S3:E4 – Song and Story: Gone Too Long

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Last Friday, I released a new song called “Gone too long”. And I want to talk a little bit about it this week. This can be a sort of story-behind-the-song episode. But as much as this song talks about specific instances of missing places, people, and closeness with the Lord, it has also come to be about a vague sense of distance and yearning that I don’t exactly know how to describe.

My friend Amy Lee, who has been a guest on this podcast several times, introduced me to a word this week. It’s a Greek word called splagchnizomai (splawnk-NITZ-oh-my). This verb is used of the Father in the Prodigal Son story Jesus tells; when the Father sees his lost son far down the road finally heading home, the Father’s heart “goes out to him”. Splagchnizomai is sometimes also translated as “filled with love and compassion”. Literally, it’s a word that describes a kind of aching and burning in your gut, a kind of deeply felt, bodily lovesickness. Thanks for pointing out this word, Amy!

When Jesus wants to tell us a story about how our Father feels about us, this is the word he chooses. The Father sees us a long way off, and his gut burns with compassionate longing for us to be near, to be home again with him. We’ve been gone too long. If that’s how God feels about us and if “deep calls unto deep”, it makes sense to me that a corresponding, incessant ache would tug at us from within too. With that said, let’s walk together through this new song. Verse one goes like this:

I’ve been gone too long

And I’m beginning to feel it

I miss the field beyond the porch

And the western facing fence

Where the sun flares like a robin

When his breast is full of song

I am weary of the roaming

Cause I’ve been gone too long

There are two chairs set against the back of the house where I live with my brother here in Mississippi. One is a chair that used to sit on my Grandmother Mal’s back porch, and the other is a new chair that happens to be identical to the kind that used to sit on my Grandmother Clark’s front porch. Somehow the chairs themselves invite me to take a load off and feel the sap of past generations move slowly through the family tree. But here my brother Sam and I sit many mornings and evenings when the weather is nice. This porch faces West, and over a cedar plank fence (which is in a terrible state of affairs, which we don’t mind), lies a large field occasionally mown and rolled into big hay bales. We watch the birds and squirrels in the mornings, and in the evenings we watch the sun “Flare like a robin when his breast is full of song.”

There are more beautiful spots in the world to sit and watch birds and sunsets that I could ever count, but sometimes there’s a certain chair, a certain porch, a particularly shabby cedar fence that you long for. I remember coming home from a three month tour a few years back, and for the first week or so I felt like I just needed to walk around and get to know my own home again. Every little corner and knick-knack deserved eye contact and some work of re-acquaintance. I had been gone too long.

The second verse of the song says,

I’ve been gone too long

And I miss the people’s faces

When they stand to pass the peace

When we bow beneath the mercy

And I am tired of the race

Of my heart from place to place

I want to linger slow in song

Cause I’ve been gone too long

I know for some people passing the peace in church is their least favorite part of the liturgy. I get that. I am definitely an introvert. I won’t lie about the fact that I sometimes choose the longer way through a building to avoid having to meet people, and that I ignore phone calls somewhere close to 100% of the time, just because I don’t feel that I have the energy to make contact with another human being.

At the same time, I long for deep connection. I feel that splagchnizomai – that burning in my gut when my heart ‘goes out to’ others yearning for their presence. I long to discover myself situated in a family, with a place in a story that is larger than me. I’ve mentioned before on this podcast the concept of strandedness, and I ache to be woven into a fabric of meaning, mutual affection, narrative, and fruitful interweaving. Worship, in the words of Walt Wangerin, Jr., “weaves a world around me”, recontextualizes me when I feel that my life belongs nowhere and to no one. Worship also reminds me that if my life doesn’t belong to someone, it might as well not even belong to me. I want to sing and to be sung, to listen and speak, I want to linger slow in song, when I’ve been gone too long.

Next, the bridge of this song says,

And maybe it sounds too simple

But it’s the simple things I miss the most

Like the faces of my friends over dinner

How the laughter washes over us

The bridge to this song comes from a very specific moment, maybe 10 years ago, when I was living with some friends, Abbye and Jeff Pates, in Memphis, TN. One night after having cooked and eaten together in our shared home, the Malcomb House, we were all in the kitchen laughing and talking and washing the dishes together. Now, have you ever experienced, in the midst of a particularly sweet moment, the sensation of time stopping? Everything freezes as you seem to step back from the situation and see it as from the outside, with an overwhelming awareness of its beauty? These are golden moments, aren’t they? God’s goodness and presence, often in the simplest of moments, can fill that moment with a transcendent glory, breaking and filling our hearts simultaneously. There’s no use in demanding these kinds of things, they are a grace; but when I’ve been gone too long, it means I’ve not tended to the sensitivity needed to receive the appearances of that grace in this world.

The last verse says,

I do not close the shade at night

I like the sun to wake me slow

Once the birds have shook the night off

The dawn makes coffee steam glow gold

Then I sink in grandad’s chair

To read the never-fading words

When I can’t find the room to pray in

I know I’m gone too long

Lastly, we come back to sunlight upon the world, birdsong, and places of encounter with the slow-flowing sap of our family tree. The night comes, but it also goes; the gracious light appears within coffee steam turned gold, old chairs, and ultimately in the words that come from the same mouth whose Word established this world. There are those things that endure forever.

Have I been gone too long? Has the way to that holy meeting place that I once knew like the back of my hand, been forgotten? Have I been gone too long? Have I hidden my heart so long from God that I don’t even know where it is any more? Maybe if I’ve been gone too long, the burning ache in my gut can itself be like a prayer that hovers out from the lips of birds, sunsets, old chairs, the faces at my church, and the Scriptures like a slow song that lingers over my life.

That lingering song is an invitation to be quickened for the dance of life with God, to see more beauty than I have eyes to see right now, it is the Father’s grace looking down the road for us, the burning ache of splagchnizomai in the gut of God – as his heart “goes out to us” and as ours “goes out to him”.

The post S3:E4 – Song and Story: Gone Too Long appeared first on Matthew Clark.

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