t f p g+ YouTube icon

Stumble On

Bookmark and Share

September 16, 2012 Tags: Worship & Arts

Today's entry was written by Mark Sprinkle. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Photo credit: Jan Bacon

Singer/songwriter Andy Zipf’s “Stumble on the Line” is built around the image of a river flowing through a canyon it has sculpted—an image that can easily be played out as a picture of the way that the Lord has been at work preparing a path for us in the material world, complete with signposts to his former and present activity. Zipf’s imagery of flowing water as a powerful (even dangerous) but also refreshing force echoes the similarly-complicated place of springs and rivers and seas in the scriptures; his description of his own path through the canyon calls to mind the Psalmist’s affirmation that his help comes not from the idols erected on the heights, but from the maker who has crafted both heaven and earth. Here, the river has literally made the canyon, carving it through the “years and layers,” and leaving the evidence of that long work as a sign to all who journey through.

But though Zipf’s canyon provides shelter, a good measure of necessary constraint, and even encouragement to keep moving along the river-course, the thrust of the song is that seeking God is a complicated, sometimes difficult endeavor, whether we are looking for Him through what He has made or through what He has said. The lyrics suggest that walking with the Lord is a path of halting discovery and intrigue, of our learning to notice the way God’s actions in the past are written subtly into the world around us. But Zipf also implies that this is a path that requires obedience, since we are also confronted with the fact that He sometimes speaks to us directly and unequivocally, saying, “follow me.” The song does not take its name and refrain from the river itself, then, but from how we tend to navigate and respond to the terrain it has carved: we “stumble on the line.”

Though pursuing the text’s geologic conceit a bit further is possible, what is more poignant for all of us engaged in the science and faith dialogue is that “Stumble On the Line” is at its heart a love song addressed to the “you” that is the river—the one who has carved the path and along whose banks the singer and we pick our way. Our attentiveness to this terrain of faith does not come first from our desire to analyze and categorize the “evidence” of how it came to look as it does, or even to demystify the mechanism by which a message might be written “in a line of stones.” Rather, what leads us on is the desire to know how to relate to the water itself. The song describes not just a physical path, then, but one of the heart and will.

Indeed, the personal address of the song focuses our attention on the fact that the subtlety or obviousness of the signs along our way have much less to do with whether or not we heed them than does the basic dividedness of our hearts. As Zipf says, we alternate between “trying to reach” and “trying to leave” the One we love. Put another way, we do not reject how God has written his past activity into the layers and years of the earth, or spelled out his intentions for us in the future because they are not obvious, but for the same reason we reject any and all of His claims on us at one time or another: because we wish to be the ones who forge the path, write the story, and sing the song. Our pride—whether in our science or our righteousness—is what keeps us blind and deaf to His leading in our daily path. And yet, even—perhaps especially—in response to our pride, God makes a way for us to gain a better perspective, and leads us on towards Him through whatever means we need.

To return to the language of the song, there is a beautiful ambivalence to the word “stumble,” that contains reminders that following the Lord involves being ever surprised by His ways (we “stumble on” his truth as an unexpected discovery), and ever broken by our own ways (we “stumble on” our pride as an impediment to seeing and following). Yet in both cases, our stumbling leaves us in the same position: on our knees before the one who is both maker and guide. In the last few repeated lines of the piece Zipf affirms that we must and will continue to stumble on in this path of love, whether we come to each stumbling place through surprise and joy, or pride and brokenness. From that position of humility and worship we have the proper perspective to see and affirm that the God who creates is the God who speaks is the God who redeems—the Lord who meets us on our knees, lifts us up, and guides us into the steps of His righteousness.

“Stumble On the Line”

© 2009 by Andy Zipf

I walk a weathered canyon
you're the rapids, running through it
years and layers start to show
in the soil, there is a swelling, beating rhythm to it
earnest prayer I used to know

on the one side, I reach you
on the other, try to leave you
in between the faults of my youth
I stumble on the line to love you

came upon a message,
hidden in some shallow water,
written in a line of stones
telling me to go on down the canyon, follow after. . .
so I keep on. . .

on the one side, I reach you
on the other, try to leave you
in between the faults of my youth
I stumble on the line to love you

I walk a weathered canyon
you're the rapids, running through it
years and layers start to show
in the soil, there is a swelling, beating rhythm to it
earnest prayer I come to know

on the one side, I reach you
on the other, try to leave you
in between the faults of my youth
I stumble on the line to love you.

