Sep 062009

Shuffle Sundays is a weekly feature in which we feature a cover chosen at random by my iTunes shuffle. The songs will usually be good, occasionally be bad, always be interesting. All songs will only be available for one week, so get them while you can. After you listen, discuss this week’s tune in the comments.

Quite a month for Christian music here at Cover Me. First we had a tongue-in-cheek DeGarmo and Key cover for our second Shuffle Sunday, then that inspired a full-on Christian rock post. Now two weeks later, the old iTunes shuffle picks another Christian music tune.

It’s off the best album of Christian covers there is though, so I’m not complaining. In that mega-Christian post you heard “God Will Lift Up Your Head” from Jars of Clay’s Redemption Songs. To record the disc the group spent time digging through lyrics to old hymns, revitalizing songs familiar (“It Is Well with My Soul”) and obscure (“Hiding Place”) with new tunes and arrangements.

The entire album spotlights the group’s acoustic-rock strut. They’d seem relegated to your local LiteFM station if they weren’t so powerful. Singer Dan Hasseltine enriches each old-time tune with an evocative power that brings these old songs of praise straight into the 21st century. One of the album’s stand-out tracks is “Jesus, I Lift My Eyes” by Anne Steele.

Anne Steele was a prolific poet and hymn-writer in 18th-century Britain. During the course of her life she wrote over 100 hymns, taught by her pastor father to praise the Lord with her every breath. Poet Amos Wells wrote in 1914 that she was “the first woman writer whose hymns came to be largely used in hymn-books, and she is the greatest Baptist hymn-writer.” Read more about her here.

Steele was bedridden for the last nine years of her life. When she passed in 1778, her tombstone was inscribed

Silent the lyre, and dumb the tuneful tongue

That sung on earth her Great Redeemer’s praise

But now in Heaven she joins the angels’ song

In more harmonious, more exalted lays

“Jesus, I Lift My Eyes” is a simple praise song imbued with a poet’s touch. Whatever you believe, it’s hard to remain unmoved by words like “Here oh my soul, thy trust repose / If Jesus is forever mine / Not death itself, that last of foes / Can break a union so divine.”

Jars of Clay imbues these powerful lyrics with a quiet persuasiveness, gently rolling along with subtle swirls of organ and an insistent kick-drum thump. The group’s renowned harmonizing is in full swing on the building gospel chorus, lifting your soul as they lift their eyes.

Jars of Clay – Jesus, I Lift My Eyes (Anne Steele)

What do you think? Discuss this song in the comments section below.

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