When I first heard her sing, I was captivated. Everyone had warned me about camp goggles and the way it would distort my perceptions and encourage artificial intimacy. So I had stayed aloof to the beautiful female staff at Kulaqua. I wanted to make sure I would be able to work and adventure without any silly boy-girl dynamics. However, the voice leading the staff week song service for vespers was so rich and so unabashedly worshipping Jesus that it broke my aloofness.
I was captivated.
Several years ago, I was introduced to the original version of “How He Loves,” written by John Mark McMillan, but made popular by The David Crowder Band. David Crowder asked John for permission to alter one of the lyrics, and I have found that many people are unaware of the original lyric in the second stanza: So heaven meets earth, like a sloppy, wet kiss was changed to like an unforeseen kiss by David Crowder.
This song is significant to me for many ways, but one of them is that it speaks of past sacred moments with friendships that are no more. My friend and former ministry partner introduced me to the song; he would sing it acoustically while playing his guitar and it was beautiful. He no longer identifies as Adventist or Christian.
My former girlfriend and I would sing the song so often that when I think about the song, it’s easy for me to think of it being sung by her.
Sometimes, the song that means so much to me simply haunts me.
That night at Kulaqua, “How He Loves,” was sung. When the song began, my mind and my heart quickened; I continued to be mesmerized by the voice leading the music, and my imagination quickly began to consider a future where this female voice replaced the precious voices of the past.
The religious significance along with the emotional stimulation I was experiencing moved me into deep worship.
“Loves like a hurricane,
I am a tree,
bending beneath the weight of his winds of mercy.”
My eyes are closed, my hands are raised, and I find myself swaying beneath the grace of God.
John Mark McMillan wrote the song shortly after one of his closest friends was killed in a car accident. He was in deep pain.
The original song has a third verse:
“They want to tell me you’re cruel
but if Steven could sing,
He’d sing that’s not true,
God is good.”
Steven was the name of his friend who died.
The song, in case it wasn’t clear, is about the presence of a loving God in the midst of deep, personal tragedies.
I always sing the original lyric because I’m a contrarian and because I think it’s better than the Crowder edit. Usually my poor singing voice stands out as everyone around me sings the Crowder edit with the song service team. To my surprise, I heard Melissa beat me to the lyric; over the microphone, she sang, “So heaven meets earth like a sloppy, wet kiss.”
I smiled. I liked this person.
John Mark says that after wrestling with God over the death of his friend, he was inspired to write this song. He turned to music in the middle of tragedy because that was the only way for him to be able to process the grief. To John Mark, the song lyrics were the voice of God speaking to His hurting child. The Spirit moved in John Mark and he became the writer of one of the most sacred songs in modern Christianity. “How He Loves,” is a modern psalm or hymn, really.
Right before I completely started crushing on the girl leading song service, the Spirit of God broke into my consciousness. I felt ashamed because I was so eager to take this sacred song and let another human define its significance—again. How could I be so eager to risk my worship into the hands of another person knowing how fleeting human relationships can be? And why would I be so quick to entertain a crush when I had already purposed in my heart to keep my mind clear?
In that moment, I said no to human-dependent worship. I decided it was time to divorce the sacredness of a song from the personality who sings it. I said yes to God-centered worship. I decided it was time to fully associate sacredness with the One Holy Personality, not with His vessels.
As the song wound down, I not only felt myself free from sentimental crushes, but I also began to feel as if the very voice of the Lord was singing with me, not Melissa’s or Jordan’s or the people beside me. It was a strange sensation, but it is written that the sheep hear the Shepherd’s voice and know it.
I was captivated by Him.
I left vespers happy and at peace.
That night, I took off my humanist goggles and realized “How He Loves” had never been about a Minnesotan brother, a Vegas girlfriend, or a Floridian camp staff.
That night, I realized the sacredness had always been rooted in the One Who Loves Like an Ocean, and not the ones whom I sing with for nothing more than a sandy moment.