Wednesday, June 4, 2014

prayer minstrel: Gungor

Onward to another Prayer Minstrel post (find my ongoing series here)! This month, I'm excited to feature a band I happened upon (through a fellow blogger) in 2011. Gungor is like the hipster-indie band of modern Christian music. Michael Gungor, being a multi-instrumentalist and having studied jazz guitar, brings an eclectic blend of sounds and styles with each new album. As a blend of indie rock, post rock, progressive, soft rock, folk, and more, one cannot really nail down Gungor as one genre. And although there lyrics are spiritual and Christian in nature, Michael and his wife, Lisa, choose not to be label their band as  "Christian" because of the stereotypical definition that is usually brought to mind. Michael, Lisa, and the multiple and varied members that make up Gungor are definitely what we call outside the box. It is precisely their undefined nature that draws me to them. They certainly remind me of European gypsy minstrels. I love their wild nature that is not afraid to take risks with their instrument arrangements and lyrics. In their song, You Are The Beauty, not only are they afraid of taking a long instrumental interlude that takes the song into a whole new avenue, but they are also not afraid to list sex as they sing of the gifts given to us from our Creator. It's this type of fearless songwriting that really drew me into their music and who they are as a band. I appreciate that they don't "play it safe" in their musicianship, but are perfectly content in being themselves through the expression of song.
 Perhaps one the most powerful album-openers I have ever heard in my life is the ethereal, choral, and almost score-like track titled Let There Be. I think it speaks for itself; take a listen if you have not heard this one before.

Darkness hovering
Grasping everything it sees
void empty
Absent life and absent dream
Let there be
Angels toil and crack open scrolls of ancient dreams
Countless worlds of his
Brilliant stars and breath and stream
Let there be (light)
Where there is darkness
Let there be light
Where there is nothing
Let there be light 

One can almost see our God creating celestial light with the build of the drums and the crash of the cymbals and the vocals swirling in a colorful dance. Everything about this track is divine! 

While I mostly enjoyed their latest album, I Am Mountain, for brevity's sake I want to focus on the themes of their previous albums, Ghosts Upon the Earth and Beautiful Things. Also, I think they experienced a change of direction for I Am Mountain that deters from those two earlier album. While I appreciated their new work, I, personally, find it lacks the intimacy and tenderness found in the other two albums. The themes found in Ghosts Upon the Earth and Beautiful Things carry the life-from-death, light-from-dark message that I find myself identifying to deeply. I think this is why I prefer those two albums. In both those collections, you find them encompassing the heart of God who would allow Himself to enter into mess of humanity and join with the struggles of our flesh. They're known most well for their rising anthem of "You make beautiful things out of the dust/you make beautiful things out of us," but this cry continues on the track, Please Be My Strength, when Michael sings, "I pray your glory shines through this doubting heart of mine so my world would know that You - You are my strength - You and You alone," and again on the track, You Have Me, "I thought I had seen the end/Everything broken/But you were there/I've wandered heaven's gates/I've made my bed in hell/But you were there still/Always faithful/Always good/You still have me/You still have my heart."

I get a sense that Michael and Lisa have experienced troubling, confusing, and dark times. I also get the sense that they're completely turned off by the "band-aid" approach of the modern Christian church, and well, most of modern Christianity in general - the labels, the cookie-cutter lifestyles, the lists, the rules, etc. From their music, one can immediately see they want you to know God for who He truly is. They want their listeners to become familiar with His heart that entered into our frail and shocking humanity and wasn't afraid of what He was going to encounter when He did so. They want their listeners to really grasp our God who so loves. Not in a shallow, giddy, youthful-type of love. No, a love that deepens with time, quiet, soft, tender, and pursuing. A love that doesn't demand, but a love that truly suffers long. Their track, Ezekiel, epitomizes this theme. The lyrics are posted in the video below.

