Note: I wrote this a few years ago for a CCM article. There was a limit to the word count, and I remember having a hard time not writing pages and pages about all the ways Rich’s life has affected my own. I can’t remember if it was ever published, so I dug it out in honor of the man whose music and ministry quite literally changed my life. As of this week, Rich has been dead for fourteen years, but his memory is very much alive.
Today I drove across the wide prairie that lies at the feet of the Grand Tetons. My wife of twelve years and our three children were with me on the journey, and as is our custom on long trips, we let the kids take turns choosing the music. We listened to Riders in the Sky (the best cowboy music around), the soundtrack to Silverado (the best Western film score ever), and some Sara Groves (who doesn’t have much at all to do with the Wild West, but who was a welcome salve after ten hours of the kids choosing the aforementioned music).
We rounded the bend at sunset and there before us stood those craggy Tetons, all gray stone with white snow tucked into the fissures. The clouds were gold with sunlight and long, misty fingers of rain dangled from them, caressing the peaks and the aspen- and fir-covered shoulders of the range.
Who else but Rich Mullins could write music that would adequately suit a scene like that? I demanded the iPod, selected A Liturgy, a Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band, and we drove the next forty-five minutes without speaking.
We weren’t speaking because we were being spoken to.
Rich’s music has a finely tuned resonance. Some people hear his songs and miss the vibration completely, while others, like myself, are rattled to the bone. Driving today in the shadow of the mountains, my bones were rattling with the Gospel, and it was the Gospel according to Rich. He sang about a God who bares his holy arm in the sight of the nations, who roars and smites and laughs from heaven at his enemies. A God to be reckoned with. But the God Rich knew—the God he knows—is also one of tenderness and deep mystery and patient love. He’s a God who thought to make the color green, whose mercy rains down from heaven and trickles even to the brown brick spines of our dirty blind alleys. I remember Rich saying in a live recording from years ago that God is like the kid who beats you up and then gives you a ride home on his bike. I’ve learned a lot about God from Rich, mainly because he put to words the things I already knew were true: I have been beaten up, and I have been carried home.
I could write all day about the ways God has blessed me and changed me by way of Rich’s music; I could write all day about the ways I have missed his wry, odd wisdom in the midst of the industry I find myself so often befuddled by; I could also write about the way Rich’s writing craft leaves me awestruck and humbled; or about the countless stories I’ve been told by those he either knew or was known by; or about the uncanny number of artists I know who point to Rich as one of their chief influences, both spiritual and musical.
But today, after that glorious drive through the West while listening to him sing about America and Jesus and the very truth of God, I can only here express my gratitude to God for Rich’s ability to remind me that it is to God alone that I am to be grateful. There’s nothing else an artist could better aspire to than to leave that legacy. I have sung his songs and read his writings and stood at his grave and am convinced that in his barefoot, quirky, grace-filled wake he left a pair of shoes that no one will ever fill.