Each year, on Ash Wednesday and during Lent, I focus attention on a singer-songwriter or album from the popular culture of my lifetime in which I find echoes of the Lenten journey.
This year, we devote ourselves to listening to Mary Chapin Carpenter’s superb intensely personal album from 2012, Ashes And Roses, which describes her own journey “from night into day,” as she processed a life-threatening illness, a divorce, and the death of her father. Grief became her constant companion in that season of her life, and the songs that sprang from her sad experience are insightful and moving.
Grief can annihilate our magical thinking. That is the point of one of the album’s finest meditations: “The Swords We Carry.” The superficial nature of many of our “beliefs” gets laid bare. The “swords” we’ve used to guard ourselves whenever reality threatened us prove useless when it finally breaks through and overwhelms us. We learn the lament, the cry of those whose easy faith is confronted by pain never before imagined. Anfechtung leaves us speechless, defenseless, lost.
Back when I believed in luck
And stones and crosses
I’d put a coin found on the street
Towards cosmic losses
And passing graveyards in a car
Tracing every falling star
Luck was never very far from childhood causes
And pennies kissed with wishes arced into the fountains
And time was said to heal all pain
And hope move mountains
And all that could befall a heart
Or break this perfect life apart
The swords we carried could not do a thing about them
Away I am going, away I am gone…
Ghosts and angels are but memories and visions
And revenants are out there taking up positions
But back when I believed in you
You’d raise the sun and set the moon
How could I help but love you holy as religion
Away you are going, away you are gone…
But back when I believed in luck and words as spoken
I found a lie could break and split the world clean open
And grief became my company
Pain so deep I could not breathe
All betrayal is like dying in slow motion
Is it luck that makes us shout or makes us whisper?
Is it luck that makes us wise or turns us bitter?
With our maps that point true north
With our vows we sally forth
The swords we carried can’t protect us from each other
Away we are going, away we are gone…