The best thing about ‘Gospel’ music is that distinctive rhythm that firmly sways back and forth: like an ocean caressing the shore, like lovers surrendering in exhaustion during the last dance of a well-worn dance floor, like a boat bobbing up and down on the waves. It has that characteristic of a love that draws us onwards on a hope-filled journey. Though, like that boat, we may toss back and forth on raging seas, and, like those lovers, we have our lovers quarrel with each other and with the world, we press on in confident hope and look to the horizon with joyful, smiling expectancy. This is what it means to be human.
A song that gloriously exemplifies these qualities of ‘Gospel’ music is Bob Dylan’s “When He Returns,” which first appeared in 1979. Dylan might not be everyone’s cup of tea (alas, nobody is everybody’s cup of tea in music), but this song is heart-gripping, grace-dripping poetry. And it has the blood of an “eternal perspective” running through its veins – a healthy blood, nourished by truth.
Many say this song is from Dylan’s “Christian phase,” from which he quickly departed. But, read the lyrics; how could someone who hasn’t met the Lord write something that hits the Gospel so dead on? Dylan himself is just like the rest of us: on the journey. Maybe this was one moment of freedom when he was able to “surrender his crown” and “take off [his] mask.”
If we can sway with this song, may we be able to take off our masks, let it convict us and open us up to healing, like a good medicine. Consider these lines:
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?
Surrender your crown on this blood-stained ground, take off your mask
How long can you falsify and deny what is real?
How long can you hate yourself for the weakness you conceal?
We struggle with fears, masks, believing lies and concealing weakness, and so do our brothers and sisters ‘out there’ in the world. But we place our faith (trust) in the One who is victorious! He who has conquered all that pollutes us and steals our wholeness. He who will “set up his throne… When He returns.” Others need to see and know this hope birthed in us by such a faith and the climatic love it produces.
May we be moved to prayer and proclaim a glorious ‘Amen!’ after reading these lyrics and listening to this song.