I remember when I was given a copy of A Liturgy, A Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band for Christmas in 1993. I couldn’t wait to pop it into my cassette player. To be honest, I didn’t really know what a liturgy was. And I had no idea what a ragamuffin was. But I knew who Rich Mullins was. So I was pretty excited.
The album did not disappoint. The instruments were amazing. And the lyrics had a beauty and depth that was absent from so much music in the early 90s. I’ll readily admit that I didn’t exactly understand some of the songs like How to Grow Up Big and Strong at first. But entries like Hold Me Jesus, and Creed, and Land of My Sojourn – they spoke to me.
They still speak to me.
I mean, listen to these lyrics from Hold Me Jesus. Rich had a way of voicing what your heart was crying out.
I saw Rich Mullins in concert a few years later at the now-infamous “She’s not my girlfriend!” installment of the Ichthus Music Festival of 1996. I don’t remember many details from the concert, other than a few “postcard memories”* He was barefoot. I remember being amazed at the sound that came out of his dulcimer as he played. He told engaging, sometimes funny, always poignant stories.** He sang Sing Your Praise to the Lord, which he wrote. It was originally made popular by Amy Grant, although Rich smirked and said that she had messed it up when she recorded it.
He sang the song because he had just made a new recording of the song for his greatest hits album called Songs. So, of course, he promoted this upcoming album while he was on stage at Ichthus. So this concert was a greatest hits concert. And that was pretty awesome.
Fast forward three months…
During the waning days of my Summer on staff at Crater Lake Camp at Philmont Scout Ranch, I took a day to hike through the ranch, visiting some of the unstaffed camps that I had never visited. While I was sitting in a beautiful meadow, I sat down and soaked in the beauty of the creation around me. It was a powerful, memorable moment of worship.
When it was finally time to return to my cabin at Crater Lake, I popped my Rich Mullins Liturgy cassette into my Walkman and started to hike through the meadow. I found myself marching to Creed‘s memorable dulcimer opening, in awe at the creation around me and the amazing talent I was listening to.
Ever since leaving marching band, I’ve fought the urge to walk to the beat of the music I’m listening to. During high school commencement, I intentionally walked off the beat when we walked in to Pomp and Circumstance. But when I heard the driving beat of Creed while I was caught up in the beauty of the creation that surrounded me, I couldn’t help myself. I marched right out of that meadow. It was such a powerful, memorable moment for me. One that’s almost impossible to fully explain.
“Man,” I said to myself. “I need to buy that greatest hits albums as soon as I get back home.”
And I did.
I was not disappointed. I knew most of the songs. A few of them were new to me, though. But I instantly loved every song that was on it.
My “Cloud of Witnesses”
He was no Saint. He was a sinner redeemed by grace. Like an arrow pointed towards heaven, he continually reminded us of God’s unfathomable, unending, undefeatable love. His message has helped shape me into who I am. He is part of my “cloud of witnesses,” challenging and encouraging me to carry on.
On days like today, the twentieth anniversary of the crash that took Rich’s earthly life and ushered him into the presence of the Almighty, our songs sound a little hollow. The light seems a little dimmer. Because a man like Rich Mullins only comes around once in a while. And he left some pretty big shoes to fill. He also left a legacy of joy and compassion and praise. I am part of that legacy. So are countless others.
So I weep as I remember what was. I weep as I dream about what could have been. But in the same moment, I smile and long for the day when my Deliverer comes. Because I know that my Deliverer is standing by. And as Rich so beautifully said, “It won’t break my heart to say goodbye.” Because we’ll be where we’ve been longing for:
That’s what I believe. So that’s how I live. Hopefully I’m living as an arrow pointed towards heaven, following Rich’s example. Because, as Rich so beautifully stated, “I believe what I believe. It’s what makes me what I am. I did not make it. No, it is making me.”
Every day. It’s making me.
Thank you, Rich. Thank you.
*That’s what my dad has always called them. Little flashes of memories, kind of like the front of a postcard. Kind of like a brief snapshot.
**Andrew Peterson carries on this legacy today. And he does an amazing job.