What are the ties that bind you and me? Do you ever wonder how we can stay in community with each other when there is so much in this world that feels powerful enough to tear us apart? I felt a tie strong enough to bind us last week in the pull of the tide.
To understand this tie, I need to tell you that I have just come out of a twenty-year phase of not liking the song, “Amazing Grace.” It started when I was in seminary; the song seemed so simplistic to me. As I began my career as a pastor, I saw people who didn’t know much about the depth and breath of church music, request it as a kind of default song. Songs like “What Wondrous Love” and “Tis a Gift to Be Simple” had memorable melodies and theological depth but were passed over because of the star power of “Amazing Grace.” I think I felt a bit proud of the fact that I didn’t like the song, as if I had a more discerning and sophisticated palate for music.
Skip ahead 20 years to the shore this summer with 15 members of my family on a beach to baptize my great niece, Sadie. I asked my husband, grammy-winning songwriter Marcus Hummon, to lead us in a song and he begins singing “Amazing Grace.” He knows thousands of songs and much more than I do about music. After my initial shock that he picked that song, my heart almost melted. I could see him singing, not out of wanting to do anything, but connect us. Out of love for the whole family he picked the one song he knew everyone would know and could sing. It was perfect to pick something easy and universal we could do together.
We stood on the shore and belted out the first verse and chorus of that worn out tune. While you could barely hear it above the wind and tide, you could feel how in the simplicity of love we are bound together. Theological sophistication doesn’t bind us and the injustices of the world combined with political dogmatism thrive on tearing us apart, but the powerful truth is that it is the grace washing over us that ties us to each other. I bent down into the ocean water and baptized sweet Sadie in Universal waters that bind this whole world together. The simplest acts of love we offer one another in grace and gratitude bind us together more powerfully than anything that can tear us apart.
I thought about how the song has been there, even when I didn’t like it, my whole life. I remember singing the song at camp to a James Taylor tune. I remember the version used in a play my husband wrote about missionaries in Africa. There was a time on a pilgrimage to Ecuador when we sang that sweet song followed with a version of “Hotel California”.
Amazing grace binds us with its simple message that keeps us together. Despite our differences, we are a people tied to each other in love. So we will keep singing “Amazing Grace” and we keep kneeling in the waters of grace so we can always love one another.