Amazing Grace and Graced Memories

Editor’s note: This is the sixth post in our newest series, reflecting on the Hillbilly Thomists’ recent, self-titled album. The series will run each Tuesday and Thursday throughout the Easter season. Read the whole series here. This post concerns the song “Amazing Grace,” which you can listen to here.

Amazing grace (how sweet the sound)

That saved a wretch like me

I once was lost, but now am found

Was blind, but now I see

I have mixed memories of this song. Perhaps it was the tussle among church music people over whether to preserve the use of the harsh-sounding word “wretch” in the second verse. Or maybe it was my preferential bias against a song not original to the Catholic liturgical tradition. More generally, I believe the song had become for myself the religious equivalent of “elevator music”: a tune played and sung so frequently that it ceased to have an impact.

Enter my brothers-in-religion, the Hillbilly Thomists. Evident from all the songs on their album, these Dominican friars have a knack for digging up good ole classics and giving them a fresh breath of life. The fifth track, Amazing Grace, reworks the classic tune in a hillbilly harmony. What results is a gospel-folk vibe which won’t offend the lover of the popular tune commonly used in America. Instead, this new rendition makes the listener want to learn Newton and Cowper’s traditional lyrics and sing along:

Through many dangers, toils and snares

I have already come

‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far

And grace will lead me home

If St. Augustine of Hippo (aka “the Doctor of Grace”) was right, our memories are worth revisiting. Memory is like a “data cloud” at our fingertips holding an array of past thoughts, words, and actions. Most significantly, by engaging our memories, we can perceive God at work in our lives. We can remember His blessings, both natural (such as the gift of life) and supernatural. Concerning this latter, His grace that illuminates the mind and warms the heart (what we call “actual grace” because it comes from God and inspires holiness) can be viewed within this “database” of the soul. We detect God’s presence which has remained despite the “many dangers, toils, and snares” which once assaulted us. This gives us the hope of His continued presence as we move into the future.

How do we access these memories in which our freedom smacked up against God’s grace? Two things are needed: intentionality and some free time. Many people keep a journal, regular or occasional, in which to record those instances when a new insight has been reached or a discovery made. Such epiphanies should be treasured for what they very well may be: messages from the God who loves us. For those of us who need the help of others to draw out these memories, there is emailing, heart-to-heart conversations with reliable friends over the phone (or better yet in person), or even the ancient art of letter writing, which forces us to express ourselves and our memories with some candor, clarity, and wit. Each of these activities, in order to be done purposefully, really requires free time in which we are unconstrained and relaxed.  

If a song such as Amazing Grace, set by the friars to moving vocal harmony, can evoke these sorts of memories—“graced memories”—and set us down the path of intentionally and freely appreciating them, then perhaps it’s not so bad to let this track play over and over.

From Dominicana Journal