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Upward Over the Mountain

By November 22, 2013 No Comments

Mother I made it up from the bruise on the floor of this prison 
Mother I lost it, all of the fear of the Lord I was given 
Mother forget me now that the creek drank the cradle you sang to 
Mother forgive me, I sold your car for the shoes that I gave you 

So may the sunrise bring hope where it once was forgotten 
Sons could be birds, taken broken up to the mountain 

Sitting in a theater in downtown Kansas City I experienced the power and rupture of an acoustic guitar. For nearly an hour Iron and Wine played with a full band—horns, strings, and percussion—a wonderful display of story telling and foot tapping rhythm. Suddenly, the lights went down, the band disappeared, and there was nothing but the voice of a bearded guy and a guitar. I’m not a Pentecostal… I’m not even charismatic. I’m too Nordic, too Calvinistic at the core, to speak in tongues or have miraculous encounters. Yet, there I was raptured by the simplicity of a heart felt song.  I thought I’d heard every acoustic manifestation of Iron and Wine’s music, and yet, I didn’t know this one. I’m guessing it’s autobiographic, a story of family and faith, and the journey all of us take as we leave home and forge our own way. The song is a goodbye of sorts, pleading with mother “not to worry” and to “remember” even as he announces that he’d lost “the fear of the Lord I was given.” The song dramatically ends with the singer asking if his mother remembers the night that the “dog had her pups in the pantry. There was blood on the floor and fleas on their paws and you cried ’til the morning.” 

This is the line that I can’t seem to shake. Why? What is it about a dog having pups and a mother crying that’s stuck with me weeks after the show? Maybe its trying to figure out why the mother is crying… Is she happy? Is she sad? Or are the two so intermingled they can’t be separated. Joy and grief—love and suffering—are never opposites, they’re two sides of the same coin. It’s as if you can’t experience one without setting yourself up for the other. This is how I hear this song—the joy and love that come with children, family, or any other relationship, are interwoven with grief and suffering as relationships change and temporal life slips through our grasp. In the end, however, it’s this finitude and vulnerability that make life good and meaningful. In the end it’s these experiences and encounters of love that sow the seeds of hope.

So may the sunrise bring hope where it once was forgotten


Jason Lief

Jason Lief teaches Practical Theology at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa. He served as editor of Reformed Journal for many years and was one of the original bloggers on the RJ blog. You can find more of his writing at

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