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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Songstories 33: You Are a Sacrifice (1987, NALR, from "Mystery")

Since Trinity Sunday is this week, I thought I'd write about one of my more clearly trinitarian songs. Though I wrote it 27 or 28 years ago, I think it still stands up lyrically, and though it was never anthologized in a hymnal, it's a sentimental favorite of ours that always gets a good reaction when we are able to sing it in concert.

We were visiting, or passing through, St. Louis in the early summer of 1986 (or so!), probably heading to an NPM or some other church musical event, and staying with friends in the area. I very clearly remember spending time at Terry's house, on the porch, with a guitar, and puzzling over this tune. It is quite possible that it was even the days before Trinity Sunday, which is why I was thinking this particular song through. What I do recall is that whatever Sunday was that weekend, we sang it publicly for the first time, having worked out the Simon-and-Garfunkel two-part harmony and little guitar riff that give the song its character.

By now you know that I'm pretty much obsessed with the concepts from our faith that are imbedded in this text: the kenosis of God who pours self out into creation and into Christ, the agape of God that can seem to be death to us, but is the fullness of creative and abundant life, and the gift of the Holy Spirit that animates the body of Christ and makes agape love possible for us. Thanks to the classes at Corpus Christi Center with John Gallen, I was also thinking about sacrifice in new ways (to me) that would soften the ground for the day some years later that Richard Fragomeni would sow from the philosophy of Rene Girard. "Sacrifice" is a Latin compound that means "to do a holy thing," or "to make (a thing) holy," and "You Are a Sacrifice" tries to celebrate that the self-gift that is agape and sacrifice are one and the same.

The lyric of the song has three verses, each expressing an aspect of these realities that relates to one of the persons of the trinity. The refrain is a prayer, reminiscent of John the Baptizer's saying, associated with his feast at the summer solstice, that "he must increase and I must decrease":
Accept our fading light that Christ more brightly blaze!
With Jesus, receive us,
A living sacrifice of praise.
The repeated lines, varying a little from stanza to stanza but echoing because of the finished/undiminished rhyme, are a paean to agape, and our faith that somehow the more complete our self-gift is, the more unselfishly we risk pouring ourselves out for others, the fuller life becomes. We are not only undiminished by love, but, startlingly, enriched, made fuller, more human, more alive. This is not because of anything we ourselves are capable of, but because we are created with the breath of God, and divine love dwelling within us enables our giving, forming us ever more perfectly into the image of Christ.

That's the little story of "You Are a Sacrifice." The CD is out of print, but the entire song is on SoundCloud for you to enjoy. Maybe one of these days we'll re-record it, and see if it strikes a chord, as it were, a generation later. What do you think?

You Are a Sacrifice
music and lyrics by Rory Cooney

Father, all we have is from you.

Universes you have made
For the joy of giving to Christ,
Who gives them back to you.
And at the finish,
You are undiminished.
You are a sacrifice of love.

Ref. Accept our fading light, that Christ more brightly blaze!
With Jesus, receive us,
A living sacrifice of praise.

And Christ did not imagine

Glory was a thing to grasp.
Rather, in the image of you,
He emptied himself.
And at the finish,
He is undiminished.
He is a sacrifice of love. Ref.

Your Spirit lives in us to show

That life is to be shared,
And the finest love
Is life that's given away.
And at the finish,
We are undiminished,
We are yours, a living sacrifice of love. Ref.

Copyright © 1987 Epoch/NALR. Transferred 2004 to Rory Cooney. All rights reserved.

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