Listening Deeply #1: “Grace” (CityAlight)

Our ancestors sang sagas. They memorized songs hundreds or thousands of lines long. Some of our ancestors were illiterate, but the feats of memory through which they preserved their culture put us to shame.

Today? We can barely pay attention for five seconds. In fact, Paul Lamere analyzed Spotify data in 2014, finding that 24% of Spotify songs were skipped within the first 5 seconds, 35% within the first 30 seconds, and 48% before the end of the song. And our attention spans seem to only be decreasing as the digital revolution progresses.

Let’s reverse this. Let’s listen deeply. Let’s take a song, listen to it at least five times, and reflect on what it means.

For the first entry in this series, let’s start with a song from Australian church ensemble CityAlight. Lyrics, chords, and lead sheets are here.

The melody is incredibly simple. That’s where it finds its power. It spans only an octave. But it’s one of those incredibly rare melodies that still soars within those constraints. And it’s memorable. When my church first introduced it a few weeks ago, the congregation was able to sing the closing chorus acapella—on the first time through the song.

It’s hard to write a simple melody that’s still worth singing. It’s even harder to write a simple, memorable lyric. In fact, in the worthy desire to restore theology to Sunday morning singing, modern hymnwriters add so much theology that they often lose simplicity. But many of the greatest and most enduring of the classic hymns have solid theology, but express it simply. “Grace” strikes this balance between simplicity and good theology in a way few if any other modern hymns match.

The lyrical craftsmanship, though not flawless, is still strong. The inconsistent rhyming scheme is mildly distracting (abcd in verse 1, which is to say, no rhymes; abcb in verses 2, 4, and the chorus, and abac in verse 3). But the song’s other strengths make it worth overlooking this eccentricity.

The lyric shines in its topical development. It takes the theme of grace through a believer’s life. Verse 1 introduces the theme, that grace comes from Jesus’ blood and not our merit. Verse 2 celebrates the Gospel call going out to every tribe and nation. The chorus is our response:

By grace I am redeemed
By grace I am restored
And now I freely walk
Into the arms of Christ my Lord

Though all four verses are personal, verse three most directly celebrates its application to our life: “The Prince of Life, without a stain, was traded for this sinner.”

And verse four celebrates the end of this journey of grace. For the moment, we have to walk by faith and not by sight. For the moment, we see Jesus through a glass, dimly. But the day is coming when we will see Him face to face. So this verse celebrates the grace that will “see me welcomed home to walk beside my Savior.”

Listen deeply. Enjoy. And chances are you’ll be singing along.

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