Imagine a gawky sixteen-year-old girl, one with oft-braided (otherwise frizzy) hair, untanned complexion betraying a love of reading and music and speech and drama (but not sports). She was fine being out of touch with the “popular” sect; for 1988, her musical tastes weren’t what one would call average. Not particularly caring for typical radio fare, she was fonder of lesser-known artists who were part of the CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) scene. Sure, there was Amy Grant, whose music she did adore, but another artist had been on her radar since she was in sixth grade.
Sixth grade Angie enjoyed it when guests would stay at the family’s home, often those giving concerts or speaking at church. Many were memorable, but none quite like their visitor of ‘84. Rich Mullins had dinner at the Lyons home, and he even went with her father to buy a new pair of sneakers. He also played a bit on the family piano, which never quite sounded as nice in coming years, though they certainly tried. …this player seemed to have charmed fingers, and he certainly had a way with words. Musical poetry of an almost magical sort.
But what’s with the 16-year-old Angie? More than three years after having Rich as a houseguest, she was able to attend a Rich Mullins concert, one with his second album, “Pictures in the Sky.” Her favorite song of Rich’s, though, was one from his first album. The final track on the second side. “Elijah” was beautiful, with a gently building piano accompaniment and words that just painted pictures of the way life often is, seemingly futile in the midst of beauty and pain. Her junior year in high school, Angie was preparing for a large project in English class, a photographic essay. A scrapbook of sorts, the said essay was to take poetry or lyrics and bring them to life through photos and illustrations from magazines and such. The text Angie wished to use: “Elijah.”
Enough of the third person… thinking back twenty-five or so years, here is the rest of the story from that Autumn 1987 evening. Attending the nearby concert with family and friends, I brought along a pen and paper, not certain it would matter. But after the concert, my family went up to chat with Rich at the edge of the stage. And 16-year-old me had the guts to ask an awkward question. “Um… Rich, I’m going to be putting together a photo essay of ‘Elijah’… would you write a little about the song for me, why you wrote it? Just a sentence for the opening of my essay.” I had heard that he had written the song for his grandmother, so I expected to see something along those lines. Rather, there was something much deeper, the reason this high school assignment has a special place on my bookshelf.
There are those gaps in our lives that have been created by the lack of heroes – people who have integrity and courage – people who inspire those things in us. I have been blessed enough to have met a few and this song is a tribute to the desire they have awakened in me – the desire to be a person with integrity
This was the third concert of Rich that I attended. There were fifteen total, from 1984 to 1997. The most memorable was his final Indiana concert in August 1997, but I’d have to say this 1987 one is also treasured in a special way. Today, September 19, marks fifteen years… I recall that September day in 1997 when my younger brother called to let me know of news he had just heard on the radio. “Rich Mullins died in a car accident tonight…” I don’t remember the rest of the conversation, but I do recall what I did next. I walked out the back door of our house, leaned against a large oak tree, and I wept. Then I looked up – the stars were so bright – and I softly sang the final line of that photo essay song, “And when I look back on the stars, it’ll be like a candlelight in Central Park, and it won’t break my heart to say goodbye.”
My heart did feel like it was breaking that evening, but I have said ‘goodbye’ as my faith has continued to be challenged through Rich’s music and ministry. He wrote that song as a tribute to those who helped him become a man of integrity and courage, and I continue to thank this talented musician, writer, poet, ragamuffin for teaching us the same. What touched the 16-year-old still reaches this 40-year-old… thank you, Rich.
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Here is the photo essay… before the days of PowerPoint or the World Wide Web, magazines and rubber cement were my most valuable tools here. And scissors, markers and construction paper, of course.