The sacred sneaks up on us everywhere. It happened to me, when a recent, seemingly routine, political stop bowled me over with a reminder of what an undeserved honor it is to be able to live as a Christian in the world today. (And what a critical responsibility it is to actually do that: to pray to be who we say we are.)
My surprise came at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C. Another day, another conference. I have been there more times than I could try to document at this point over the years. It’s where Mitt Romney dropped out last time around. It’s where controversies have been born and flames have been fanned. Here we were again. The aforementioned Romney was there, as were Rick Perry and Rick Santorum: most of the current Republican contenders for their party’s presidential nomination. And, as it happened, this time I was stuck working on a Friday night after a long week. But this night, it was sacramental.
The press was focused on Perry vs. Romney (I stand before you guilty): on the recent comments of a preacher who was talking theology out of Sunday school at best, bigotry at worst. But a country-music star turned my head. To Christ.
With talent comes responsibility, as the parable teaches us. And Collin Raye, known best for his string of No. 1 country hits in the ’90s, appears to be taking it seriously.
On his new album, His Love Remains, he debuts an original song, Undefeated, that he co-wrote with his daughter, Brittany Bell:
You fill my cup when I’m used up and poured out,
You are my light; you make things right.
So I stand undefeated, undefeated.
I know I so often doubt you,
But you don’t turn away when I’m about to.
My anger builds within and crowds me out.
You let go with mercy I can’t live without.
When war comes ’round, you stand my ground.
As I fall, so mistreated,
You heal these wounds.
Unseal my tomb,
And I rise undefeated.
I didn’t expect to be thinking “Eucharistic feast” and “Resurrection” at the Omni Shoreham that night, but there I was.
And isn’t that where our minds and hearts and souls should always be? Resting in the One who would give himself to us every day, if we’d receive him?
Raye was 23 when he converted to Catholicism. He was born into a Southern Baptist family in Arkansas and raised in Georgia; he recalls he wanted “more” and found it when he went to Mass with a couple who would come to his gigs. He asked them if he could join them after seeing a crucifix on the woman’s necklace.
You can’t help but think God was giving him exactly what he would need (and I’m not dissuaded from the impression, listening to his new song I Get What I Need, which is, again, about faith). In 1985, complications from a premature delivery of their son, Jacob, put his wife, Connie, in a coma for seven months. She would recover, even live to be the grandmother of Haley Marie Bell, who died in April 2010 at the age of 9 after a lifelong struggle with an undiagnosed neurological disorder.
Undefeated is the story of how he survived losing that dear girl, Brittany’s daughter. Faith in Christ saw and sees him through. He talked about Haley in his 2008 song She’s With Me, which starts out bragging a little about how blessed he is to be seen with her, even as others don’t understand, seeing only a burden. He’d love for others to understand, so they, too, would treasure such gifts, rather than seek to eliminate them:
I know just what heaven looks like when I see that perfect face,
For no other mortal heart could be so fair.
I, myself, so weak and weary, so imperfect as a man.
How could I be the one you chose to care for our girl?
Never done a single deed to earn the right to share her light.
Though it’s such a painful road we walk each day, Lord, you have your ways, this I pray.
It’s his hope that God, in his mercy, will let him see her again. And maybe she can put in a good word. He sings that prayer: “On the day I stand before you, she’ll stand right by my side. When you look upon me, head hung down in shame, I’ll feel the blame; she’ll look at me. And then she’ll speak, in that precious voice: ‘Don’t worry ’bout him, my Lord, ’cause, you see, he’s with me.’”
With a picture of his granddaughter and rosary beads lying on top of the lyrics from another song from the CD, How Beautiful, Raye dedicates His Love Remains to Haley, “who now resides with the Holy Trinity.”
“I can’t wait to be with you again,” he writes to her. “For all eternity! Please tell the Lord that I hope this piece of work pleases him.”
On the album, Raye also sings familiar hymns and faith-filled songs, including Amazing Grace and How Great Thou Art. He sings too: “O sacrament most holy, O sacrament divine. All praise and all thanksgiving be every moment thine.”
Listen to his album, and you can’t help responding with an “Amen,” perhaps, or a “Here I Am, Lord,” as you get yourself to the nearest sacrament. Even after a long week wrapping up at a political convention.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a nationally syndicated columnist.