My sister sang at a women’s event called BRAVE at Lifegate Church in Omaha this weekend. Her part of the evening opened with this song (this isn’t her):
Just before the song, the event leader noted that the song comes from the story of Jesus walking on the water and the way Peter was called out to join him. Listening to this story again, one I’ve heard since childhood, I had to face that my own interpretation of the story might have been colored by my perfectionist tendencies and is basically wrong.
When I thought of the story where Jesus calls Peter out to join him on the stormy waters, I unconsciously judged Peter because he failed by not making it all the way on top of the water. And, granted, Jesus does say something along those lines, but only at the same time that he is lifting him up out of the water. He didn’t say, “O you of little faith” and then let Peter flail around for a while. He said it at the same time he was lifting him up.
As a performance-oriented person, I think I imagined that Peter would have been better off just staying in the boat. He had called out to Jesus as a way of proving Jesus was God. And then Peter failed. So wouldn’t it have been better if Peter had just let Jesus prove who he was for himself?
Maybe. But what if the point wasn’t whether or not Peter succeeded? What if the point was Jesus proving what kind of god he was? The kind who calls us to him and then does all the work to keep our heads above water. What if our job isn’t to succeed but to go? What if we let all the pressure of Jesus proving himself be on Jesus and not on us?
When I think about this story in this different way – by asking questions of it – I feel freer, more willing to put myself out there a little bit like Peter, less afraid of my own potential for failure and more sure of his nearness and character. So when I sing this one now, I feel BRAVE:
You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand
And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine
Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior
*words and music by Matt Crocker , Joel Houston , Salomon Lighthelm
This is the way one of my professors describes the power of a poem: It is the re-telling of a meaningful experience to a dear friend. And yet it is meant to be overheard by a crowd. The tension of those two ideas keeps the poem balanced with vulnerability as well as readability.
I see a parallel with award show acceptance speeches. It seems to me that the best speeches have a nice balance of emotion and structure (or heart and head, as I’ve heard it categorized). From last night’s Oscars, three speeches come to mind: Lupita Nyong’o (seen above in a beautiful visual depiction of what I’m attempted to analyze here), the husband-wife team who wrote “Let it Go” from Frozen, and, yes, even Matthew McConaughey. Because what I like is the tension – not the perfect balance – between a prepared and yet heart-felt response.
These are the kind of speeches I don’t like:
1. All emotion and no structure – When the winner cries or laughs to excess or simply can’t get a thoughtful word out. I’m even game for a jump or a fist pump (I see you, director Steve McQueen). But it turns me off when the winner makes no attempt at gathering themselves in order to communicate clearly when they knew there was (usually) a 1 in 5 chance they would be in that position. The poem counterpart is one that gushes on and on in abstract phrases, giving you no solid images or metaphors upon which your understanding can catch a foothold.
2. All structure and no emotion – When the winner pulls out a folded 8×10 sheet of paper and begins to read a list of names. This is what Thank You cards are for. A winner should remember that their conversation is being “overheard” and there is an unspoken agreement with that audience that you will not bore them with unrelated details. The costume designer from Australia sidestepped this pitfall by describing her “list” as a team of seamstresses currently at work on a new project. In doing that she gave me both of the things I wanted: to see her being grateful to the people who deserved it but to share it in an economical and interesting way.
3. All emotion and all structure – When the winner is Cate Blanchett. I’m not sure I can describe this one effectively, but this is when things just seem too much of both. I thought Blanchett was lovely and started off strong but then I got a little lost and felt structured and emoted out. Steve McQueen was an example of this as well. He was highly emotional but reading from a piece of paper as plain as if it had come from my ream at home. At least print it neatly on a notecard, maybe? Obviously, I can’t be satisfied, but you get the idea. These poems are just too much; the emotion and the structure seem to be at war instead of complementing one another.
My favorite kind of poem and acceptance speech is the one that seems effortless but is clearly crafted to be sublime. I don’t want to see the structure but I want to feel that it is there, holding things together and making room for beautiful expressions of emotion and truth.
What do you think? Whose speech did you love?