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Music Review: Above Earth’s Lamentation by Sarah Hart

Above Earth's Lamentation CoverAbove Earth’s Lamentation by Sarah Hart (2013)

Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing
It sounds an echo in my soul
How can I keep from singing
- “How Can I Keep from Singing” from Above Earth’s Lamentation

With those words from a traditional hymn, Sarah Hart opens her most personal and profound album to date. I have, since its release, written several unfinished versions of a review not because it has been a difficult album to review, but because my own life has somehow gotten in the way of me writing a review worthy enough to convey the beauty and depth of this recording. I also think that I am able to finally sit and write this review in its entirety, because between the time of the album’s release and the day I write this I have endured a faith journey of my own that has tested the strength of my faith and has found me clinging on to the hope that only Love itself can give. And so, reviewing this album has suddenly become more personal than usual. I have reviewed several of Sarah’s albums in the past and each one has touched me and I have found songs that have become like my own prayers, but this time Sarah’s music has reminded me to remain hopeful and, at times, has echoed what I feel and what I’ve needed to say. Recently it has carried me above my own lamentation into a place of hope and into a place of seeing the glimmers of light in the darkest crevices that life sometimes appears to hold for us. And so, this will not be like my usual reviews. It simply cannot be and, for that, I will not apologize but will only say that there is truth in what is sometimes said about music. Music picks up where words no longer can, it speaks into the deepest recesses of the soul, and it can change the heart. Music has, for so long, been one way that God speaks to me and, there is no question that “Above Earth’s Lamentation” has proven that to me again.

Soon after the album’s release I asked Sarah to tell me about her inspiration for this album. She wrote: “This recording is what I would call an ‘accidental recording’…my Sarah Hartinspiration came simply in walking through a very difficult period of grief; through the dark valley and slowly back into the light. I would say the songs were not as much inspired, as much as they were my mode of healing and catharsis. My prayer in compiling them as a collection is that they will help others who are walking through those dark parts of the journey; that they might find comfort, peace, and hope in the arms of a loving God who never lets go.” For this listener, she accomplished exactly what she prayed would happen.

In the past few months, one of my colleagues passed away after a long battle with cancer; several young people that I work with have attempted to take their lives; a few people I have grown to love have contemplated taking their lives; several of my students have faced immense hardships; and, a few people in my life have faced health scares and so have I. And, in October my life changed in a matter of days when my dad suffered a stroke while I was out of town on a girls’ weekend. Not only did life change for my family and me, but the intensity of all that has happened weighed on my heart more heavily and thrust me into a temporary dark valley where all I desired to reach for was the light I knew was there but couldn’t see. With the support of family, close friends, colleagues, and even my students I have been able to find the strength to carry on these past few days. “Above Earth’s Lamentation” has become what I have prayed with daily as I have sought the comfort and peace and have continued to trust.

“Above Earth’s Lamentation” opens with “How Can I Keep from Singing,” a beautiful traditional hymn that sets the tone for the entirety of Sarah’s album. “My life flows on in endless song/Above earth’s lamentation/I catch the real though far-off hymn/That hails a new creation.” That first verse of the song encompasses the whole of the album. It is a project whose catalyst was loss, in one of its many forms, and its purpose is to rise and help others rise above their sorrow and loss.

“Every Bird” is a beautiful bluegrass-tinged song that seamlessly captures the effects of loss and pain:

But my heart holds no melody
My tongue can find no lovely word
So hear the song my silence keeps
Loud as the song of every bird

There is often a silence that comes with grief or difficult times—a lack of words to express what one feels, even a lack of words with which to pray. Yet, the silence is sometimes louder than the words one can say and it’s that silence that only God can truly understand. Sarah’s powerful songwriting continues to capture what so many of our hearts, but which our words cannot express.

One of the beautiful aspects of this album is that Sarah doesn’t diminish the sting of loss or pain. Rather, her lyrics embrace it and convey it. The message is not “get over it”; the message is about embracing the emotions. But, even in the reality of sorrow and pain Sarah interweaves a message of hope and God’s mercy. In “Praying with a Broken Heart,” there is a sense of that reality”

I asked you for the light
You gave me a long dark night
Gave me shadows for my path
There was no turning back
You whispered “hold on tight”

I asked you for some peace of mind
So you gave me a fight inside
How I wrestled with the truth
Went round and round with you
Could not shake you, but I tried

