about praying:
Prayer in this wide sense is the very soul and essence of religion. … The religious phenomenon … has shown itself to consist everywhere, and at all its stages, in the consciousness which individuals have of an intercourse between themselves and higher powers with which they feel themselves to be related.
The conviction that something is genuinely transacted in [prayer] is the very core of living religion. As to what is transacted, great differences of opinion have prevailed. The unseen powers have been supposed, and are yet supposed, to do things which no enlightened man can nowadays believe in. It may well prove that the sphere of influence in prayer is subjective exclusively, and that what is immediately changed is only the mind of the praying person. But however our opinion of prayer’s effects may come to be limited by criticism, religion … must stand or fall by the persuasion that effects of some sort genuinely do occur. Through prayer, religion insists, things which cannot be realized in any other manner come about: energy which but for prayer would be bound is by prayer set free and operates in some part, be it objective or subjective, of the world of facts.
My emphasis. If one were to metaphorize the point James is driving at here, one could do worse than to draw on the story of Christ asleep amidst the maelstrom. If you read the story as mainly about the character of Christ or the trinity, of course you’ll probably end up in the high weeds explaining why the son of man wasn’t really napping on the job.
But read this as a parable about religious living - about a bunch of ordinary guys who were scared of dying and wanted Christ to give them some sign he was aware of their predicament and cared - read this way, the story seems to about the human desire for felt authentications of belief, and about the need for some verification now and then that the life of prayer “operates,” as James says, within “the world of facts,” that in praying “effects of some sort genuinely do occur” … that our cries do indeed awaken the master.