Did You Sneeze?
I learned a big German word in seminary that I often throw around when I want to feel self-righteously smarter than other people—heilsgeschichte (pronounced “hiles-guh-SHICKH-tuh”). Biblical theologians use this word, translated “salvation history,” to talk about Scripture’s meta-narrative—its single plotline traced from Genesis to Revelation.
In my opinion, the best reflections on salvation history zero in on interpreting all of Scripture in light of and through the lens of Jesus Christ (you might be surprised that some reflections on salvation history don’t do this). The way I figure, if Christ interpreted all of Scripture in light of Himself, I can do no better than to attempt to try to find Him, well, everywhere (Luke 24:27). I want Jesus’ exegetical method to be mine.
The Blood + The Breath, by Caroline Cobb
Now what happens when an artist investigates and explicates this heilsgeschichte? For singer-songwriter Caroline Cobb, a concept album called The Blood + The Breath was birthed, creatively telling the story of Jesus in the Scriptures. Needless to say, I’m an instant and huge fan of this project. For me, this scratches so many artistic and theological itches. It was released on Tuesday, so please buy it here ( iTunes | physical copy ), buy it early, and buy it often.
Pastors like me long to encourage artists like Caroline to do theological reflection through various artistic media precisely so: (1) we don’t forget that truth is not just right but beautiful; and (2) it is in the experience of truth’s beauty that we come to a more deep understanding of it (with the most holistic sense of “understanding” in mind here). When we experience truth’s beauty, who we are as redeemed human beings becomes more fully realized. Artists have something unique to contribute to our spiritual formation as disciples of Christ.
The Album’s Story
Each song on The Blood + The Breath parachutes down into specific markers in the landscape of salvation history, all the while not losing the forest for the trees. However, it begins and ends with a Prologue and reprised Epilogue which revel in Romans 11:32-36 and Colossians 1:15-20, word for word, line by line. Its music has the epic feel and Divine calm of John 1.
The second track, “Garden,” flies over creation and lands in Eden. Even in the first two songs, we here the themes of blood and breath explored, here in this song tarrying in the ambiguity of the “breathiness” of the Holy Spirit in creation and re-creation:
I will breathe into the dust
The breath of life and all my love
And when you open your eyes
You will see and be satisfied
Because I will be with you
I will be with you, I
The final verse walks on from Eden, to Babel, to the golden calf (but ends again with grace, just as any instance of salvation history does):
Pick the lies right off the tree
Your eyes are opened but not to see
Build a tower to the sky
You think you know, you think you’re wise
Melt your gold down to a god
Sell your soul to pay for your facade
Trade your truth for silence
I’ll let you loose if you want it
“All the Stars” explores the Abrahamic covenant with a twinkling piano motif, and next comes “The Passover Song,” which is one of my favorites on the album. It is brilliant musically and textually. Its lyrics are worth reading in full:
There’s a promise in our veins
But it’s faded by all these years in chains
Send a prophet, send the plagues
That by sunrise we will no more be slaves
Take the lamb, take the blood
And paint it on our doorways
At night death will come but pass us by
This is all our hope and peace
In the morning we will rise
Taste the freedom we thought we’d never find
We will dance now in the streets
Once held captive now we shall live as kings
Lift your head, your voice
And sing of your salvation
Of the blood of the lamb that gave us life
Now by this we’ll overcome
Now by this we’ll reach our home
There’s a poison in our veins
And it leads to death we cannot escape
Send a ransom a perfect Son
Remedy the curse with His precious blood
And the Lamb that will come
His cross will be our doorway
And the red of His blood will make us white
And daughters and sons
Rejoice in resurrection
And death swallowed up in endless life
Glory, glory this I sing
All my praise for this I bring
Naught of good that I have done
Nothing but the blood of Jesus
What I love about this song is that it accomplishes musically what does textually, with its quotations of the hymn “Nothing But the Blood” as a lens through which to process the first Passover, in all its gore and glory, justice and joy.
“Your Wounds” and “Dry Bones” pick up in the prophets—Isaiah and Ezekiel. Notable in “Dry Bones” is its use of the parched, gritty style of country blues, filled with musical agitation, fitting for Ezekiel’s vision of the Resurrection as brittle bones vivify as they become wrapped in supple flesh.
“Everything You’ve Heard” moves us to the ministry of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount, with some fabulous one- and two-liners that prove that good songwriting can really serve to both illumine Scriptural truth and prophesy it to our hearts:
You’ve heard it said, “don’t you murder anyone”
But you carry your anger like a knife
And your insults like a gun
You’ve heard it said, “don’t you cheat on your wife”
But your mind is a motel room
And you undress the other woman with your eyes
“Gethsemane” focuses on the garden the night before the crucifixion, which is an interesting and unconventional choice when reflecting on Christ’s passion in one shot. I like it. It offers a different angle on the cross. “He Is Risen,” with its simple singability, is one that I could actually envision congregations singing (which I know wasn’t necessarily Cobb’s intent, but is a bonus!). “Breath of God” is another congregationally-friendly song, and it’s my next favorite on the record, perhaps simply for the line,
O breath of God, O Spirit, come
Fill our mouths and loose our tongues
It’s a new twist for me on the “tongues” concept surrounding Pentecost to think that the reversal of Babel on that fateful day was executed so that our tongues would be unbound to sing God’s praises. Whoa. The penultimate song, “Wake Up,” peers at the final resurrection through the looking glass of 1 Corinthians 15.
The final song very creatively weaves in both the music and themes of the album, all nestled in an ethereal, heavenly, Revelation-like blanket.
Final Thoughts and Giveaway
If you’ve read this far, you’re beginning to see that this album is a work of art and a cohesive whole, showing one great example of how a singer-songwriter does theology through their artistic medium. I might challenge Cobb to add to her theological reflection one dispensation that was jumped over in The Blood + The Breath, namely, the period of the kings (1 Samuel – 2 Kings), which is so important to the story of salvation history. But I understand the need to make important edits for the sake of brevity and clarity.
Now for the fun stuff! I’ve got two giveaway opportunities that Caroline has graciously offered for this blog:
- The first prize is a free digital copy of the album.
- The grand prize is a digital copy, plus physical copy and companion devotional to be mailed to your front doorstep.
All you have to do is tweet or Facebook about this post, and you’ll be entered. (Make sure to tag me so I know you’ve entered, or you’ll slip through the cracks.) This time around, we’re keeping it short and sweet and will close off entries on the end-of-day this Friday. So hurry up and tweet it or get it up on your Facebook wall. We’ll draw two winners and announce them within a week!
Here’s an auto tweet for you on-the-go folks. 🙂
In the meantime, go get Caroline’s album, and tell your friends about it.
Hey Zac, I really appreciated this:
"Pastors like me long to encourage artists like Caroline to do theological reflection through various artistic media precisely so: (1) we don’t forget that truth is not just right but beautiful; and (2) it is in the experience of truth’s beauty that we come to a more deep understanding of it (with the most holistic sense of “understanding” in mind here). When we experience truth’s beauty, who we are as redeemed human beings becomes more fully realized. Artists have something unique to contribute to our spiritual formation as disciples of Christ. "
I'm helping organise an artistic project to compliment a sermon series later this year, and this is a really helpful reminder!