When There Are Few Words--Try These

On a night in the spring of 1971, soul-singer Bill Withers was in a music studio, recording a new song, Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone (Watch Here). It would go on to be one of the greatest hit this singer would ever have, and a favorite of mine from then until now.

The most memorable part of the song, of course, comes in the middle--the long repetition of just one phrase. Over and over again he sang "I know, I know." Twenty-five times, in fact, before moving on. And without taking a breath. I still try to match it when I hear the song, and sometimes manage to get it out. It's a challenge--and the song brings back lots of memories from my youth as I sing along.

It wasn't until the other day-- at Withers’ death on Monday--that I learned the story about that part of the song. It wasn't meant to be, it wasn't part of the plan. But Withers hadn't quite finished writing the lyrics when the time came to record. So, while the tape was rolling, the singer improvised just to fill the space for this first run-through.

The producers loved it and pressed him to keep this as the final take. He agreed.

That's what you do sometimes when you come to a moment and do not know the words that should come next. You repeat what you know.

We are at one of those moments right now. Charts and death counts and daily press conferences fill our waking hours-- and so many questions remain. Fear is blanketing the country as we stay isolated and alone, wondering what will happen next. Tomorrow's headlines.

Words are the stock-in-trade for preachers like me, and you might expect that I would always know what to say in any given situation. But this one is much more difficult than most. There are gaps in my understanding and yet the tape is rolling. In the absence of lyrics that satisfy and answer questions, I have to riff until they come.

Taking my cue from Bill Withers, I'll just say that “I know"--

“I know that my Redeemer lives... And I shall see Him with my eyes." (Job 19:25) The message and hope of Easter this week has never been more needed. It means the ultimate victory over death and the grave is coming just as surely as is the holiday.

They are many things that I am not sure of, but I do not question the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus. It is at the heart of our faith--the central affirmation of Christianity. And, even though we will not be able to gather in great throngs next Sunday, as we always have, I will still repeat the ancient cry of assurance: "He is risen indeed!"

And...

"I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12)  My ultimate salvation and my well-being now are assured because He is a good God who has promised to hold on to me, even when I grow weary in holding on to Him (John 10:28-29). These days in which we are living are indeed quite serious--but His promise to never leave or forsake us has not been revoked, nor will it be.

That simple statement in the classic soul song, Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone, is the most memorable part of the song--and it's only there, I know now, because words had temporarily failed the singer, Bill Withers. In the future, when COVID -19 is behind us, we will look back upon this spring and the simple, repeated phrase that said all that needed to be said, all that we knew to say--and that got us through the crisis.
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2 Comments


Connie Bradshaw - April 7th, 2020 at 3:56pm

I know, I know, I know.......and I thank you, Lord, that I know! Thanks, Pastor Don

Ginger Hall - April 8th, 2020 at 10:54pm

Thank you so much, Don. This is EXCELLENT. God bless you and your sweet family.

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