Rich Mullins’ Musical Legacy May Include Drawing Catholics and Protestants a Little Closer

There’s more that rises on the prairie than the wind.” These words still rise in my heart when the majesty of the natural world lifts it. They’re from “If I Stand,” a 1988 release by Rich Mullins and Steve Cudworth.

Jars of Clay covered “If I Stand” a decade later on a tribute album released a year after Mullins’ tragic death. In 2014,  folksinger Jess Ray recorded it.   She gave an achingly beautiful performance of “If I Stand” at the recent CCM tribute concert in honor of the 20th year since Mullins’ passing.

Clearly, Rich Mullins is not forgotten by Christian musicians of a certain caliber (my favorite among them is Andrew Peterson) who’ve been touched by the ragamuffin’s authenticity, his poetry and his prophetic challenges to the contemporary church.

Mullins’ legacy is also honored in “The Joy of Jesus,” a new release by Catholic artist Matt Maher, Third Day’s Mac Powell and Nashville singer Ellie Holcomb. This video offers further footage of Mullins himself to view as the song unfolds.

“The Joy of Jesus” is a previously unrecorded Rich Mullins song. According to this Gospel Music Association release,  Mullins’ publisher Randy Cox discovered the rough demo version and today it serves as the song’s introduction.

Since posting Grant Me the Grace to Hurt Like Rich Mullins, I’ve been cheered to hear -I hope I would leave a legacy of joy - a legacy of real compassion. Because I think there is a great joy in real compassion. I don't think that you can know joy apart from caring deeplyfrom others whose contact with Rich Mullins’ music led them, as it did me, to a deeper walk with Christ. Some have commented on Mullins’ interest in Catholicism, which influenced my own spiritual journey and led, in part, to my reception into the Catholic Church over a decade ago.  It wasn’t until after I became Catholic, however, that I read that just before he died in 1997 Mullins also had plans to enter the ancient Church.

The fact that his desire was not fulfilled may in fact help keep paths of fellowship open for Catholic and Protestant fans of Mullins’ music. “I think every denomination wanted to claim Rich,” Andy Gullahorn joked at the CCM concert after a delivering a soulful performance (with wife Jill Phillips) of  Mullins’ eucharistic song “Peace.”

Viewing this outpouring of appreciation, one can see that Mullins connected profoundly with both Evangelical and Catholic musicians.

About ten years ago,  Matt Maher became a new, unexpected connection with Mullins for me when I learned that he had worked with Rich Mullins and even played the part of Ivory, the saloon piano player in Canticle of the Plains, Mullins’ musical setting St. Francis of Assisi in the American southwest. Maher, cast by Tom Booth, had the role in a production of Canticle at St. Timothy Catholic Community church in Mesa, Arizona. The better known, Evangelical production of Canticle of the Plains (still available on CD) features DC Talk’s Kevin Max in Ivory’s role.

Matt Maher shares memories of working with Mullins at the beginning of a talk available from the Augustine Institute, “That They May All Be One.” Here, Maher shares how Mullins’ deep commitment to Christ impressed him. Maher also shares his own passion that Catholics and Protestants may come together in fellowship. In beautiful vulnerability Maher reveals his longing for greater heartfelt unity among Christian believers. This mission is influenced not only by Rich Mullins, but much closer to home.  Maher, a devout Catholic, is married to a devout Evangelical.

519JZZTgX6L._AC_US218_Mullins was also friends with veteran Catholic recording artist Tom Booth, who encouraged Maher in his early career. The song “Nothing Is Beyond You” was in fact co-written with Booth. Two versions of this song appear on The Jesus Record, a dual album released ten months after Mullins’ passing.

“Nothing Is Beyond You” is a musical rendering of Psalm 139, a contemplative searching of God’s love and awareness of every soul. Tom Booth’s recording of the song appears on Spirit & Song – By Request.

The CCM tribute concert is a gem from start to finish, but I was struck with a special joy 58 minutes in when Sarah Hart (“Better than a Hallelujah”) took the stage and related that she met Rich Mullins not long before his death.

The introduction came through her husband, who worked in the Christian music industry. “This is Sarah, hey–she’s Catholic,” he’d quipped when he introduced them to each other. Mullins excitedly responded, “Really?” And then he sat with Hart and “began peppering” her with questions, “like he wanted to know me, and he wanted to know about my faith.”  Rich loved people the way Christ loved people, she added.

51um92hAUuLWhen they were about to part, Mullins reached into his bag, grabbed a book and said, “I want you to have this.”

Rich Mullins gave Sarah Hart his personal copy of G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, the classic exploration of Christian truth Chesterton penned in 1908. A Catholic convert, Chesterton was an eloquent and joyful defender of the faith. Orthodoxy was one of Rich Mullins’ favorite books.

The Catholic and Protestant artists now coming together in Mullins’ honor give me hope that the ragamuffin’s spiritual legacy may include improved connections among all Christians through music.

That indeed would honor the prayer of Christ on the night he died: That they may all be one.

Christians fail all the time in realizing the will of God made clear in this prayer. But perhaps we can allow Rich Mullins’ love of Christ and his friendship with all Christians to encourage us to keep reaching out to each other in the Spirit of unity and peace.

Of course, we will want to dialog about the things that still divide us. I’d love every Christian to discover the depth and beauty in the Church I know as home, to meet Christ in full communion there. But following Rich Mullins’ example, I want to know and love all people the way Christ did.

And I want to savor the fellowship of all who embrace the living Savior and the  ancient Creed, while together we all journey Home.

Sparrowfare’s reflection on the 20th anniversary of Rich Mullins’ passing: Grant Me the Grace to Hurt Like Rich Mullins.

On the Word on Fire blog:  Books that Rocked My World:  G.K. Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy” by Tod Worner.

My preorder of Matt Maher’s of new album Echoes is on the way.  Can’t wait.

Star Trek:  Discovery seems promising after viewing the first episode.  Fans of the Star Trek series may be interested in the Netflix special, The Truth is in the Stars and its exploration of how science fiction and science fact influence each other and in Sparrowfare’s review about the show’s inescapable religious questions in The Truth Is in the Stars or Is Faith the Final Frontier?

Photo by Thibaut Marquis on Unsplash.

Coming soon: “Fascinating Facts about Sigrid Undset, Part 3.” Undset’s years in America (a secret assignment from Eleanor Roosevelt, friendship with Dorothy Day and Willa Cather) and her return to postwar devastation in Norway.  

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