Written by: Laura Chambers (3/31/2017)
The Beatitudes have captivated many over the years. Offering precious promises of God to the worst off and most unlikely to receive them, according to the thinking of that (and all too often, this) day, they dangle above our heads like ripened, juicy grapes, begging to be tasted and savored. In our inability to believe they can be ours, much like the fox who proclaimed the unattainable fruit to be sour in the fable, or our unwillingness to share them with others we deem unworthy (for that would be to realize that neither are we), they remain unclaimed.
Still, Jesus continues to make the offer; open your Bible and you’ll find Him announcing that God’s odd order of things runs counter to the message of the world; there is blessing to be found by the cursed, and wisdom among the least. Beatitudes is one third of the trifecta that is “The Beatitudes Project”, a combination of story, song, and film helmed by Stu Garrard and featuring the input and inspiration of several well-known musicians, as well as representatives of each of the groups represented in Jesus’ words.
“Listen Pt 1” is a spoken word piece that ushers us into the album with an introduction to its central theme, asking us to take a moment and consider those we often ignore as we walk past them. From there, it’s on to “Oh Blessed”, a steady song that describes the kind of people Jesus was speaking of in the Beatitudes; unselfish, merciful, forgiving, and grieving. These people are blessed more than those who have everything the world cherishes. We can find solace in these promises throughout our lives, because we’re guaranteed to fall into one of those groups at one time or another. The song features a reading of the Scriptures in question. “You Will Make A Way” clings to the certainty that God prepares a path for us to walk through the darkness. He provides strength and looks beyond our desperation to see us as we are. Featuring the plaintive voices of All Sons and Daughters, this song captures the prayer of the needy as they long for the Lord. “Listen Pt 2” takes 10 seconds to remind us what we strive for amidst the fray – dignity and justice. “Carry On” tells the story of someone who’s weary and ready to give up, unable to see God nearby…until they do. He keeps urging them onward, little by little. Whether you’re the one deep in the mire or just an observer unable to ignore their pain, God wants us to continue to trust and believe in Him. The song has a hopeful feel to it, traveling as we must through our world all the way to His kingdom.
“Heaven Is Around Us” focuses our attention on our true surroundings, those which are difficult to see with the eyes. We are never so close to the kingdom of God as we are when we surrender and accept our humble station. Our King comes for all and welcomes all who accept Him. In that moment, heaven surrounds us though we remain where we are. It’s a bit louder than a song with that subject matter would be expected to be, but it has its quiet moments as well. “Let My Dreams Fly” compares two people who would seem to be very different at first glance – the privileged and the downtrodden. But essentially, we’re all humans, with needs, hopes, and prayers. Shaped by our environments, we still long for things and want to believe in them. Jazzy and slow, there’s still a childlike quality to it, emphasizing the fact that we’re all children, hoping for something big. “I Will Be Your Home”,featuring Audrey Assad, welcomes broken people to the shelter of God’s love, offering a place where we can belong. Even amidst the horrors of war, we can experience hope and life through the comfort of God. Most of the eight minute track is instrumental. With a mysterious Middle Eastern flavor that brings to mind images of the battles fought in the Holy Land, this song calls out through the ancient streets and whispers through the canyons and perhaps time itself, with a message of love. It’s especially poignant, as many do not feel safe in the land they once called their home these days. “Listen Pt 3” continues to make it plain that we don’t need to succeed to have all He promises us; He’s still with us when we have nothing.
