June 1, 2010

The Songs of Godly Women

As a songwriter, I'm constantly in a state of seeking... Seeking an untold story.  Seeking an unsung melody.  Seeking something... anything!... new and beautiful.  Something that will shed light on a different perspective, and yet will reveal what is true beneath the facade of every perspective.  Unfortunately, in my seeking, I often overlook the most obvious points.  Perhaps I unwittingly believe they are so obvious to everyone that they need no song to be known.  Thankfully, not every female songwriter has skipped the most obvious details (which are, in many cases, the most important) in an attempt to be mysteriously intriguing, as I have often done.

As much as I'd like to use this introduction as a segue into an exhibition about all my favorite contemporary female song-writers, I honestly would have little to say on that subject.  I'm regrettably very uneducated insofar as any contemporary songwriters go, outside of the genius of Ben Folds (for his stories) or the Fleetfoxes (for their harmonies), both of which are quite unfeminine.  I'm enthusiastically open to hearing about your favorite songwriters (please do comment and educate me!), but I'm digressing at the moment, so I must come back around to my point.

I read this morning the songs of two women who didn't miss the point.

One woman was a Jew in ancient Israel (around 1100 B.C.) whose unfortunately barren situation drew her to weeping on the altar of the Lord, praying earnestly for a child she would willingly give back to God should He grant her request.  He did.  She rejoiced.

The other woman was also a Jew, about 1100 years later, who was given a child she never asked for, along with the incredible task of being the mother of God (in His incarnate Person).  She too would have to "give back" this child, as it were, for the purposes of God, but this didn't mute her praises.

The songs of these women were recorded in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 and Luke 1:46-55.  Care to take a look with me?  As you read them, take note of any similarities you see.  Hannah's song goes something like this:

      1   My heart exults in the LORD;
         My horn is exalted in the LORD,
         My mouth speaks boldly against my enemies,
         Because I rejoice in Your salvation.
    2   There is no one holy like the LORD,
         Indeed, there is no one besides You,
         Nor is there any rock like our God.
    3   Boast no more so very proudly,
         Do not let arrogance come out of your mouth;
         For the LORD is a God of knowledge,
         And with Him actions are weighed.
    4   The bows of the mighty are shattered,
         But the feeble gird on strength.
    5   Those who were full hire themselves out for bread,
         But those who were hungry cease to hunger.
         Even the barren gives birth to seven,
         But she who has many children languishes.
    6   The LORD kills and makes alive;
         He brings down to Sheol and raises up.
    7   The LORD makes poor and rich;
         He brings low, He also exalts.
    8   He raises the poor from the dust,
         He lifts the needy from the ash heap
         To make them sit with nobles,
         And inherit a seat of honor;
         For the pillars of the earth are the LORD'S,
         And He set the world on them.
    9   He keeps the feet of His godly ones,
         But the wicked ones are silenced in darkness;
         For not by might shall a man prevail.
    10 Those who contend with the LORD will be shattered;
         Against them He will thunder in the heavens,
         The LORD will judge the ends of the earth;
         And He will give strength to His king,
         And will exalt the horn of His anointed.

Mary's song goes thus:

          My soul exalts the Lord,
    47  And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
    48  For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave;
         For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.
    49  For the Mighty One has done great things for me;
         And holy is His name.
    51  He has done mighty deeds with His arm;
         He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.
    52  He has brought down rulers from their thrones,
         And has exalted those who were humble.
         And sent away the rich empty-handed.
    54  He has given help to Israel His servant,
          In remembrance of His mercy,
    55  As He spoke to our fathers,
         To Abraham and his descendants forever.


Now, when I write songs, I am scarcely too obvious, for fear of being painfully so.  Unfortunately, in my ambiguity, I can sometimes forfeit the main point of the song.  Hannah and Mary, however, -- although they did not even once mention in so many words the obvious fact that God had given them sons, the very reason for which they sang! -- did not miss point!  

God is praiseworthy!  God is our Savior!  God is holy!  Why?

Because God loves and gives in the most unexpected ways.  Sometimes, in fact, it seems backwards from what we think it ought to be.  He does not reward the rich and famous... Rather, He lavishes His own riches on "the least of these."  He lifts the lowly, raises the humble, makes important the unimportant.  (For another beautiful song on the subject, see Psalm 113.)

Songs like these remind me again that I have a lot to learn.  They are not only beautiful, they are also true.  These women knew their theology... They knew their God.  They knew both His power and His grace.  They sang the honest truth, even without the points that perhaps we would have narrowed in on and crafted for a culturally-relevant story.  The point was not what God had given.  The point was that it was God who had given.  The same God who still gives. 

In our pursuits to write beautiful songs (or whatever else we do), there is only one think we must seek: Him.  In His heart are all the untold stories, all the unsung melodies, everything beautiful and everything true.  When we express the truth of His heart, only then will our songs reflect the beauty and glory found in the songs of these godly women.


  1. Hmm... Anne Steele comes to mind but she's not contemporary; China Forbes comes to mind but she's not Christian (as far as I know). Perhaps you've identified a "gap in the literature" as the scholars would say!

  2. You are a very gifted songwriter; even your posts are poetic.

  3. Your post gave me the chills. Thanks for the encouragement--seeking Him is the be all end all.

  4. I love this! May we never miss the point! Thanks, Carrie.

  5. Unfeminine. What an interesting word. I'd never thought about it quite that way before.

    Actually, last time I was listening to your most recent album, I found myself wondering how some of the songs would cover with a male vocalist (English tenor). The shift of dynamic was intriguing--in some ways darker, a little unsettling. They're not the way 'masculine' songwriters usually express themselves. Yet true to human experience across gender, most of them.

    Speaking as a lyricist now--there seems to be a difference between a contemplative text--ecstatic praise--like the hymns you quote here, and a song lyric. They can, however, serve much the same purpose. In other words, the different form of the song lyric can serve, ultimately, as a sort of contemplative art. Perhaps any art can be contemplative. It's worth reaching for, anyway.