Monday, May 23, 2011

Mumford and (Prodigal) Sons

If you haven't heard the name of the band - Mumford and Sons - you've most likely heard their famous single (at least on this side of the pond), Little Lion Man.  It is, undoubtedly, a great song, but there's always more to a great album than the pop-chart's top 100.  Their recent full length album, Sigh No More, is a classic case in point and further proof that many of my favorite musical works (not to mention literary), have come out of the UK.  But no need to geek out too much for this post.  I have but a few modest observations about the aforementioned album.  Music and literature - no matter where its origin - often captivate listeners and readers by appealing to implicit or explicit religious (and more often than not Christian/Biblical) references, something I write about frequently via movies and books.  It appears, at least from this listener's point of view, that Mumford and Sons has some deeply seeded religious connotations, if not out right Christian references in their latest work.

Admittedly, I don't know nearly enough about the band, or chief lyricist Marcus Mumford, to make well rounded opinion on the matter; that's for further investigation.  However, it seems that they have their fair share of demons (metaphorical I presume) to exercise throughout the set list on Sigh No More.  Several tracks (Sigh No More, Winter Winds, Roll Away Your Stone, Thistle and Weeds, Awake My Soul, Dust Bowl Dance, and After the Storm) send up some several of blips on the Lutheran radar, some more subtle or and others more overt.  Whether this stems from their influence in literature - Steinbeck and Shakespeare, most notably - or whether it is more personal in history (and/or belief/faith), the references appear are there. The most intriguing of these are found in Roll Away Your Stone:

It seems that 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

Grace has been defined many ways: substance, disposition, an attitude, the favor of God, by way of acronym (God's Riches At Christ's Expense).  With the exception of substance, I think you can find a fullness (even a plethora!) of the Biblical reality of the term by doing a simple word study in the Scriptures; Greek is preferred of course, but you could easily accomplish it with a good English concordance.  And though many definitions could be given, sometimes a simple story works best: the Parable of the Prodigal Son, also known as the parable of the two sons is sublime in this regard.  Mumford and Sons either intentionally or inadvertently, struck upon the main theme of this parable.

Every good story, as Tolkien reminds us (didn't think the geek could stay away too long did you!?), has the 'turn.'  The sudden switch of events from darkness to light, from death to life, from sorrow to joy.  That's what he calls the eucatastrophe - a joyous catastrophe.  Think of the Stone Table in Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe or the rising of Gandalf from the abyss of Moria.  Many times the 'turn' rises and falls until one final climactic ending (joyous or tragic, etc.).  In fact, a superlative story may have multiple turns.  The lyrics above may even be such a 'turn' with in the song itself.  One thing's for sure, the story those words came from is definitely full of twists and turns.

In Luke 15, such a 'turn' may appear to happen to when the son decides to return home.  However, pay close attention to what the son says:

“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, 19 and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”’ 

And then notice what he actually says when he gets there:

“And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put
it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. 23 And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; 24 for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry. 

There was no time for deal making with the father.  He would have none of that.  He runs; and this joyous sprint, as with everything else the father does afterward, is no small gesture; in fact, it is what the catechism calls Fatherly divine goodness and mercy without any merit or worthiness.  Jesus came for outcasts, sinners and prodigals.  And His embrace is the welcome home that changes the heart, from lost to found, from death to life, from sorrow to joy.  Sigh no more.  Great is the love that the Father has lavished on us, that we - his prodigals - should be called His sons, by the death of His own Son.  "I gave you all."  Indeed, He embraces you in His life-giving death.  Welcome home to the beauty of love as it was made to be.

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