This song story is not like the kind you'll usually read. This story doesn't include a dark night of the soul followed by divine revelations he moves you to tears. There's no majestic scene inspiring spontaneous worship of God's majesty. There's no lament turned to rejoicing. Those are all real and possible precursors to great songs, but this is a very different kind of story, but I've learned through it is no less important and worth sharing.
Let's set some context. As an artist I know that there are times when inspiration just shows-up. I can't explain why it happens, exactly where it comes from, or certainly how to achieve it on demand. I can only acknowledge that when it occurs, its magical. You know it, and it's a gift to be thankful for. But being an artist is more than waiting for inspiration, it also requires skill, practice, and the will to put these to work to say what needs to be said. This is that kind of story.
True art has to be an honest expression of our heart. Most would readily agree with this. However, where I think we sometimes limit ourselves is in believing that this means ALL our artistic work has to originate in us. That is the pressure under which many of us ultimately buckle. The fact is, inspiration can come from everyone and everything around us. Something we read, something we hear, something we see or experience. Everything. What we do as artists in fact, is often less about developing ideas and more about interpreting them in ways that resonate with us and others in new ways. At its best, this kind of work often ends-up illuminating things that others might miss.
"One Love" originates in this place, outside my comfort-zone. Rather than coming without warning and seemingly out of pure inspiration, this song was an intentional work born out of need. My home church was embarking on a deep exploration on the topic of Christian community, a coordinated six-week effort encompassing the Sunday messages and small group ministries. Naturally, we wanted our musical worship to draw people into the topic as well. Looking at the teaching materials planned, I didn't see many obvious matches in the commercial music readily available. A few reasonable choices, but nothing that captured the essence of our theme directly. So, in response I set out to write a song for this topic specifically. At the time, this was a new way for me to approach songwriting. I'd written commercial instrumental tracks before, but had never been called to write lyrics "to-spec," so to speak. This would be a new challenge.
The approach I took was two-fold. First of all, I set out to get to know the study material that had been written for small groups in order to thoroughly understand the focus of the program. Next, I dove into the scripture referenced and related to the topic. This took some time for sure, but it was indispensable in developing a full understanding, and ultimately passion, for the topic and what it meant for our community. Since my goal was a song that could be used for multiple weeks, I wanted to write something that would highlight the theme broadly. In the end, passages from Matthew, Acts, Romans and Ephesians proved most influential.
I make no claim that this song is anything particularly special. But it was useful and effective in creating a musical connection to the topic. And as we know, songs are sticky. They are often what we take with us out of the service and into our week. When the pastor teaching the series first heard the song in rehearsal his comment was, "that song puts in three minutes what it takes me an hour to say!"
In reflecting on the process, I've realized that it's exactly the concept Jesus spoke about in Luke 6:45, "the mouth speaks what the heart is full of." I was filling my heart in hopes of having something worth saying. Another way to see it perhaps, is giving the Spirit raw material to use within you.
Though initially born of intent and study, the actual process of writing was ultimately consistent with how I'd worked in the past. Words and music came simultaneously, and relatively quickly in first draft form. As often happens for me, the lyrics continued to evolve in the weeks that followed as I learned the song, rehearsed it, and used it live. (In fact, after not playing it for a couple of years I did it recently and STILL revised one line. Creative license ;)
I share this story to illustrate a point I think is very important for those of us who fancy ourselves artists. Inspiration sometimes just comes, and it's a beautiful experience when it happens. But that's not the only path to creativity. To practice art as a craft means developing skills and habits that create the fertile ground within us from which inspiration can germinate. It doesn't happen by accident. Perhaps most often, it's the result of intentional choices to learn and grow as people. After all, how else are we going to really even have something worth saying?