Be Moved to Contemplate ‘Hebrews 11:40’ by The Mountain Goats

by fscc on April 9, 2010

Alive to the newness and hope of each new day, Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity spotlight The Mountain Goats‘ stream Hebrews 11:40 during this Easter Season. Like the best songwriters,  John Darnelle artistically

Mountain Goats stream Hebrews 11:40 on Franciscanized World blog.

Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity feature The Mountain Goats' Hebrews 11:40

translates the raw material of his own life, from the joyful to the anguishing, into songs that resonate with the pure catharsis of simply expressing the truth.

At first one wonders how the sentiment of Hebrews 11:40 – “God had foreseen something better for us, so that without us they should not be made perfect.” – could be reconciled with the tragedy of  John’s own terrible experiences of being an abused child. Read on for John’s own comments, and his courageous sense of hope and desire to draw good from the tragic. In the wake of Easter, on the road to Emmaus… in the confusion the presaged Jesus’ appearances…in Thomas’ understandable doubting and eventual encounter with his Savior, we can all hope for our own Resurrection and beginning of renewed life, whether from healing of traumatic events or simply discerning how to take our place in time and history.

Hebrews 11:40 was written in the back of a tour bus as the Last Happy Night of Your Life Tour rolled toward Salt Lake City. Everybody else in the bus was asleep except for Phil, our beloved driver. So I worked in solitude in the back lounge, musing about what I know about Mormon teaching – especially how important the physical body is to them. I come from a Catholic tradition, and to me, the notion of the body as a container for who-I-actually-am is very strong; I left the Church long ago, but this idea that my body is what carries “me” through this world persists.

The song, to be blunt about it, is about coping with the longstanding effects of having been physically abused as a child. It is no coincidence that I have spent a lot of time considering what the connection is between the body that carries me through this world and the spirit that resides within it. It would take a mighty, mighty God to restore the sense of wholeness — of union between body and soul – that’s often the first casualty of abuse. In this song I try hard to believe in just such a God, and I tell Him, in terms I know He can understand because He knows all and sees the secret desires of our hearts, what the struggle to believe is like. It is a lot more cryptic than my other songs about the same struggle, but I hoped when I wrote it that people who have walked paths like mine will recognize themselves in it, and will share my desire to hope earnestly in some future restoration.

-John Darnelle

Hebrews 11:40 Lyrics:

Masks hanging on the tomb walls
Where the coven grieves
Witches hiding in the brambles
Ground level down where the dry leaves
Blow and burn slowly
No ground is ever gonna hold me

Bright candles in the manor
Where the curse takes hold
Bodies reassembling down where the worms crawl
Make your own friends when the world’s gone cold

It gets dark and then
I feel certain I am going to rise again
If not by faith then by the sword
I’m going to be restored

Build fires to keep the beacon flashing
Where the earth lies flat
Blood calls to blood as the hours draw down
Invent my own family if it comes to that
Hold them close, hold them near
Tell them no one’s ever going to hurt them here

Steal the treasure and try to leave town
Fight my way back down
Don’t want to hurt anyone
Probably gonna have to before it’s all done

Take to the hills right away
I’m gonna get my perfect body back someday
If not by faith then by the sword
I’m going to be restored


12 thoughts on “Be Moved to Contemplate ‘Hebrews 11:40’ by The Mountain Goats”

  1. Scripture scholar, Raymond Brown, tells us that in Hebrews 11:40 the author, having begun by giving a famous description of faith, launches into a long list of OT people who had that kind of faithfulness. At the end (11:39-40), faithful to his contrast between the old and the new, he points out that all these people of faith did not receive what had been promised, for “God had foreseen something better for us, so that without us they should not be made perfect.” (An Introduction to the NEW Testament)

    Listening to John Darnelle and the Mountain Goats version of this scripture passage is an invitation to reflect upon this gift of being restored in Jesus' life; like those in the early Church whose suffering [by the sword] because of their faith in Him, has given us inspiration to believe, to know that “no ground is ever gonna hold me… I feel certain that I will rise again.”

  2. Sister Julie Ann says:

    The Mountain Goats' artistic music and lyrics of Hebrews 11:40 builds on the eloquence of this scripture intermingling different historical periods and characters. Indeed, all of us enjoy the exact same goal-Jesus Christ. St. Bonaventure adds on to this resurrection good news: “For you, O my good Jesus are the Redeemer of the lost, the Savior of the redeemed, the hope of exiles, the strength of laborers, the sweet consolation of the anguished minds, the crown and imperial canopy of the triumphant, the only reward and joy of all the citizens of heaven…of whose fullness we have all received.”

  3. As the world mourns with the people of Poland I find that this song is a comfort and a hope; a way to cope with such a loss. May our God of mercy and love be with all who suffer with death and loss.

  4. While preparing for a retreat with UWSUPER students, I came across notes on the San Damiano Crucifix and its strong Johannine perspective of the struggle between good and evil. For a society accustomed to violence and war, this image was clearly revealing the poignant message that death no longer has power over us. The Mountain Goat's stream also dramatizes this victory of love and light over darkness for us today.

  5. Eric says:

    Peace comes to my mind. It is letting me know that the Lord is here no matter what. It shows me there is light no matter how dark it gets.

  6. Brett says:

    -love involves sacrifice
    -Faith brings us through difficult times and organizes our life during good things; through it all, God is with us and is our strength.

  7. Jenna says:

    Life is a roller coaster. When you fall down, however, you always know its a chance for you to rise up. Being renewed and constantly converted is one of the best feelings in the world; and in the end, the suffering isn't so bad because it leads you to Christ.

  8. Meghan says:

    -staying close to those who build up our faith “invent my own family if it comes to that”
    -not seeking the world's approval, but to keep our eyes toward heaven

  9. Katee says:

    We fight for what we feel we want at the time, but it sometimes doesn't go that way.

  10. Brad says:

    Enjoying the ride vs reaching the destination is the key.

  11. Jody says:

    The world can be so noisy and dark around us-engulfing us and trying to consume us. And yet…and yet, there is a part of us the world can not touch, a part of our soul, our being that with God's grace-his flashing beacons-we can hold on to until the rest of us is restored completely in heaven.

  12. Jody says:

    I found an incredible hope and strength in recognizing that it truly can be a struggle to live in the world, but it is in this very struggle that by God's grace can make us holy.

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