To conclude 2013, a three-part series on three songs summing up my year. Here’s part two.
The Civil Wars went to some deep dark places on their first album Barton Hollow, and perhaps more explicitly so in their second album. Songs like Eavesdrop, Same Old Same Old, Oh Henry, Dust to Dust (which is somewhat hopeful) and Disarm, are less veiled in the poetry and nostalgia of that first album, and so they feel much more immediate. Despite being on a touring hiatus due to irreconcilable differences of ambition, (fighting their own civil wars) Joy Williams and John Paul’s work as a duo on this song in particular is sublime.
In contrast with many of the their songs, From This Valley, is relatively upbeat and bright for The Civil Wars, whose music tends to focus on tension, conflict, and the dark parts of life; stuff which might be felt more often than is said.
From This Valley expresses deeply personal feelings for restoration and renewal:
Oh the desert dreams of a river
That will run down to the sea
Like my heart longs for an ocean
To wash down over me
It speaks to that universal human yearning to not just live, but to flourish; of acceptance and grace, of freedom and hope:
Oh the outcast dreams of acceptance
Just to find pure love’s embrace
Like an orphan longs for its mother
May you hold me in your grace
Ultimately, this is a song of hope about what Jesus brings to the weary soul. The longing words of this song have often come to mind throughout many challenges this year.
Oh the caged bird dreams of a strong wind
That will flow beneath her wings
Like a voice longs for a melody
Oh Jesus, carry me
Oh won’t you take me from this valley
To that mountain high above
Oh I will pray, pray, pray till I see your smiling face
I will pray, pray, pray to the one that I love
Now, ‘that mountain high above’ may suggest something of the life to come. That certainly is a grand fantastical image in keeping with The Civil Wars sensibilities contrasted with the pain and hardship characterizing the present. But joy, freedom, acceptance are experiences available in the present, as one is being held in grace, when Jesus carries you in his grace.
- God graciously accepts you into His family, on the basis of Christ’s life, death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sin: you don’t bring anything and yet receive everything.
- We receive freedom from sin’s penalty and freedom from sin’s power, which God himself secures for you in Christ.
- This leads to joy as we live in the promise that God is making us new by His Spirit to change us into Christ-like, loving, sacrificial servants.
More than securing our personal comfort, God is interested in the growth of our character and our love throughout all of life’s circumstances (Philippians 1:6), and bringing it to completion.
The Christian hope anticipates the final redemption of the whole of creation from sin and suffering, at a future time when the world is remade and God comes to finally be with his people.
Revelation 21:1-4: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Perhaps you feel a deep desire for renewal, restoration or personal redemption. You look outside at the world and wonder where it’s going. Or perhaps you look inside at your heart and just want a getaway, to find another way. If you’ve never investigated Jesus, you may find in him the salve your soul is searching for in this valley.
Read Part One here.
January 1, 2014 at 10:37 AM
This is a wonderful song.
I prefer their recordings of this on Mercyland and Live:SXSW to The Civil Wars album itself.
Mercyland starts with a joyous whoop and Live has some sublime harmonies (though less than studio recording values).
The later album recording sounds flat by comparison, which is probably me projecting.
January 1, 2014 at 7:25 PM
Thanks for the tips! The live performances are certainly much more energetic, and they lean alot more on certain notes. There’s also a 70-min Live in New Orleans concert on the liveset youtube channel – worth a look! We had tickets to the Brisbane concert but alas it wasn’t to be.