Though now based in Washington, DC, Andy Zipf began life in the Midwest (Indiana, Illinois, Iowa), but moved to Pennsylania and then New Jersey before his family settled in northern Virginia. He began his career as a professional singer and songwriter shortly after high school, and has performed over 400 times in the last four years—in living rooms, coffee houses, churches, concert halls, and bars. Though “Stumble on the Line” comes from Andy’s 2009 ep “Our Voice Is a Weapon,” his third full-length album and seventh studio release, “Jealous Hands,” became available in July, 2011. More details on Andy and downloads of his music may be found on his website.


Mark Sprinkle is an artist and cultural historian, and was formerly Senior Web Editor and Senior Fellow of Arts and Humanities for The BioLogos Foundation. A phi beta kappa graduate of Georgetown University, he received his M.A. and Ph.D. in American Studies from the College of William and Mary, where he studied how artworks embody complex relationships in different cultural contexts. Since 1996 he has been an independent artist and frame-maker, also regularly writing and speaking on the role of creative practices in cultural mediation and renewal, especially in the area of science and Christian faith. Mark and his wife Beth home-schooled their three boys, and are active in the local home-school community in Richmond, Virginia.


View the archived discussion of this post

This article is now closed for new comments. The archived comments are shown below.

Loading...
Page 1 of 1   1
wesseldawn - #72828

September 16th 2012

The song is indicative of the ongoing love-hate relationship that many Christians feel about God, though you don’t usually hear it being admitted:

on the one side, I reach you

on the other, try to leave you

On the one hand dependent and on the other desiring independence!

Dependence is necessary for the young but maturity brings (or should bring) the desire for independence.

Instead I find many Christians holding onto the apron strings, afraid to let go yet at the same time desiring to be free of the contraints…an indication that people’s attempts to reach maturity are being thwarted by something/or someone:

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. (1 Cor. 13:11)

There comes (or should come) the inevitable growing up when the child leaves home to begin their own life, filled with their own dreams and hopes, eager to step out and experience freedom. A good parent not only recognizes the need for self expression but does everything they can to encourage independence. A bad parent on the otherhand will keep the child in a state of perpetual dependence and the child never reaches maturity…the result, a frustrated, often rebellious and guilt-ridden child.

God is a good parent but religion the bad parent that never lets go.


Francis - #72842

September 16th 2012

Some lines from Mark that I liked:

“But Zipf also implies that this is a path that requires obedience, since we are also confronted with the fact that He sometimes speaks to us directly and unequivocally, saying, “follow me.”  … Our pride—whether in our science or our righteousness—is what keeps us blind and deaf to His leading in our daily path.”

 

However, the “Stumble On…” tune is less to my liking than, say, “Ramble On” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uKVp-atyiVA

 

One more. I’d edit the title a bit to be “What is (reality) and what should never be (evolution)”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTQF89JiEJc


wesseldawn - #72867

September 17th 2012

Obedience to what, Francis? Christians don’t believe the same things so obedience for one may be quite different from the perception of another?

Obedience means that the decisions are already made for you. How does one grow emotionally and spiritually when there is no freedom of choice? How is that different from the overbearing parent?

And why the need to edit someone elses song! Is it because a Christian dares express their inner conflict out loud?

I often see this same censorship in Christian circles as people are expected to carry the party line. That’s anything but freedom!


Gregory - #73271

October 1st 2012

Thanks for this pretty song and the lyrics. Reminds a bit of Pam Tillis - The River and the Highway. I’ve added it to my playlist and enjoyed since you posted it. Many layers and levels indeed, “in between the faults of my youth…I stumble on.” - Merci!


Page 1 of 1   1