I know some Catholics who love Christian rock and others who loathe it. I do enjoy it when I’m in the right mood, especially as a pick-me-up after a stressful day. Other times, though, it can strike me as monotonous and even whitewashed, and I long for music that reflects the broad emotional range of Christian life. Whether you’re a detractor or a devotee of mainstream Christian rock, I think all can agree that music that suits one’s tastes and conveys a message of faith is a treasure worth sharing. Combining my long love of music with the quirky Jesuit tendency of finding God in unlikely places, I’d like to introduce a theme for this and future posts: meaningful music. I hope that over time, several of us will review new and familiar songs and albums that illustrate aspects of our faith and our efforts to bring about the Kingdom here on Earth. In this first of what I hope to be many installments, I’ll discuss the song “Roll Away Your Stone” from “Sigh No More”by Mumford & Sons. (video)
I heard a few Mumford & Sons songs on the radio that first piqued my interest in the group. First of all, the banjo was such a surprise that I was instantly intrigued by their emotional, bluegrass-meets-Irish-folk style. Beyond the instrumentation, I started to pick out some Christian allusions among the lyrics and I found out that they’re known for literary references. Eventually, I decided to download the full album. I’ve had it for a few weeks and have listened to various songs from it, but it was only when I sat still and listened attentively to the full album that I felt the full emotional/spiritual impact of each song in context.
Before writing my own reflection, I decided to see what the Internet thinks about Mumford & Sons’ lyrics and overall message. Themes that fans report picking up on throughout the album included romantic relationships, faith & religion, and one I hadn’t thought of – addiction. I don’t know much about the band members’ personal lives and I don’t really want to find out, but I am not surprised to find that people who have struggled with alcoholism and other addictions hear an echo of their own journey in the seemingly Christian story the album weaves. What is a budding Christian, after all, but an addict looking to quit his life-long habit of destructive sin? Sinners, like addicts, work to separate ourselves from the vices that have defined us. We seek freedom from our wrong-headed cravings, so that we can desire and pursue greater things. Several of the album’s songs, as I interpreted them, related to this motif. Seriously, I cannot stress enough how awesome the album is to listen to straight through! But for now, I’ll introduce the lyrics to Roll Away Your Stone bit by bit and describe my understanding and reaction to them.
Roll Away Your Stone from Sigh No More by Mumford & Sons
(Song opens with a gentle folk melody)
Roll away your stone, I’ll roll away mine.
Together we can see what we will find.
Don’t leave me alone at this time,
For I’m afraid of what I will discover inside.
Three years ago, I made a five-day silent retreat in the Ignatian style. As we arrived at the retreat house and took up our sacred silence, I was nervous about what I would find lurking in my mind and heart beneath the bubbly chatter that I naturally produce. Thankfully, I met daily with my spiritual adviser to discuss my thoughts and experiences and introduce the next day’s theme and readings. Although spiritual experiences are intensely personal, throughout my life I’ve found that a truly close mentor or friend makes the sometimes scary experience of self-examination more fruitful. As someone who has struggled with depressive tendencies since adolescence, I can honestly say I’ve been afraid of what I could discover inside. A few friends throughout my life have been willing to roll away their stone with me; my deepest thanks to each of you.
‘Cause you told me that I would find a hole
Within the fragile substance of my soul.
And I have filled this void with things unreal
And all the while my character it steals.
A lot has been said about the God-shaped hole in every person’s deepest soul. When you’re avoiding the Author of the Universe, I think anything or anyone else is “unreal” by comparison. St. Augustine said it best – “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
Darkness is a harsh term, don’t you think?
And yet it dominates the things I see.
It feels like all my bridges have been burnt,
But you say that’s exactly how this grace thing works.
It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart,
But the welcome I receive with the restart.
Here, our narrator is fully experiencing the darkness of his old ways and fear at losing what’s familiar, yet hope is emerging. The long walk home may be so great that safe arrival can hardly be imagined, but he is already welcomed every time he restarts the trek toward holiness. “The restart” feels to me very much like the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It can be truly daunting to consider Christs’ words, “be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect,” yet we know that every feeble attempt to repent our sins and seek holiness is met with sacramental grace and a Father’s love. That fact can give us the boldness to take a stand against sin and evil, a stand against the self, as the song continues…
Stars hide your fires,
These here are my desires
And I will give them up to you this time around,
And so I’ll be found
With my stake stuck in this ground
Marking the territory of this newly empassioned soul.
This is so beautiful to me. I’m stubborn as anything; it’s my nature. So when the narrator takes his native stubbornness and turns it against his sinful self instead of against God, it strikes a chord with me. Also, apparently the first of these lines is a reference to Macbeth, but I don’t know the play well enough to say anything beyond “Google it.”
You, you’ve gone too far this time.
You have neither reason nor rhyme
With which to take this soul which is so rightfully mine.
My translation: “Suck it, Satan”
So if you didn’t know this song, hope you liked it! If you already did, maybe this reflection on the lyrics made it a bit more meaningful to you. What do you think of the song/album/band? Disagree with my interpretation or have something to add? Want to weigh in on the Christian rock debate? What music inspires you? I’d love to get a discussion going in the comments!
“Cantare amantis est” -St. Augustine
(Singing is for lovers)
View from the chapel where I took a silent retreat.