I Will Not Be Shaken: a songwriter’s journey through the Psalms

[box] This is the perfect way truly to HEAR the Psalms — with scholarship and music, with mind and heart, with intelligence and emotion, with our whole unified soul! — Marva Dawn, theologian, speaker, and author[/box]
I have to confess that it felt slightly surreal to finally hold a copy of the book in my hands. The idea that Steve Bell and I would co-write a book dealing with the 16 psalm-based songs he’s recorded over the years was first floated back in the winter of 2004, while I was still serving as the Incumbent to the Church of St Stephen and St Bede. In fact some of the regulars from our Wednesday morning Eucharist and Bible study might remember me rather enthusiastically talking about the project over our FINAL COVERweekly lunch at the old Carmelo’s Restaurant in the St James Hotel. Everyone at the table was delighted, both on my behalf but also because through his various concerts in the parish they had all become confirmed Steve Bell fans. I was so enthusiastic that I immediately set to work on my part of the project; a series of pastoral and theological reflections on those sixteen songs and the psalms that had inspired them. In fact many of the earliest drafts were written over the course of that winter, several during a week I spent in Saskatoon as “priest-in-residence” at the College of Emmanuel and St. Chad.
My enthusiasm notwithstanding, for various good reasons Steve and his manager Dave Zeglinski decided the timing wasn’t quite right for Signpost Music to publish a book, and so the project was put on what we all assumed would be a temporary hold. A few years later we revisited the idea, and for a time it seemed as if it would come to be. I dusted off my early drafts and did a bit of serious editing, while Steve and I both went to work on writing some new material… and then the bottom more or less fell out of the music business, forcing Signpost to streamline, refocus, and pretty much re-invent itself. Not the time to launch an experiment in publishing.
Though we would occasionally talk about “our psalms book,” I have to confess that I’d begun to think that I should perhaps post my completed reflection pieces on the saint benedict’s table website, and let them have a bit of a life there. Yet that never seemed quite right either, as this wasn’t just about my writing; this was our shared project.
When Steve called me late this past winter and said that the time had come to take our book project off the backburner I was a bit skeptical. But no, he assured me, he wanted us to meet with his Administrative Assistant, Amy Knight, who he said had a real gift for moving projects forward. In fact, could I meet with the two of them the next day? By the time that meeting was done, I was more than persuaded; I was blocking out time in my calendar to revisit and rewrite my early drafts.
The long delay has served us well. Both of us have become stronger writers, and both of us have an additional ten years of life under our belts as psalm readers and psalm pray-ers. We’ve also added ten years to our friendship, a friendship that gives this project its unique voice.
[box] To hold in my hands such mature and ripened fruit from this creative and pastoral partnership is a great gift indeed. In this timely and deeply needed project Jamie and Steve open our hearts to face what it means to be complex emotional humans on a spiritual journey. — Brian Doerksen, JUNO award winning singer/songwriter, professor at Prairie College [/box]
Each of the main chapters includes my reflection piece, Steve’s notes explaining his songwriting process or context behind a particular song, the song lyrics, and the psalm or psalms on which the particular song was based. It may surprise—and hopefully delight—Anglican readers to discover that we have opted to include Myles Coverdale’s translation from the Book of Common Prayer; a poetically rich and evocative translation, ripe for rediscovery in our own time. A compilation CD—The Psalms Collection—has also been released to accompany the book, including one brand new song based on Psalm 70:1.
I Will Not Be Shaken: a songwriter’s journey through the psalms will have its official release at McNally’s on Tuesday, October 6, at 7:00pm. We’d love to have some folks from around the diocese join us for this evening of word and song.
[box] This book is a window into a three-way conversation; the formal tone of the Coverdale translation, Jamie Howison’s hospitable way of orienting us to the big picture and Steve Bell’s open-hearted storytelling. All the while, the songs play on in the background, renewed and enlivened by the exchange. — Kalyn Falk, Spiritual Director and author of I Am Here: Six Postures of Prayer [/box]

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