I have been listening to Mumford & Sons’ new album Babel. Its deep biblical allusions and challenging lyrics about relationships and redemption invite repeated listenings. There’s enough in the album to keep my attention for a while.
Two songs in particular have my mind’s eye right now: “Broken Crown” and “Ghosts That We Knew.” They are haunting and honest. They are painful to hear and embrace, yet they are laden with grace.
“Broken Crown” begins with the lead singer Marcus Mumford alluding to God’s choosing Isaiah for service (Is. 6.1-8) where a hot coal touches Isaiah’s mouth to cleanse him and prepare him for service.
The song begins, “Touch my mouth and hold my tongue/I’ll never be your chosen one” and continues to say “The pull on my flesh was just too strong.” He will choose his own way and not submit to another’s favor for his life.
Like a Greek chorus, to define his selfishness, the whole band joins in to say, “I will not speak of your sin/there was a way out for him.”
But Mumford continues to channel the one who refuses to submit to another. In building intensity, he announces his rebellion, declares his own choices and dares the chorus to speak of grace.
It is violent, abrasive and painful. It embodies his selfish choices. In the end he sings, “In this twilight our choices seal our fate.” Broken Crown reminds us of how badly wrong our lives can go when we refuse the grace of others.
As much as “Broken Crown” confronts us with the refusal of grace, “Ghosts That We Knew” embraces it.
Anyone who has been in a relationship for a long period of time knows the ghosts that haunt relationships. There are the unfaithful ghosts of broken promises, failed dreams and bad choices. Like unwelcome guests they linger around the edges of our lives, refusing to leave.
What we learn, though, is these ghosts have no power in the presence of grace. Grace leads us back to “turn south from that place.”
Mumford sings: “So give me hope in the darkness that I will see the light…. I will hold on as long as you like/just promise me we’ll be all right.”
Eloquently, laden with grace, he sings into the face of the unfaithful ghosts that haunt our lives:
But the ghosts that we knew made us black and blue
But we will live a long life
And the ghosts that we knew will flicker from view
And we’ll live a long life.
What we learn from life is the ghosts that haunt us never want to go away. We can choose, though, to cling to hope and hold each other until we find one day we have lived a long life together.
We can choose the things we want, take our own road and do a very fine job messing up our lives. We can, also, choose to ignore the ghosts, cling to each other while those ghosts flicker from view and live long lives together.
Grace is so much better. Grace is so exquisitely sweet. Grace repairs the broken crowns and chases all the ghosts away.
I will take grace any day.