Matt Maher delivers “Oh Mercy”, a soft track that illustrates our utter helplessness to breach the wall that separates us from the Lord. So He made His way beneath the barriers and began to make us long for Him until we called His name. We are forgiven; we are handed another chance; we are led towards the light. He is mercy personified. “Morning Light” recalls wise, kind words spoken to a lost lamb by someone who is acquainted with grief and sorrow. The comfort we give others may be the one bright spot in their lives. Amy Grant lends her voice to this soothing prodigal’s lullaby. “Undivided” contrasts the unfulfilling emptiness of religion with the fathomless depths of grace. We don’t have to hide our humanity, our sin, our scars. We can show them to God, because He wants to see us as we are. Our hearts are no longer split between what we think we ought to do and what we actually do. Our eyes are opened and we can see God in all of our circumstances. “In The Middle” invites our enemies to stop fighting and come to stand with us. If we’re honest with each other and ourselves, we can resist the urge to either do battle or run away. Clearly, what’s happening now isn’t working, so there must be something we can do.
“Make A Little Trouble” dares us to stir up the pot when the stakes are high. Popularity shouldn’t be our goal, justice and mercy should. If that requires us to step on toes and cross the lines man has drawn, so be it. The next track, “Holy Troublemakers”, continues with those who’ve accepted the challenge, raising their hands to God and praying that He’ll pour out His Spirit on the world. Instead of hate, the pure love of God will motivate our actions. Jesus himself was not above causing controversy among the religious of the day, but never once did He sin. Since He delivered us, He has set us on a mission to disturb comfort and complacency, even as we align with the unpopular and unloved, in man’s eyes. “Listen Pt 4” reminds us that we don’t need showmanship or the latest technology to deliver the message; just love and each other. “The View From Here” shows that we don’t need to understand everything about God to know Him, to find Him. He does enable us to understand things we glossed over in the past, things which were invisible to our eyes. The future may not be discernible to us, but we know that God is making the road we’re traveling. The closer we look, the easier it becomes to see with His eyes and find beautiful things in the middle of ugliness. We just need to stay the course a little longer. “Listen” combines all the previous short tracks into one, leaving us with the full message that had been spread throughout the album like morsels of bread. Becky Harding, who had read the other portions, now brings us the full message. We must hear what was said, must speak the truth in love, must bring the hope that can be found in the hard times. When we listen to others, it is to hear them, not so we can give them the answer we think is the correct one. Stand together refusing to be divided.
In addition, there are also two bonus tracks:
* “Makers Of The Peace (View From The Shepherd’s Field)”, in which Jesus offers to carry our heaviness. He is scarred, too, and knows how we long for peace. Those who strive towards ending conflict are truly blessed.
* “Oh Mercy Demo (View From The Writer’s Room)” is a less-adorned version of the earlier song. In its nakedness, it seems even more honest than before.
It’s quite an ambitious project, to be sure: take the true words of Jesus, the stories of people living in our world today, and distill them into songs that will provoke thought and worship from the disillusioned masses. This project certainly rises to the occasion; the songs that make up Beatitudes transition from one story to another, never jumping the tracks thematically. The echoes of God’s upside-down logic reach 2,000 plus years into the future to convict and inspire us to “go and do likewise”.
Released: April 21, 2017
Label: Stugiology Music
- Listen Pt 1 (1:24)
- Oh Blessed (6:45)
- You Will Make A Way (4:23)
- Listen Pt 2 (0:10)
- Carry On (4:21)
- Heaven Is Around Us (8:01)
- Let My Dreams Fly (4:29)
- I Will Be Your Home (8:00)
- Listen Pt 3 (0:26)
- Oh Mercy (4:32)
- Morning Light (5:04)
- Undivided (6:45)
- In The Middle (3:18)
- Make A Little Trouble (3:48)
- Holy Troublemakers (4:19)
- Listen Pt 4 (0:24)
- The View From Here (7:03)
- Listen (3:38)
- Makers Of The Peace (View From The Shepherd’s Field) (Bonus track) (3:31)
- Oh Mercy Demo (View From The Writer’s Room) (Bonus track) (4:33)
20 Tracks, 85:00
Buy on iTunes
More from Stu Garrard:
- Of Burdens, Birds and Stars EP (2013)
- The Stageit Sessions EP (2015)
- Have You Heard: 20th Year Anniversary (Remixed and Remastered) (2015)
Links for Stu Garrard: