One of the students at the school where I teach has been trying to encourage me to sing more often for special music. I find this a bit humorous, for while I sing fairly well and enjoy singing, I do not have a larger repertoire of religious songs to sing for tenor solos. My own tastes as a singer have a wide range, though as a singer I tend to prefer singing tenor arias or songs that move more towards the rock & roll direction that are not generally considered appropriate to sing for church on account of their instrumentation, if not their message. Nonetheless, I did pick a song for this student (who is reasonably proficient on the guitar) to learn, as it is one of my (many) favorite songs and I have never had the chance to sing it before to an audience.
Appearing on Edwin McCain’s third major-label album, Messenger, “Promise Of You” is a Christian song of the southern rock persuasion. Like many artists from the South, Edwin McCain’s music as a whole (on an album by album level) combines elements of populism, biographical and autobiographical slices of life, ruminations on love and lust and death and history, and reflections on spirituality. For me, in all of Edwin McCain’s body of work (which I greatly admire), the religious song of his I most appreciate is the song “Promise Of You,” which is an adequate representation of my own walk with God and my own concerns and reflections and struggles. Therefore I thought it appropriate to add to my collection of songs whose lyrics I analyze.
“Promise Of You” begins with the chorus, which reads: “The promise of you / It sleeps in the air / The air that I breathe, / And I know that it’s true / Don’t have to convince myself to believe (Yeah) .” This chorus, with minor changes, appears several more times in the song (once after each of the two verses, and twice after the bridge. The chorus suggests that Edwin McCain is sure and secure in His knowledge of God’s presence, despite the ups and downs of life, and despite the struggles that he faces. This is also true for me personally, and I find this chorus a hopeful one, given the relatively melancholy tone of the song as a whole. There is a sense of peace about this knowledge when it is not only known in our head but felt in our heart.
The first verse of “Promise Of You” reads as follows: “What fill of secrets sleep in the heart of a man? / So much love wasted, it slips right through my hands. / You see it in the eyes of the lonely / As they make their weary way, / Shimmer in the eyes of the longing, / And I hear it say…” This is not a difficult verse to understand. Edwin McCain begins by reflecting on his struggle with loneliness, with wasted opportunities and broken relationships, with the secrets kept by a wounded heart. Without a doubt, many of us are very familiar with such matters. I know I am, and do not feel it necessary to comment at length about what the song makes so clear.
After a repetition of the chorus, the second verse takes the reflections from the emotional level to the spiritual level, reading: “What fill of secrets sleep in the heart of the night? / My dreams of salvation were slipping out of sight. / In the shimmering moments of the twilight, / The closing of the tide, / The whisper on the wind of a rescue, / Our savior in time.” Here Edwin McCain sings about a dark period of his life, where he felt as if the opportunity of salvation was slipping away, and where he felt and perceived the presence of Jesus Christ acting as His savior and rescuing him from despair. I have to say that I am certainly familiar with this phenomenon as well, and it’s something I take rather personally–I have always been conscious of the darkness both inside and outside of me and the struggle against it, which requires the assistance of Jesus Christ. Quite frankly, we can’t enter the Kingdom of God alone on our own efforts or on our own merits, any of us, much less those of us whose burdens are far heavier than normal.
The bridge of the song reads as follows: “And all this time / I’ve been fighting my own private wars. / And all this time / You’re the peace I’ve searched for.” Here we see a lesson that is painfully obvious in my own life. As a combative person I have spent my life fighting many private wars, most of them unnecessary ones, with people who were as sensitive as I am, and as worthy of concern and consideration, and of love and respect. Many of these people, unfortunately, I did love and respect, but not in ways that were apparently sufficiently obvious. If we have genuine peace in God it will eventually lead to peace with others, at least with the sort of decent people we long to be and long to have in our lives. Peacemaking and peacekeeping require a great deal of effort, a great deal of help, of patience, of longsuffering, and of love, but the end results are worth it. I hope to see more of that in the future myself.
One of the reasons I have always loved this song has been the way it looks at some of the key issues in my own life (loneliness, salvation, and combativeness) and looks at them from a tragically optimistic and ultimately faith-filled perspective. It manages to do this so well because it is not a song that is talking down to others or condemning others for their feelings or struggles, but it is relating one’s personal walk in dealing with those struggles honestly and openly. And it is that sincerity and approachability that makes this song such a moving one to me. Though the song is a relatively obscure one, it is a worthy spiritual reflection of a walk that many of us live. And hope and encouragement from someone on that same road is always to be appreciated and cherished.
 The “official” lyrics can be found a few places, such as: http://www.metrolyrics.com/promise-of-you-lyrics-edwin-mccain.html. Nonetheless, Edwin McCain sings the song somewhat differently than it is written on the lyric sheets, and I have sought to capture the song as it is actually sung.