 I love the opening with the mournful strings and the way Michael repeats certain words and phrases to emphasize the pain and grief of our Lord enduring with his wayward Bride. Most interesting of all is the way the song ends. It does not finish off with restoration, but rather an image of the Bride living as an adulterer and the Lord gently calling to her, His words echoing in a sad refrain. "You sold your body/Exposed to all, My love/You slept with Strangers/You gave them everything we had/Come back, My love/My love, come back/Come back, My love/My love, come back."
 I must confess, I cannot listen to this song without shedding some tears. This reality is so close to home for me and I think Gungor perfectly and absolutely showed that gap between when the Lord's Bride (us) forsakes Him for other loves and when she is restored in humility to her Husband. To be frank, I don't think anyone ever really discusses this gap. It's the space of time when the Lord's enduring love is really put on display. We are quick to rush through to the resolution, the ending, that moment when the Bride repents and remembers her first Love and returns to Him. But, so often, there is a long and almost torturous space of time in which the grief and loss and brokenness is more real than any sought-after restoration. Gungor captures this in their songs, but especially this track, and this is why I think they are geniuses!

 So, this is what makes Gungor true prayer minstrels: The way they deliver the heart of God to their listeners is through unique and fearless lyrics, personal themes, and a gorgeous assortment of instruments and arrangements. I imagine them in a gypsy caravan, traveling along country roads, and stopping every now and then to sing a song for the poor and needy. If I ever met Michael and Lisa, I would genuinely thank them for taking the risk in becoming vulnerable and intimate through their music, as well as giving listeners a pure reflection of a God who delights in being their Father, Lover, and Friend.

 If I could, I would post every song from those two albums on here. But that might make this post ridiculously long when, instead, I could just encourage others to go listen to them all on Youtube. ;)    

 Last, but not least, I had to post their track, Every Breath, because my husband and I danced a waltz to it on our wedding day over a year and a half ago, underneath towering trees at sunset. I adore this piece because it's a song of devotion to God, pure and unhindered devotion to love Him with all that I am. I chose it for my and my husband's first dance because it truly captured our hearts towards each other and toward our Maker. A funny part about our first dance was that, due to my being impatient and not putting the bustle up on my wedding gown, my husband and I stumbled a bit through the first half of the song as we tried to navigate the steps that we spent months learning but somehow became a mess when the train of my gown got in the way. Our imperfect dance fit to this song. We are devoted to God, but not perfectly devoted. We fail and doubt Him. We don't always reflect Him. Yet, this is what the road to Glory looks like: imperfectly becoming perfect because He has already perfected us. And, that is very good news. So, no, my first dance was not perfect like I originally envisioned. There was lots of stumbling, but somehow we caught on and, by the end, we were gliding in pure joy together! Also, I also cannot express the awesomeness of the build-up that happens toward the end of that song! You just have to listen to it! It's the last one posted below.

my soul cries out
my soul cries out for you

these bones cry out
these dry bones cry for you
to live and move
only You
can raise the dead
lift my head up

Jesus, You’re the one who saves us
Constantly creates us into something new
Jesus You’re the one who finds us
Surely our Messiah will make all things new 

Love, love, love of mine
You have caused the sun to shine on us
Music fills our ears
Flavors kiss our lips with love divine

You are the beauty
You are the light
You are the love, love of mine

Breath and sex and sight
All things made for good in love divine

Every breath
Every moment life beats in my chest
Springs up from your hand
Creation resounds
With every color and every sound
Your love is calling

I will love you with all of my heart
I will love you with all of my mind
I’ll love you with all of my strength
Love you with everything

Every breath every moment life beats in my chest
Let my life praise you

I will love you with all of my heart
I will love you with all of my mind
I’ll love you with all of my strength
Love you with everything

Here I am Lord
All I am Lord
Here I am Lord
I am yours


  1. " So, this is what makes Gungor true prayer minstrels: The way they deliver the heart of God to their listeners is through unique and fearless lyrics, personal themes, and a gorgeous assortment of instruments and arrangements."~ Such a fitting way to describe these complex and beautiful musicians.

    Ooh I had never heard of them until now, and I really liked what I heard. :) Keep these posts coming; they're both reflective and fun!


    1. :) Jade, I am glad you enjoyed what you heard from Gungor. Their music just has that special something! hehe