“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away,” I was once a high school student. In fact, I was actually sitting in a theatre in Wichita when these very words from the opening scene of the very first Star Wars movie scrolled across the big screen for the very first time back in the summer of 1977.
Yes, I am that old.
Back in the day, I was a big fan of what is now referred to as “classic rock.” One of my favorite bands was a group called Kansas, made up of six ordinary guys from nearby Topeka. I loved their unique brand of innovative and progressive rock music, but I was also deeply fascinated by their faintly spiritual song lyrics. I later discovered that the band’s founder and main songwriter, Kerry Livgren, had grown up in the church but had drifted away from the faith during adolescence and had begun seeking “truth” in earnest from every imaginable source.
Kansas did not have a ton of big hits, but in the summer of 1977 Kerry wrote a song called “Dust in the Wind” that he reluctantly agreed to include on the album, Point of Know Return. According to Kerry, the song was a very personal reflection of his own spiritual journey at the time. “The lyrics almost spewed out,” he later wrote, “a reflection of my inner despair and longing for something that would not pass away, something eternal.”
The prodigal son eventually found his way back home to the Father’s house in 1980, but it was “psalms” like this one that helped Kerry to translate the deepest cries of his heart into a personal prayer language. Thanks to its beautiful, yet haunting melody and thought-provoking lyrics, the song has remained surprisingly popular over the years.
What Kerry could not have known when he wrote “Dust in the Wind” in the summer of 1977 is that I was at a very similar place in life at the time as well. I, too, was wrestling with “inner despair” and “longing for something that would not pass away.” Thanks to the mysterious and relentless grace of God, Kerry’s honest and transparent songwriting was one of the key influences that also led me to return to the Father in, you guessed it, the summer of 1977.
As we enter together into this season of Lent, a special time set aside on the church calendar for each of us to return to the Father through a process of personal reflection, repentance and restoration, we do so with complete confidence that our good and beautiful God will be with us at each and every step along the journey, including those times when we may find ourselves in places of “inner despair and longing.” And on Ash Wednesday, in particular, when many will receive the sign of the cross on their foreheads as an outward symbol of an inner desire to “repent in dust and ashes,” may we all be reminded of this unshakable assurance:
“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love … as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:8, 13-14).
– David O. Williams, General Superintendent