"Meet me in the middle of the air" | City Bible Forum Plus

"Meet me in the middle of the air"

Lockdown, Paul Kelly and a hope that haunts us

"Meet me in the middle of the air"

Tue 15 Sep 2020
Lockdown, Paul Kelly and a hope that haunts us

I am your true shepherd
I will lead you there
Beside still waters
Come and meet me in the middle of the air

These evocative lyrics are the opening lines to Paul Kelly’s 2005 song Meet me in the middle of the air. Last week a rendition of the song was used to accompany a powerful piece of television on ABC’s 7:30 program. Sung by a young choirboy in an empty cathedral, the tune was the backdrop to a series of haunting images of a desolate Melbourne in lockdown. If you haven’t seen the clip, you have my permission to stop reading this right now and watch it. From empty railway stations, to art galleries, to our famous graffitied Hosier Lane, the short clip depicted the lifelessness of a once bustling city now under lockdown, with a strict night-time curfew. For me as a parent of three young children the shot of the empty playground I found most moving.

However the piece raised another question for me – why this song? According to his memoir How to make gravy, the song came about when Kelly took the words of Psalm 23 in the Bible and inserted into it a line that has been, “floating around for more than a hundred years in blues, gospel, and spirituals”, namely this other sentence from the Bible: “We who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). As one writer describes it,“this song wonderfully weaves together Psalm 23 and the concept described in Thessalonians, bringing together the Christian comfort and assurance of God travelling on the journey with them in the here and now, and the ultimate Christian goal of being re-united with those who have gone before, for a life in eternity”. [1]

The hope of the Christian message is that God is a good shepherd who cares for the world He has made and those who trust in Him, His sheep. Being called a sheep might not immediately appeal to you, but it is an image designed to capture something of the tender protection God provides. It’s a protection Psalm 23 says He offers in this lifetime as He journeys with us through the ups and especially the downs (“He leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul…Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me”).

But as Kelly masterfully does in this song he combines this present protection and journeying with the future protection the Christian faith promises. The Christian hope is of a God who journeys with us into the great unknown – death – and is there with us as we “meet him in the air”, along with our loved ones who also hoped and trusted in Him. The Christian God is a God who journeys and protects both in the here and now, and in life beyond death.

Which brings me back to my question – why choose this song, and the profoundly Christian words of hope it proclaims to provide hope and comfort to Melbourne? Melbourne famously prides itself on its secularism and need for life without God. It is a city that affirms that this life is all there is – that there is nothing more than what we can see, taste, and touch (which in Melbourne when we’re not in lockdown is very, very good).

But maybe when life is thrown on its head. Maybe when our city is reduced to a desolate ghost town. Maybe when those once bustling streets are reduced to silence it gives us pause for thought. And in that silence a small voice whispers to us, “Maybe there is something more than what we can see, taste and touch. Maybe there is something beyond this life. Maybe there is a spiritual realm”. Maybe we don’t know what it is. But the idea of a God who protects and journeys with us through life’s darkest valleys, and who gathers us to Himself in death is something that appeals. That even provides comfort and hope.

To quote another famous Australian musician, Nick Cave, maybe we don’t know exactly what it is “but there’s definitely something going on upstairs”. [2] If that is you can I encourage you to not ignore that hunch, that haunting that there is maybe something more. Run with it, just for a moment. Allow yourself to consider that just maybe it might be true. And explore a little more this hope the Christian faith claims, and the God of comfort and protection who is found in the pages of the Bible. A great place to start would be with those parts Kelly references, Psalm 23, and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. And may you meet this true Shepherd who will lead you not just by still waters in this crazy, uncertain, and at times difficult life, but also in death meet you in the middle of the air.

[1] thecleftomaniacs.com
[2] Nick Cave, Dig, Lazarus, Dig, 2008.

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