Where words fail, music speaks.
—Hans Christian Andersen
You know those times when you’ve been napping deeply and your mind sort of starts to wake up before your body does? In fact, it’s almost as if you are outside of yourself in a state that allows you to be aware of your dreams and at the same time what is really happening.
A few weeks ago, I was trying to wake from a nap and my mind (with the help of cough medication) was holding me down. The TV was playing in the background. I could hear the old hymn, “Leaning of the Everlasting Arms”. I wondered if this was IT--If I was slipping across some threshold.
The hymn arrangement was beautiful. It was being played as a meditation on an awe-inspiring truth rather than something like a Sousa march, the way Southern Baptists sing it.
Finally, I awoke sufficiently to realize the song was playing as a part of an advertisement for Guinness beer. WHAT?!
Let’s get something straight right here. This little essay is not about condemning or condoning anything. So, with that said…
I know this, we all need to lean sometimes and the best place to lean is on the Everlasting Arms. I know this too: sometimes those everlasting arms take on human form: family, friends, each other.
No doubt; sometimes in the corner bar, people lean on things that will ultimately fail them. No doubt; sometimes in the corner church, people lean on religion that will ultimately fail them.
God created us as people who need people; as people who need to lean.
Whether at church or the neighborhood pub, think of how true the words to this little song about a place called “Cheers” are.
Making your way in the world today
Takes everything you've got;
Taking a break from all your worries
Sure would help a lot.
Wouldn't you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they're always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Leaning on the Everlasting Arms was written by Anthony J. Showalter in the late 1800s, inspired by Deuteronomy 33:27: "The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms".
I have no idea what Mr. Showalter would have thought of his tune being used in a Guinness ad. Maybe he knew of Mr. Guinness and wouldn’t have minded. Sometimes we make assumptions you know. Sometimes we pre-judge. Here’s an interesting article about Guinness himself:
This “Empty Chair” ad, I’ve watched it several times now. I’m not even sure it’s really about Guinness beer. I think it’s about leaning, and if it is, I can’t think of a better song than the one written by Mr. Showalter.
Certainly if there is an Honorable Mention for "Best Leaning Song Ever" if would have to go to the classic by Bill Withers:
Sometimes in our lives
We all have pain, we all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there's always tomorrow
Lean on me when you're not strong
And I'll be your friend, I'll help you carry on
For it won't be long
'Til I'm gonna need somebody to lean on
Please, swallow your pride
If I have things you need to borrow
For no one can fill those of your needs
That you won't let show
You just call on me, brother, when you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on
I just might have a problem that you'll understand
We all need somebody to lean on