Editor's Note: In conjunction with the release of his latest collection, The Acoustic Sessions, singer-songwriter Jason Gray has written reflections on the personal meaning each song has had to him. He graciously shared his thoughts on "City of Stars" below.
"Even in laughter the heart may ache..."
- Proverbs 14:13
"Pray in the Spirit at all times, with every kind of prayer..."
- Ephesians 6:18
I loved this song from the La La Land soundtrack the first time I heard it--partly because I'm a romantic, but also because of the prayerful melody that is somehow both hopeful and melancholy at the same time.
Real life is like that, isn't it?
We might wish our lives could be neatly compartmentalized like food in a frozen TV dinner tray, cleanly separated by categories: this or that, peas and potatoes, black or white, never overlapping. But in real life, things spill over into other things.
We rarely feel only one thing at a time. Our hearts are more like a blind intersection where different emotions are always crashing into each other, or as biblical scholar Derek Kidner says, "Our moods are not permanent. And rarely are they unmingled with their opposites."
Have you ever been both excited and nervous about something? Or felt strong in your faith one moment and deeply skeptical the next? Have you ever been crying and then were surprised to find yourself laughing?
Yeah, me too. And it's okay, you're not crazy. This is how the heart works.
It reminds me of one of the most honest prayers in all of scripture, pouring out from the heart of a father who brings his sick boy to Jesus for healing: "I believe, help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24)
Which brings me to one of the other things I love about this song: it is a prayer, the kind that rises up in our hearts without us even realizing it.
Frederick Buechner says, "We all pray whether we think of it as praying or not. The odd silence we fall into when something very beautiful is happening, or something very good or very bad. The 'Ah-h-h-h!' that sometimes floats up out of us as out of a Fourth of July crowd when the skyrocket bursts over the water... Whatever words or sounds we use for sighing over our own lives. These are all prayers in their way. These are all spoken not just to ourselves..."
There are moments in our lives--usually in great love or loss--when we can't help but turn our hearts outward, either to cry for help or because we can't contain our own joy. "I'm in love, I'm in love and I don't care who knows it!" shouts Will Ferrell as Elf to the world.
We must give thanks, we must tell our stories of love and loss, if even only to a city of stars, because deep in our bones we long to be connected to something larger than ourselves. Both love and loss help put us in touch with that longing. Sometimes they even mingle together in a song that can make us feel the ache and ecstasy of both.
Jason Gray is a singer-songwriter who is part of the Centricity Music roster.
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