The Common Good
May-June 1996

Songs of the Forgotten

by Garth Hewitt | May-June 1996

GOD'S CREATIVITY can be reflected in innumerable ways in our world,
but artists have a particular role. Artists often instinctively
sense changes in society first.

GOD'S CREATIVITY can be reflected in innumerable ways in our world, but artists have a particular role. Artists often instinctively sense changes in society first. In this way the artistic and the prophetic often go hand in hand. In the Bible there are hints that Hebrew Testament prophesy was linked with music or poetry. And, indeed, Jesus' words were often phrased in a poetic way.

On my own journey, I have a strong vocational sense of needing to tell the story of those who are forgotten. Sometimes I think of my songs as parables, sometimes as paintings, and sometimes simply as stories. Once, in Zululand near the Mozambique border, I was introduced to a blind musician called Zacariah, who chronicles the history of his people in song. In Britain, the first known Christian troubadour was Caedmon, who the Venerable Bede mentions in the sixth century as someone who traveled around with a Celtic harp and sang about the beauty of God's creation and spirituality.

I am invited by church and other groups to visit different parts of the world. Often I meet people who feel forgotten because they're in places of hunger or poverty or conflict. There I try to encourage the local Christians and peacemakers and to bring back their stories to Western societies in order to motivate people to link arms with them in the struggle for their humanity.

As an Episcopal priest, I have a particular concern for the Christian community. Too much religion is internalized, pietistic, and selfish-in contrast with the incarnational message of God coming to earth. Many worship recordings are triumphalist and ignore how personal faith relates to life and the hurts of a needy world.

In many songs I grapple with a tangible spirituality, a gospel that can be touched. On my worship album Walk the Talk, I aim, like the psalmist, to pick up some aspects of lament and pain and to include songs and prayers as a response. The album includes joyful and hopeful songs that reflect the values of the kingdom of God-of resurrection rising even within the midst of the crucifixion of struggle.

The gospel reminds us that we're part of culture, and our music or art will reflect this. I don't expect Christians to produce new art forms that look radically different, but "Christian art" should reflect an alternative viewpoint within those forms that are part of our time and our world.

GARTH HEWITT is an Episcopal priest, an organizer of the Greenbelt Festival in England, and a musician who has released numerous recordings, including Walk the Talk (Myrrh, 1993). He lives in Guildford, Surrey, England.

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