Grief is a natural part of our lives. We cannot escape the reality that even though we may hope for easy paths and joyous moments, sorrow and hardships can still come. The truth is that it is often not the outcome of this sorrow that tells us more of who we are and more of whom God is. There is grace within the journey. And, in those moments of complete brokenness—when all we have is a broken heart—we may wrestle with faith and trust, but our prayers are somehow still heard and that, in many ways, the balm that begins to heal our deepest wounds. To fall on one’s knees (both literally and metaphorically) and to call upon God even in the emptiness is perhaps the best and most grace-filled strength we can muster within our weakness. It is a realization that “[o]nly you could start a fire/
[o]n such an empty mountainside.” Only God can understand the brokenness and emptiness and can heal us in the broken places.

Sarah Hart at PianoEach day we wake with the reassurance that somehow the sun continues to shine. So to do our lives continue to face ups and downs, but we are reassured that somehow we will overcome and rise above. Christ experienced the deepest of human suffering and the most brutal of deaths, yet he rose from the dead. Each Easter we say “Hallelujah” recognizing that joy comes after sorrow. Jesus rose from the dead and so shall we. Hart’s song reminds us that we can and do rise every day. We do so above sorrow, above pain, above trials and tribulations. In “Hallelujah is our Song,” we are reminded:

What hope we have
Even in the longest night
For the light will overcome
We will not fear
For we know the sun will rise
Hallelujah is our song

We will rise above the lamentation, we will rise above our own expectations, and it will be God who will lead us back into the light of his truth—that love does indeed conquer all of it. In life and in death, in joy and in sorrow, through it all our heart will sing out “Hallelujah” because Christ’s own heart has borne it all: “For the stone is rolled away/And the tomb holds nothing now…And we shall live/Sinners, we will rise to saints/Hallelujah is our song.”

Sarah Hart has given the church and its people a beautiful collection of heartfelt songs that express some of our deepest longings within our soul’s lamentation. But, she has also reminded us of the promise of resurrection and the light than finds its way through the darkness. This is an album that does not disappoint.


Josh Blakesley’s “You Are The Light” (Official Video)

The official video for Josh Blakesley Band’s “You Are The Light” is now out and it is fantastic! If you’d like to read my review of the entire album, check it out here.


Summer Reading Recap

I caught this on Jimmy Kimmel the other night and the English teacher in me squealed with absolute glee! Enjoy!


Music Review: Fortunate Fall by Audrey Assad

Fortunate Fall Cover“O happy fault—o happy fault / That gained for us so great a Redeemer.” Thus begins the first track of Audrey Assad’s new album, Fortunate Fall. These familiar words, inspired by St. Augustine’s writings on the fall of humanity and sung at Easter vigil, set the tone for Assad’s first independent release. From the first to the last track, this is not just another album. It is deep in its spirituality and unabashedly praiseful in its lyrics. Her strengths lie in her unique voice, but more importantly in her ability to weave her contemplation of high theological concepts into songs that are easily accessible to the average churchgoer.

Three years ago, I reviewed Assad’s first major label effort, The House You’re Building. That album introduced a young Catholic artist with a voice that infused the album’s songs with emotion and brought a breath of fresh air to the industry. Since then, Assad experienced mainstream success with a second major label studio album, a Live recording, and collaborations with some of CCM’s most notable artists. Assad has also played for packed houses at praise and worship events and at Catholic and other Christian churches.

Fortunate Fall, however, is a different kind of album. Where The House You’re Building gave us a first glimpse of a talented singer and Heart solidified Assad as a true talent in the industry, Fortunate Fall allows us to see an artist deeply in love with God and delving into the depths of the mystery of faith through her music. It would do this album no justice to simply say it is a beautiful gift to the Church.

In her lyrics, Assad contemplates some of our faith’s deepest mysteries, such as redemption and the incarnation while also reflecting on Audrey Assad Studiohumanity’s dependence on God. “Help My Unbelief,” the album’s second track, is a contemplation of the incarnation: “The fullness of the Godhead knit with our humanity / Flesh and bones sewn in the heart of God inseparably.” In the song, the believer recognizes the magnitude of that gift along with the gift wrought on the cross: “O happy fault that gained for me the chance to know you, Lord / To touch your wounded side and know the joy of my reward.” But, even in that recognition—even in the certainty of the words “I know, I know, and I believe that you are the Lord”—there echoes the prayer of the heart that longs to trust and believe: “Help my unbelief.”

Assad’s focus on the beauty of the incarnation is echoed in the third track, “Humble”, where Assad sings, “Humble and human willing to bend You are / Fashioned of flesh and the fire of life You are / Not too proud to wear our skin / To know the weary world we’re in.” Not only does it remind us of God entering into the reality of our humanity, but it reminds us of the humility of Jesus that carried the pain of suffering of our sin to the loneliness and brutality of the cross. This track is appropriately followed by the meditative “O Happy Fault,” which repeats “o felix, o felix culpa” – a reminder that even in the midst of evil, good can emerge. In listening to “O Happy Fault” I was reminded of the meditative singing of a Taizé prayer service where the repetitive nature of short songs opens the heart to the voice of God. In fact, I found myself at a Taizé service only hours after listening to Fortunate Fall the first time and “O Happy Fault” was still fresh in my memory and seemed more than appropriate for the setting.

The remaining tracks on the album are less an exploration of the mystery of faith and more a collection of praise songs that speak to the soul’s dependence on God. “Lead Me On,” co-written with Matt Maher, is a beautiful setting of Psalm 23 for today’s church. “I Shall Not Want,” an absolutely beautiful song co-written with Bryan Brown, appears to be inspired by the Litany of Humility written by Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val during the papacy of Pius X. It is not difficult to hear this song played at Eucharistic Adoration or in moments of personal prayer. “Good to Me,” the first of these songs to be made available for download by Audrey’s fans is one of the catchier songs on the album. It is a reminder of God’s perfect goodness and the knowledge that even through the darkness God’s goodness remains ever present. I have found myself singing this song for the past few weeks—if singing is praying twice then Audrey Assad has given us an extra prayer of thanks. It is a piano heavy song with beautifully subtle backing vocals.

In “Spirit of the Living God,” Assad has taken a hymn written by Henry Hallam Tweedy (1935) and made it truly her own. Not only does it preserve a hymnal quality, but Assad’s voice gives it a beautiful soulful essence. It is a hymn of yesterday for the church of today. This is followed by “Felix Culpa,” a piano-only composition that is lovely and leads us to appreciate Audrey Assad’s piano playing as much as her vocal talent.

My two favorite songs round out the album. “Lead Kindly, Light” is a lyrically beautiful song that asks God’s guidance in one’s life. Assad sings, “Here in the dark, I do not ask to see / The path ahead—one step enough for me / Lead on, lead on kindly Light.” It is a song personal in nature and resplendent with references to the heart’s longing, our instincts to run from the good—from God, our interior blindness, and the reality of faltering from time to time. But, the song is also a prayer that recognizes the presence of God through life’s trials and tribulations and asks for God’s light to lead the way. This leads into the final song, “You Speak,” which, in my opinion, embraces the ultimate reality for us who dwell in the mystery of God’s grace. God is with us, as fully present in the now as God has been from the beginning of time. The gift given to us at the incarnation and on the cross of our redemption was the opportunity to begin anew—filled with the knowledge that there is a God who loves us, frees us, and is continuously in communication with creation. Assad sings, “You liberate me from my own noise and my own chaos / From the chains of a lesser law You set me free.” At the heart of this album is the continual understanding that out of the consequence of humanity’s own sin arose the gift of redemption. Ultimately, that “fortunate fall” led to a relationship with God and humanity where we can say with confidence, as Assad sings, “In the silence of the heart You speak / And it is there that I will know You / And You will know me.”

Audrey Assad Fortunate Fall began with the risk one artist took to bring her vision of beautiful music to the Church and her fans. Audrey Assad took that risk and launched a Kickstarter campaign to make this indie album a reality. It was a risk well-taken and one that blesses the hearts and prayer lives of those who will pick up this album and play it for years to come. Of this record Assad wrote:

I have long believed that true Beauty can change a world where truth and goodness are no longer important to most people. Beauty is still idolized in our society, and so it still has influence, however warped its role may have become. But the remarkable thing about true Beauty is that, when it is real and when it is pure, it carries in itself Truth and Goodness. The three are inseparable. And the best thing I can do as an artist who wants to serve the Church is to love all three, and to pursue them with prayer and humility, hoping to offer them to the Church and the world using the gifts I’ve been given. I believe God will bless that work. I am not worthy of it, but I undertake it willingly.

More beautiful than any gift of music one person can give is the coming together of believers to sing the praises of God. I hope this project will afford me the opportunity to experience that with you.

Truly, Audrey Assad has created something beautiful and has done so in a way that honors God and His Church. In so doing, she has not only shared her gifts with us but reminds us too that, at any given moment, the hearts of the faithful are connected as one in those quiet moments of prayer where our hearts sing to our soul’s longing.

Fortunate Fall is officially released on August 13th. Pre-orders are available now at Amazon.

Disclosure Statement: I received an advance copy of this album as a reward for supporting Audrey’s Kickstarter campaign. The decision to review this album was entirely based on the merits of the album and not on my participation in the process.


Music Monday: “Pompeii” by Bastille

Today’s Music Monday selection is “Pompeii” by Bastille. The song is influenced by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, which buried Pompeii, in 79 AD. If you listen to the lyrics carefully you’ll hear words that capture what that day may have felt like for its victims. But, the song is so much more that just about a volcano eruption. There is a deeper message about humanity here. The lyrics say:

But if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
Nothing changed at all?
And if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
You’ve been here before?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?

Sometimes we go through experiences in life hoping that we’ve learned whatever deeper lessons we’re supposed to extract from what we go through. Oftentimes, however, we get back up and the cycle ends up repeating itself. We end up standing back up and seeing our world crumble around us and forget that we’ve already emerged from it all before. In those moments of implosion perhaps the only thing to do is step back, close our eyes, and remember that once through always through.


Happy Feast Day of St. Ignatius of Loyola!

Today marks the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola. As an alum of three Jesuit schools, I want to take this time to celebrate St. Ignatius’ feast day. His vision and the order he founded have been instrumental in educating millions of men and women around the world throughout the years. I am blessed to call myself an alum of three Jesuit schools and to be an active practitioner of Jesuit spirituality. The Jesuits taught me to embrace and live out the questions, to discern, and to find God in all things. It has been a blessing. To my Jesuit schools, fellow alums, and Jesuit friends: Happy Feast Day! May we continue to be blessed by God through the vision of Ignatius of Loyola and may we always remember to do all things Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam!

And now…some fun videos for your viewing pleasure:

Saint Ignatius Rap Video

The Olive


Reflection: Martha’s Words are Our Words Too

Yesterday’s Gospel reading on Martha made me think of how often when we hear or read the Gospel stories she appears in we, rather than let her story simmer in our minds, dismiss her for the more recognized characters in the narrative: Lazarus and Mary of Bethany. In their stories we’re reminded of how important it is to stop and listen before time runs out and we see one of Jesus’ greatest miracles–raising a man from the dead. But, what about Martha?

In Luke, we read about a Martha that is working in the kitchen looking to feed her guests. Overwhelmed and needing help, she looks to her sister Mary only to be told, by Jesus, that she is worrying too much and that Mary has chosen the better position. It’s a reminder. Stop and calm down, look at what is before you and appreciate it. No doubt many of us can relate to the hectic nature of trying to please everyone and trying to find help without finding it. Even outside of domesticity, we’re often so caught up with all the things on our plates that we forget to stop and think, stop and listen, or stop and just be still.

But, it isn’t the Martha story in Luke that I want to write about most today. It’s the other story. You know…the one where her brother is raised from the dead. Ring a bell? In John 11:19-27, we learn about Jesus and Lazarus, but it’s Mary that I find the most intriguing. Her words to Jesus, upon meeting with him, are the same as ours on most days. She says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Sound familiar? Sure, our words might sound a little different, but essentially they are the same: “Why do bad things happen to good people?, Why is there death?, Why must I suffer, Why must he/she/they suffer?, Why did things not turn out the way I wanted them too?, Where were you? Was God even there?”

Sound familiar now? Stop. Think. When was the last time you asked yourself any of those, or similar, questions? I’d venture to guess the majority of us, no matter how strong our faith, ask those questions more than we’d like to admit.

As I heard this Gospel reading yesterday, I couldn’t help but think how many times I say the same thing. Then I remembered those times when those questions are far removed from my thoughts–nowhere to be found, because there is no reason to ask. Having no reason means life is going pretty swell. But, when those questions do pop up it is all too easy to forget the times when, by our standards, everything is going right.

The truth is that we wouldn’t know the good times without the rough ones. I’ve been thinking a lot, perhaps too much, lately about the complexity of this life. We turn to God in our time of need and are quick question God when things don’t quite go as wanted or expected. But, without our share of pain there is no way we could truly understand what it means to have joy. I look back at those moments of heartache in my life and appreciate them more than ever now, because of what they’ve given me: perspective. I have gained a deeper appreciation for the people in my life and for each tiny second of joy, because I know what the other side feels like. Had my life been free of suffering then I don’t think I could have appreciated anything the way I do now. Would you?

