I’ve been able to bring a guitar and have the guys sing a few songs for the Tuesday night Bible Study. There is something special about the singing of the incarcerated. Songs behind the walls take on a powerful character as they become the cry of the human soul.
Holiness, holiness is what I long for
Holiness is what I need
Holiness, holiness is what You want from me
So, take my heart and form it
Take my mind and transform it
Take my will and conform it
To Yours, to Yours, oh, Lord
Occasionally I describe the background of the song. I recently introduced a song that appeared 115 years ago and written in another language, with the opening line:
Dyma Gariad fel y Moroedd
That song was accompanied by a move of God in what is now known as the Welsh Revival.
There were 14 of us gathered as we began to read through the English translation of the words:
Here is love vast as the ocean, Loving-kindness as the flood,
When the Prince of Life, our ransom, Shed for us His precious blood.
Who His love will not remember? Who can cease to sing His praise?
He can never be forgotten Throughout heav’n’s eternal days.
Before we sang the song each man first read a different verse in order to absorb the meaning of the lyrics. Men behind bars and facing the legal consequences of their crimes heard the words:
On the Mount of Crucifixion, Fountains opened deep and wide;
Through the flood-gates of God’s mercy Flowed a vast and gracious tide.
Grace and love like mighty rivers Poured incessant from above;
Heaven’s peace and perfect justice Kissed a guilty world in love.
Men who endured unimaginable suffering and were without hope now heard the words:
Here is love that conquered evil: Christ, the firstborn from the grave;
Death has failed to be found equal To the life of Him Who saves.
In the valley of our darkness Dawned His everlasting light;
Perfect love in glorious radiance Has repelled death’s hellish night.
The music of a song adds a dimension to its power and meaning. Likewise, singing as a group adds a deeper connection. Men with a shared experience of addiction, crime, abuse, and rejection were singing together. This group of Hispanic, Asian, Black, and White sang the cry of triumph:
That same love beyond all measure, Mocked and slain by hateful men,
Lives and reigns in resurrection And can never die again.
Here is love for all the ages, Radiant Sun of Heav’n He stands,
Calling home His Father’s children, Holding forth His wounded hands.
Many of the men were raised in the foster care system and were bounced from place to place – never belonging to a family or having a place to call home. Now they are encouraged as they sing, “Here is love for all the ages… Calling home His Father’s children.” There is a family, and a home for these men.
The songs knit together with our scripture study:
1 Peter 5:6-11 (NIV)
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
Consider those words from the perspective of someone who is incarcerated:
…because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings….
They are not alone. They are not forgotten.
Together they sing this promise:
Here is love, vast as the heavens; Countless as the stars above
Are the souls that He has ransomed, Precious daughters, treasured sons.
We are called to feast forever on a love beyond our time;
Glorious Father, Son, and Spirit Now with us are intertwined.