I was reminded this morning that today is the nineteenth anniversary of Rich Mullins’ death. As one of contemporary Christian music’s earliest pioneers, and a unique one in his own right, Rich Mullins means many things to many people. Both his music and his witness remain something of a course correction for many of us looking to live upon the way of Jesus.
I actually didn’t start listening to his music until after his death, and only because my Mom wanted me to listen to Christian music that wasn’t just Carman. In November of 1997, for my birthday probably, my Mom gave me two CDs: Steven Curtis Chapman’s Greatest Hits and Rich Mullins’s Songs. Both albums are fantastic and most of their songs are ingrained in my brain. But the song that went deepest is the song Sometimes by Step, written by both Rich Mullins and his friend Beaker. Its chorus is still frequently sung by church congregations throughout the world; coincidentally ours sang it yesterday. For me, however, the song is special because of a story I wish to share.
Not long after I learned the song, I took a high school class trip to Washington, D.C. We were staying at a hotel in Falls Church, VA. One morning before our tour buses left for the city, I walked to a nearby Seven Eleven to buy water or something. When I rounded a corner wall, I halted. A group (gang?) of bikers were hanging out in front of the store. I thought about turning around, but action movies had taught me they would only chase after me; so I kept going like everything was cool, walked right by them, and into the store. It was the same scene in there. Big guys wearing spike-studded leather. Without purchasing anything, I decided to leave. As I made my way across the parking lot, about to round the corner wall, I heard a high-pitch whistle. Turning around, two large guys were taking slow steps in my direction. My heartbeat rapidly quickened, my eyes widened, and my body froze. The chorus to Sometimes by Step suddenly started playing in my head. I quietly hummed the words. Like a prayer, the words steadied by mind; I turned around and kept walking back towards the hotel. The song kept playing in my mind for weeks, and it still remains prayerfully active in my heart today.
Looking back, I don’t know if I was really in any actual danger, but the fear was real. It was a paralyzing breathlessness. But through Rich’s song, God expanded my lungs with His holy breath to move me into and through the fear. Like a hammered dulcimer, God struck His rhythms into my rigid state. As I now listen to the song playing while I write, I’m gratefully reminded again how delighting in the Lord shakes out the dust caked up in our souls and points us towards the way of worship.
Rich’s music and witness remain for us all, not just as “an arrow pointing to heaven”, but as a reassurance that though we all may falter in our steps, we shall never do so beyond our Father’s reach.