If we lived forever…if we didn’t know pain or death…if we didn’t experience disappointment or gloom…if we weren’t exposed to the ugly or profane or the doubt-inducing…would we understand what it means to truly love, learn, live, and not take things for granted? Or, would we just go on living among others as if nothing really mattered because we’d live with the certainty of tomorrow being the same? Time is fleeting and so is everything within its scope. Perhaps, the uncertainty begot by life’s cyclic nature allows us to love more deeply if we so choose and to stop, and think, and be.

Perhaps, like Martha, we’ll be able to one day follow a slight complaint with a declaration of trust: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”


Music Monday: “We Fall Apart” by We As Human

I’ve been in love with this song ever since I heard it the first time. The above is an acoustic rendition of the song that the band, We As Human, performed for Nashville’s OneOne7 TV. To listen to the full original track, be sure to check out the Spotify link below.

The lyrics of this song remind me of one of the most powerful truths I’ve recognized in the past few years. We are most ourselves when we are broken. It is then that we recognize who we are and how much strength is within is. There is beauty in the brokenness. In those moments when we fall apart, the layers and masks that conceal the best and worst of us strip away. What we are left with is the rawness of our humanity–the body and soul without the walls and veils. If we choose to see ourselves for all that we are worth in those moments–if we choose to understand how much we are loved–then redemption finds us and we transform, start anew, and live an even more authentic life. There is something absolutely beautiful in falling apart and being broken…only then can we recognize what it means to be truly alive.


Matt Maher and Audrey Assad “Lord, I Need You” (Acoustic)

This is my soul’s song of everyday, perfectly captured in the lyrics by Matt Maher and the voices of Matt and Audrey Assad (two favorites of this blog). I live each day so grateful of God’s love and grace. It is the recognition that I am not alone and that the love that God has for me allows me to be more of who I am meant to be and more capable of loving. I need his love and grace to be grounded, to remember who I am, and to love without limits or conditions.


Music Monday: Marchin On by OneRepublic

I’m bringing Music Mondays back to Through A Glass Onion and I’m kicking it off with “Marchin On” by OneRepublic. There’s something special about this song. I first encountered it when I was looking for the perfect song to use before or after a retreat talk I gave a few months back. Not only is the song catchy, but the lyrics are inspiring. I hope it inspires you readers to keep on marching no matter what obstacles you’re currently facing. Lyrics follow.

Marchin On

For those days we felt like a mistake,
Those times when loves what you hate,
Somehow,
We keep marchin on.

For those nights when I couldn’t be there,
I’ve made it harder to know that you know,
That somehow,
We’ll keep moving on.

There’s so many wars we fought,
There’s so many things were not,
But with what we have,
I promise you that,
We’re marchin on,
We’re marchin on
We’re marchin on.

For all of the plans we’ve made,
There isn’t a flag I’d wave,
Don’t care if we bend,
I’d sink us to swim,
We’re marchin on,
We’re marchin on
We’re marchin on.

For those doubts that swirl all around us,
For those lives that tear at the seams,
We know,
We’re not what we’ve seen,

For this dance we’ll move with each other.
There ain’t no other step than one foot,
Right in front of the other.

There’s so many wars we fought,
There’s so many things we’re not,
But with what we have,
I promise you that,
We’re marchin on,
We’re marchin on
We’re marchin on.

For all of the plans we’ve made,
There isn’t a flag I’d wave,
Don’t care if we bend,
I’d sink us to swim,
We’re marchin on,
We’re marchin on
We’re marchin on.

Right, right, right, right left right,
Right, right, right, right left right,
Right, right,
We’re marchin on.

We’ll have the days we break,
And we’ll have the scars to prove it,
We’ll have the bonds that we save,
But we’ll have the heart not to lose it.

For all of the times we’ve stopped,
For all of the things I’m not.

We put one foot in front of the other,
We move like we ain’t got no other,
We go when we go,
We’re marchin on.

There’s so many wars we fought,
There’s so many things we’re not,
But with what we have,
I promise you that,
We’re marchin on,
We’re marchin on
We’re marchin on.

Right, right, right, right left right,
Right, right, right, left, right,
Right, right,
We’re marchin on.

Right, right, right, right left right,
Right, right, right, left, right,
Right, right,
We’re marchin on.

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