The book “An Arrow Pointing to Heaven” describes an odd habit singer Rich Mullins cultivated during a music tour. The activity is described like this:
During a concert tour in 1989, Rich performed the same ritual every night before going onstage. He had a dry-erase board and some markers. Each night he drew a map of the earth and outlined the continents and then started filling in the countries. He would do this at a fast and furious pace until the tour manager told him it was time to go on. Then he would stop and write these words above the map: “This is the world as best as I can remember it, by Rich Mullins.”
That phrase, The World As Best as I can Remember It, went on to become the title of a two volume Mullin’s album in 1993. The first volume included a song titled “Jacob and Two Women” which also used the same phrase. It is a strange strong with lyrics that are difficult to decipher. Mullins noted that people always came up to him saying that they didn’t get the song. He responded he wasn’t quite sure he understood the song either.* However, it also happened to be one of the most beautiful songs Mullins ever crafted.
As part of the song, Mullins includes the lyrics “Seems that love comes for just a moment and then it passes on by”. Though technically a song about the Biblical characters Jacob, Rachel and Leah, it’s not too far-reaching to assume that Mullins was writing about his own life as well. After all, Mullins was engaged to be married to a women he dearly loved until his fiancee called off the wedding. When the subject was broached in an interview, Mullins had this to say:
I have no interest in anybody else and she is married to someone else, so that’s the way it goes, and I don’t mind that. Right now I cannot imagine that life could be happier married than it is single, so I’m not in a panic about getting married. And I think, you know, maybe God wanted me to be celibate and the way that he accomplished that was to break my heart. So, that’s the way it goes.
Thus it went with Rich Mullins. He remained single until dying in a tragic car accident at age 41. I suppose it might have been easier for Rich to try and bury the memories. After all, things didn’t really work out for him in the end. I suppose it also would have been easy for him to become bitter at God and the woman he loved. Instead, he was oddly at peace. In the end, he trusted that God was good and trustworthy, no matter the shape of his broken heart.
This isn’t to say that Rich didn’t struggle or have questions. One of his most stunning and gut-wrenching songs (Hard to Get) includes these opening lines:
You who live in heaven
Hear the prayers of those of us who live on earth
Who are afraid of being left by those we love
And who get hardened by the hurt
I’m glad that Rich did not let his heart become hardened. If he had, I would have missed out on some of the most beautiful music ever produced. Instead, he allowed his empty heart to remember and hope, even as it ached. In the book, The World As I Remember It: Through the Eyes of a Ragamuffin, Rich had this to say:
Now, although a fiddle may never be fooled by the folly of human thinking, very much like us, they have pain. Their necks are stiff and their nerves, their strings, are stretched. They feel the friction of the bow, and inside their beautiful brown little bodies they have only a little stick called a sound-post and an emptiness that seizes every inch of space – top to bottom, side to side. Their emptiness is for them (as it is for us) a nearly unbearable ache – an ache that is fitted to the shape that makes its tone. And sometimes a fiddle is tempted to fill that void with rags or glass or gold, even knowing that, if it should do that, it would never resonate the intentions of its fiddler. It would never again be alive with his music. It would dull itself to the exquisite heat of the fiddler’s will, the deliberate tenderness of his fingers.
And so, they resist. They resist so that they can respond.
Some fiddles have lived without eyes or ears or innards for a couple hundred years. They would die, though, if they were denied a fiddler.
Allow me to tweak one of the lines to the song “Jacob and Two Women”. I’ve replaced the words “him” with “her” and put Rich in the position of Leah. I think it makes a lot more sense in this context. Though Rich might not have realized it, I think he identified with the story so much because he was actually writing about himself.
And his sky is just a petal pressed in a book of a memory
Of the time she thought she loved him and they kissed
And his friends say, “Ah, she’s a devil”
But he says, “No, she is a dream”
This is the world as best as I can remember it