Gripping the steering wheel, I take shallow breaths. The telltale signs are there: tightened muscles, swiftly beating heart, twisting stomach. Anxiety holds me in a death grip.
I push a button and the car’s CD player whirs to life. Soft piano chords and a soothing voice transport my soul to a quiet place.
Lay down your arms,
Give up the fight,
Quiet our hearts for a little while.”
The song, “Miracle,” is the first in Sara Groves’s lastest CD, Invisible Empires. In it, Sara sings about finding peace and healing in a relationship. As in many of her songs, the lyrics are infused with personal experience and emotions. I understand and empathize, connecting with her heart as I listen to the music.
Although I’ve known of Sara’s music for years, in the past few months it has become a near-constant companion. In the midst of personal heartache, I kept Fireflies and Songs, her 2009 release, on repeat in my car’s CD player. A few weeks later, I bought Invisible Empires. Sara’s newest album presents an array of emotions and musical styles and, as usual, her lyrics dig far past the shiny surface of the Christian life.
The CD’s second track, “Obsolete,” is a poignant poem about the impact of technology on our lives and friendships.
“Are you and I an apparition flickering upon the screen?” Sara asks. Later in the song, the lyrics tie in the album title:
And I don’t know where we are
Are we passing through these wires?
Are we walking through the streets
Of invisible empires?”
As someone who feels the constant tug of technology, the pressure to keep up with endless streams of information on e-mail and social media, I understand these questions. Sara is asking if, in this world of virtual reality, we really know each other anymore. It’s a question I ask, too.
The songs “I’ll Wait” and “Open My Hands” both speak of resting in God and allowing him to order our hearts and lives. Many times, while sitting at stoplights or zipping down the freeway, I’ll sing along with “I’ll Wait” and let the words rise as a prayer of surrender:
I can take it from here
And have nowhere to go
I could take it for years
And have nothing to show
I’ll wait for You now more than ever
I see it’s true now more than ever
I’ll wait for You now.”
Echoed in these lyrics is the understanding that I cannot do anything productive in my own power — that I have to let God do for me what I cannot do for myself. And that He often asks me to wait while He works. Waiting is difficult, agonizing, and essential to spiritual growth. As I wait, it is helpful to sing along and realize I am not alone.
The song “Precious Again” is a beautiful reminder of the awe I felt in childhood when the world was new. Sara asks, “Where is the wonder?” When did I stop noticing the beauty around me, in nature and in the faces of people created in God’s image? But while the song begins with a wistful question, it journeys to a redeeming answer — an invitation to reclaim the sense of awe:
Friendship and goodwill, a sweet invitation
Kindred in spirit and eager to share
Love in familiar and long conversations
There is the wonder, there is the wonder.”
The chorus is a prayer, entreating God to continuously renew this sense of wonder about the love in our lives, asking him to “make it precious again.”
After a beautiful song based on 1 Corinthians 13 (the love chapter), Invisible Empires concludes with “Finite,” which Sara wrote in response to Chaka Khan’s 1978 hit “I’m Every Woman,” a song later recorded by Whitney Houston. The lyrics of “I’m Every Woman” proclaim a woman’s all-sufficiency:
Whatever you want,
Whatever you need,
Anything you want done, baby
I’ll do it naturally
‘Cause I’m every woman
It’s all in me.”
In “Finite,” Sara counters the idea of self-sufficiency. She writes, “I’m not every woman; it’s not all in me” and “I’m finite; I come to an end.” With humor and humility, she describes the desperation of grabbing for control yet realizing her frailty. And I relate. I agree. I nod, and sing along.
I take a deep breath as I park my car and reluctantly turn off the CD player. With musically interesting tunes and inspired lyrics, Invisible Empires is a feast for my soul and my ears. Anxiety’s grip loosens. In the beauty of Sara’s music, God gives me a glimpse of his perspective — and a taste of hope, grace, and healing.