We first experienced Behold the Lamb of God in 2010, in a cramped room at Bon Air Baptist Church. My dear friends with impeccable taste in music – Jimmy and Judy – insisted that we go. So, we did. And our hearts were filled to the brim.
The following year, we learned the music and shared it with our church community for Christmas. It was one of the most challenging and rewarding musical endeavors of my life.
Andrew Peterson’s creative telling of the Christmas story has marked the season for me and several friends for the majority of the twelve years since – we always try to get tickets. But in recent years, it’s been a challenge, as the tour no longer makes regular stops in Richmond.
So, we drive. A few years ago, to Wake Forest, North Carolina – there and back in one night. This year, six hours to Knoxville – and a hotel stay, because we’re getting older and smarter.
It was still a whirlwind, and well worth it. The Tennessee Theatre was stunningly gorgeous; Knoxville seems like a lovely little town. And the music was, as always, transcendent.
It’s not just the music, though, and it’s so much more than a performance or a show. We witness friends who’ve toured together for 20 years, imbibing familiar songs with fresh wonder. The songs themselves stand; they are brilliant in lyric, melody and harmony. The musicians are at the top of their game. They are friends, they have history, they have done life together. And at the core of their connection resides a vibrant faith, a plumb line centered on the story of Jesus.
It’s such a joy to watch, and such a delight to experience.
I sit in the seats surrounded by my own people; two trusted friends of almost 20 years, people who’ve seen me at my worst and believed in me at my best. We are partners in ministry and in awe, together, of what this life has brought our way.
And I clutch the hand of my best friend, my husband, the person I only dared dream might truly exist. We sit together and listen to the same songs played pretty much the same way, and our hearts soar.
Well, I suppose theirs do; I know mine does. I am captivated by this song cycle in the same way that I can sit through every track on Aja or Rumours and be transported to every memory that ever was and every moment that might be. I soak in the experience; I close my eyes and float on the sound of Jill Phillips pushing what feels like the essence of Mary’s pain as she sings Labor of Love.
I sit, in awe, enveloped in the sacred and holy. It is church.
At the end, every time, Peterson reads from Philippians, and then starts the Doxology, and we all sing, raw and ripe from the journey of poetic melody. It is every memory I’ve ever had from singing in a group of people who are hopeful, in that moment, for something good. From the huge Methodist church in my Pennsylvania hometown, to singing around a campfire with my Uncle Lloyd and my grandmother and her sisters; to Jeff Berta and the high school choir in Texas, and learning all the harmony parts on The Eagles Greatest Hits in my dad’s car. All-region choir and directing a choir; one of the first Passion Conferences in the 90’s with my brother, and the All Sons & Daughters concert at PCC.
Countless memories; the point is, the times when people sing together because they can’t not sing, and mics and amplified instruments are stilled, and it’s a collective surge of vocal movement – well, I am overwhelmed in those moments.
And Thursday night, as the 1,600 people around me sang, I inhaled deeply as if I could pull it into my lungs and store it there. I did not add my voice; I listened, and felt enveloped by the harmony and the sweetness of the simple sound of human voices, together.
It was such a beautiful moment. My husband on one side, seeking the bass line; Brian on the other, finding the tenor.
And my heart, full to the brim. The entire evening, one beautiful experience that invited me to be fully present, risking the explosion of joy and beauty in the deepest part of my soul. I was awestruck. I closed my eyes and swayed and interacted with the joy I sensed thrumming in the air around me.
This, to me, is an experience of the divine; it is God, in the beauty. It is God, in the holy, it is God, in the hearts of the people turned towards him. It is a spiritual practice, to welcome and be present to such beauty.
On the journey home, our conversation bounced all over the place. At one point, I said, “I’ve accepted that I am a little different. I’m a weirdo; I have an artistic temperament. It makes me different. I used to think it made me wrong, and I struggled; but I am okay with me.”
I feel that way a lot, like a fish out of water. I get up in my head, I think I’m so different than everybody else, and maybe I am.
Or maybe I’m not.
Maybe it doesn’t matter.
Joan Chittister, in her beautiful book The Gift of Years, writes:
We don’t change as we get older – we just get to be more of what we’ve always been.Joan Chittister, The Gift of Years
I feel that. I receive that.
She goes on:
It is the period in which we set out to make sense of all the growing we have already done. It is the softening season when everything in us is meant to achieve its sweetest, richest, most unique self.Joan Chittester, The Gift of Years
I feel that, too.
Several years ago, a wise woman pointed me in a specific direction and asked what I wanted to be. I blurted out, ‘A wise old woman.‘ She didn’t flinch; she just nudged me to move towards that desire.
And, so it goes; and every moment – even (or perhaps especially) a quick road trip to continue a Christmas tradition – fills that bucket and helps me lean into all the wisdom the world, and its Creator, have to offer.
Remember, now, his mercy. What a gift.