The project has been in the works for a number of years, beginning with conversations between Bell and Jamie Howison – the pastor at St. Benedict’s Table, which Bell attends. An expression of the Anglican Church, St. Benedict’s Table features a strong emphasis on the arts and social justice. I Will Not Be Shaken simmered on the back burner of both men for a while before it finally came together and was released in 2015.
I Will Not Be Shaken has two components. One is a book co-written by Howison and Bell. Each chapter is based on one of Bell’s songs and begins with Howison’s theologicical and personal insights into both the Psalm and the song. While not theologically complex, Howison’s reflections are deep enough to frequently warrant a re-read, so his perspective can take root.
E.g., writing about Psalm 13 (Bell’s song “How Long”), Howison looks at the question of how long God’s people have to suffer:
“How about a direct, miraculous intervention here, Lord?…Maybe this time your blessed grace could be a bit more aggressive,” writes Howison. He answers his own question a number of paragraphs later with the observation: “So yes, the quick fix zapping would be nice, but it would not do a whole lot to deepen us to the reality of the changed circumstances.”
CD/book set provides an insight into how the songs were written and whole lot more
While the reader digests Howison’s offerings, the chapter changes voice and Bell provides an insight writing the song. Here Bell describes a turning point in his spiritual life: “The most profound disappointment of all was the unanswered request for a sense of God’s nearness that others reported, but which I didn’t experience.
“Then I heard a sermon on Psalm 13. The psalm was described as a complaint to God, about God. It staggered me. I didn’t know this could be an acceptable prayer. This song followed…as did the beginning of an adult prayer life.”
Speaking of Bell’s songs, the second component to the I Will Not Be Shaken set is a CD. It comprises all 17 of the songs Bell has written or co-written that are based on the Psalms. Anyone who’s followed Bell’s career has heard most, if not all of these songs. The only addition is the last song, “Psalm 70:1,” a Taize-style song Bell wrote for a course on contemplative prayer he co-led at Regent College.
My only disappointment with the CD was the lack of musician credits in the lyric booklet (which does note the original album on which the song appeared). This is more of a personal peeve because I’m interested in who was involved in the production of the song (especially when I think I recognize a musician’s style and want to confirm it). I suspect, for many listeners, this won’t affect their enjoyment of the CD.
I found reading Howison’s insights, Bell’s reflections and then listening to the song added to my enjoyment I Will Not Be Shaken. As I suspect Howison and Bell hope, I came away with a fresh appreciation and new understanding of the Psalms. You will too if you give I Will Not Be Shaken a read and a listen.
For more information on the I Will Not Be Shaken set, check http://signpostmusic.com/
To listen to an Arts Connection interview with Steve Bell and Jamie Howison, check http://tinyurl.com/zc5u9d6