Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Songs of Quiet Hope

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Songs of Quiet Hope

Article excerpt

Birds of My Neighborhood, by The Innocence Mission (reissued on Badman Recording Co.). Go When the Morning Shineth, by Don Peris (Jemez Mountain).

This day is filling up my room, Is coming through my door. Oh, I have not seen this day before.

The first thing one notices about The Innocence Mission is the sense of wonder that infuses its music. Gentle but not superficial, thoughtful but not brooding, joyful but never boisterous, the tone of the band's songwriting is above all characterized by a quiet awe at the beauty of creation and the divine presence in daily life.

Karen Peris' writer's voice is delicate, sophisticated, and utterly original--as is her literal voice. Don Peris, her husband, plays the guitar fluidly but with an effortless subtlety that shows he's far less enamored of his own playing than of the songs and singer he's supporting. The band has been around since the late '80s, and its early guitar-pop sound provoked comparisons to a variety of lesser bands, such as The Sundays, The Cranberries, Sixpence None the Richer, and Over the Rhine.

Like Sixpence and Over the Rhine, The Innocence Mission often tends toward Christian themes. Unlike those bands' songwriters, Karen is no more prone to confessional piety or hiding her light under a bushel of metaphors than she is to evangelistic bombast. Instead, her songs speak plainly yet artfully of the hope and grace found in life. Mad the band demonstrates a collective, active faith as well: Christ is My Hope (2000), a collection of favorite hymns, and Now the Day is Over (2004), an assortment of lullabies, are both sold to benefit organizations that help poor families.

I picked up Birds of My Neighborhood at a concert a few years ago. The original 1999 release was out of print, and the band was selling a homemade version that included a bonus track, "The Prayer of St. Francis." The song's peacemaking theme seemed to confirm what I'd always assumed about the charitable, apolitical, soft-spoken band from Lancaster, Pennsylvania--apparently they were from the peace church tradition.

In fact, Karen and Don are Catholic. Many of the lyrics on the recently reissued Birds reflect a deeply Catholic sense of the physical realm's capacity for grace, of a sacramentalism not just suggested CI think we will become new like the snow") but realized ("The Host on your tongue is a perfect moon. …

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