This album (an EP actually) is a collaborative effort between Mumford & Sons, Laura Marling and Dharohar Project and accomplishes the fantastic trick of combining distinct Indian sounds (Rajasthani specifically), with British folk, gorgeous voices and lyrics that you want to eat nice and slow so as to figure out what on earth they’ve been spiced with. I’ve listened to this album over and over and I’m still sorting through some of the words. That, I think, is how it should be.
But actually this isn’t about the album so much as it’s about one of the songs: “To Darkness.” Don’t let the title discourage you—it’s an acknowledgement, not a concession. Here’s the song:
Try as I might, I could not find sufficient sources to incontrovertibly confirm my hearing of the lyrics, but the most crucial ones are consistent, therefore the lyrics are (more or less) as follows, with uncertainties in parentheses, and my comments in italics:
Take my eyes, My whole heart
In your hands, In your hands
And board the (ark)
(As it departs)
Lead me on the shore
But I will hunt no more
I have to pause here for a moment. For me songs are stories. If I don’t see one overtly told, I will dig for it. It’s in there somewhere. So we start with a mournful sound and a sense of loss, and a desire to be taken up—to give up the striving—to be led.
Hold my sin above my head,
Take me home instead,
Take me home instead.
Here they present the soft image of someone lifting a branch out of your way so that it does not obstruct. The hindrance is being held aloft and the pathway made clear for a homeward trek. Again, guidance…being led.
I will not speak of your sin
There is a way out for him
The mirror shows not
Your values are all shot
The first line speaks of forgiveness, the second of a ‘way out.’ Way out of what? The final two lines hint at it: We don’t see ourselves clearly. We don’t understand our own failings by any mere glance in the mirror.
But Oh, my heart
Was flawed, I knew my weakness
So hold my hand
Consign me not to darkness
Here we hit the heart of the song. Again the look outward, the request for guidance. The recognition of flaws, the acknowledgement of weakness. “Hold my hand, consign me not to darkness.” Of whom does the singer demand such a thing? Who can consign or ‘consign not’ to darkness? Who is it that is taking the hand and holding our sin above our heads?
Well, for one (Psalms 107:14) “He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness, and broke away their chains” and (Psalm 103:12) “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he put our sins from us”
I bring this song up because it is:
C. Perhaps saying things it doesn’t realize it’s saying (or maybe it does, who knows)
D. Thematically consistent with Mumford & Sons and Laura Marling’s respective bodies of work (I cannot speak as to Dharohar Project, this is my first time to hear of them).
Both of the above mentioned bands/artists are in a constant state of acknowledging deep flaws (“seal my heart and break my pride, I’ve nowhere to stand and now nowhere to hide, Align my heart, my body, my mind—to face what I’ve done and do my time”—from “Dustbowl Dance” by Mumford & Sons) and this seems a rather rare phenomenon in this day and age where most people like to think we’re all just decent fellows and lasses at heart and it’s just the times or circumstances getting us down here and there.
Both bands also hint at the ongoing struggle that ensues regarding such an acknowledgment (“Pick up your rope Lord, and fling it to me. If we are to battle, I must not be weak”—from “Hope in the Air” by Laura Marling. And “Darkness is a harsh term, don’t you think? And yet it dominates the things I seek”—from “Roll Away Your Stone” by Mumford & Sons)
Long story short? These artists talk about facing our own darkness and about wrestling with God. I don’t know whether or not these artists believe in God, but they sure seem to be shouting upward with better aim than most. I think the awareness they speak of and the longing it calls to the surface is compelling. They want to have it out with God, perhaps, but they admit that he’ll have to pull them to the surface first—we’re at his mercy. Maybe they think they’re singing into the darkness and shadowboxing against the empty air.
But they aren’t. With these beautiful, earnest words, they’re wrestling with the real, live Him—they may get a great, terrifying shock out of it if they don’t already know Him:
“…you have had a shock like that before, in connection with smaller matters—when the line pulls at your hand, when something breathes beside you in the darkness. So here; the shock comes at the precise moment when the thrill of life is communicated to us along the clue we have been following. It is always shocking to meet life where we thought we were alone. ‘Look out!’ we cry ‘it’s alive!’. And therefore this is the very point at which so many draw back—I would have done so myself if I could—and proceed no further with Christianity. An ‘impersonal God’—well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads—better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap—best of all. But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband—that is quite another matter. There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly: was that a real footstep in the hall? There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (‘Man’s search for God!) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found him? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still, supposing He had found us?
So it is a sort of Rubicon. One goes across; or not. But if one does, there is no manner of security against miracles. One may be in for anything.”
-C.S. Lewis in “Miracles”
And I think that about says it.