Editor's note:

Sep­tem­ber 19, 2017 marked the 20-year anniver­sary of Rich Mullins’s death. More than a dozen of Rich’s friends — today’s singers, song­writ­ers, pro­duc­ers, and authors— have gath­ered to share nev­er-before-heard sto­ries and lessons from Rich’s life in the new book Winds of Heav­en, Stuff of Earth. Our Direc­tor of Edu­ca­tion, Car­olyn Arends, joins us today to share her con­tri­bu­tion to the book, a chap­ter called The Bit­ter­sweet Long­ing.” Here she shares an anec­dote that inspired her to write it:

In 1996, in cel­e­bra­tion of the ten-year anniver­sary of Rich’s first record release, a group of his musi­cal friends sur­prised him with a trib­ute con­cert. While he sat in the audi­ence, grin­ning his imp­ish grin, we each per­formed one of his songs. 

I had toured with him the year before, and knew him well enough to call him friend,” but I was also enough of a fan to be exceed­ing­ly ner­vous. On the pro­gram, I was sand­wiched between two bril­liant fin­ger-style gui­tarists – Wes King and Phil Keag­gy. My fin­gers felt like blocks of cement on the strings of my guitar.

I per­formed Jacob and 2 Women” – the song from which the album The World as Best as I Remem­ber It is titled. The lyrics are pure poet­ry. They dis­arm you with clever charm and whim­si­cal humor, and then suck­er-punch you with aching sad­ness. After the con­cert, Rich reward­ed me with a bear hug and said, I nev­er real­ized how sad that song is until I heard you sing it. I always just thought it was funny.”

I am not sure if Rich hadn’t been con­scious­ly aware of the pathos in that song, but his reac­tion (and the song itself) is emblem­at­ic for me of the way an infec­tious play­ful­ness and a deep sad­ness co-exist­ed in him, often at the same time. It also reminds me how much Rich delight­ed in oth­er peo­ple. He so rel­ished the cre­ativ­i­ty of his friends that he received our ver­sions of his songs as rev­e­la­tions. That gen­eros­i­ty and open-hand­ed­ness was part of the rea­son he tend­ed to become a hub of com­mu­ni­ty wher­ev­er he went.

Laugh­ter, sad­ness, and a great capac­i­ty to cel­e­brate oth­ers — that was Rich, as best as I can remem­ber him.

—Carolyn Arends
Director of Education, Renovaré

Excerpt from Winds of Heaven, Stuff of Earth

God lets us strug­gle and lets us pros­per — we don’t all strug­gle and pros­per the same, but we all do both to some degree. And when we have done enough to think more high­ly of our­selves than we should, God lets us age.” – Rich Mullins 

Rich’s work — like Rich him­self — was strik­ing­ly play­ful and hope­ful, and yet there’s no deny­ing the under­cur­rents of sad­ness run­ning through almost every­thing he wrote. Where did they come from?

Some of it was bio­graph­i­cal, no doubt — by the time I met him, Rich had expe­ri­enced his fair share of highs and heart­breaks. And some of it had to be genet­ic — Rich was just wired to feel the full spec­trum of emo­tions at high inten­si­ty. When he laughed, he laughed hard; when he was angry, he burned hot. When he loved a book, he was relent­less in his con­vic­tion that you had to read it. He could access a range of feel­ing — includ­ing both joy and sor­row — swift­ly and thoroughly. 

I would also guess that Rich’s facil­i­ty with sad­ness was part of his gift­ing as an artist. He seemed to be con­sis­tent­ly in touch with the bit­ter­sweet long­ing that haunts a lot of great lit­er­a­ture and art — the exquis­ite ache best expressed by the Ger­man idea of sehn­sucht.

In the Weight of Glo­ry, C. S. Lewis describes sehn­sucht as: 

The secret also which pierces with such sweet­ness that when, in very inti­mate con­ver­sa­tion, the men­tion of it becomes immi­nent, we grow awk­ward and affect to laugh at our­selves; the secret we can­not hide and can­not tell, though we desire to do both. We can­not tell it because it is a desire for some­thing that has nev­er actu­al­ly appeared in our expe­ri­ence. We can­not hide it because our expe­ri­ence is con­stant­ly sug­gest­ing it, and we betray our­selves like lovers at the men­tion of a name.

The expe­ri­ence of sehn­sucht was a part of C.S. Lewis’s con­ver­sion. It point­ed him to the exis­tence of God, because, he rea­soned, the long­ing that so defines human expe­ri­ence must have an ulti­mate object. For Rich, I sus­pect, his expe­ri­ence of God infused his work with sehn­sucht, because he knew first­hand that there was so much more for which to long.

If bio­graph­i­cal, genet­ic and artis­tic fac­tors pre­con­di­tioned Rich Mullins to be a man well acquaint­ed with both joy and sor­row, I believe what sealed the deal in the last years of his life was the fact that Rich’s friend­ship with God drew him into a deep iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with — even a par­tic­i­pa­tion in—the suf­fer­ing of Christ. Blessed are those who mourn,”[1] Jesus once said, when he was pro­vid­ing a list of qual­i­ties you find in peo­ple who have been invad­ed by the King­dom of Heaven. 

Rich’s imag­i­na­tion was so sat­u­rat­ed by bib­li­cal nar­ra­tives, his life so rav­aged by divine encounter, that his heart began to be bro­ken by the things that break the heart of God. Yes, he longed for the winds of heav­en, but he also ached for the redemp­tion and restora­tion of the stuff of earth, and he had the courage to let some of Christ’s pas­sion for the world infuse his own.

Do we?

[1] Matthew 5:4

Rich Mullins and Carolyn Arends in Concert (circa 1995)
Rich Mullins and Car­olyn Arends in Con­cert (1995)
Pho­to © Rose Capanna. 

Excerpt­ed from Winds of Heav­en, Stuff of Earth: Spir­i­tu­al Con­ver­sa­tions Inspired by the Life and Lyrics of Rich Mullins, by Andrew Greer and Randy Cox, Wor­thy Media, 2017.

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