How God Rocks: Maria Muldaur, “As An Eagle Stirreth In Her Nest” (1976)

Rock ‘n’ roll has something in common with believing in God as a Parent: the point of it is to be a kid in the right way (not infantile; not naïve; not stupidly conceited). This isn’t easy.  To be a kid is to romp in the implied if not actual presence of someone else you depend on, someone more established than you are.  How do you relate to that?  Well, happy and loving and grateful is nice—an obvious emotional prescription for “gospel music”—and yet, as Martin Luther noted, the peccable kid can’t help but hate the superior Parent.[1] When you’re subject to infinite disapproval from above, how could you not resent being in that position? Could gospel music ever whip its optimism into an honest fury about being a young screw-up in a world of unending punishments?

It would have to draw on rock—rock spirit, if not rock instrumentation. We have a great example of this in Maria Muldaur’s recording of “As An Eagle Stirreth in Her Nest,” originally written by W. H. Brewster in a black church tradition of preaching on Deuteronomy 32.11. (Aretha Franklin’s father C. L. delivered one of these sermons.) Developing the idea that the Creator, like an eagly parent, pushes creatures around to educate them and bring them into their own, Brewster’s song claims that even World Wars are episodes in our divine education. What a concept! From the prophet’s God-side point of view, it appears that we humans need a whole lot of pushing! From where we sit, however, battered and dazed, our eternal Pusher might seem extremely pushy.

Muldaur manages to be furious about this at all levels, in all ways. She seethes with the prophet’s impatience with human thoughtlessness and evil, she vehemently dares us not to admit that our catastrophes are divine judgments, and at the same time she plaintively, scornfully voices (as a booming male preacher never could) the complaint of us kids for whom all this history is so unfair, never asked for, never negotiated. But she keeps that second fury channeled and subordinate. This is still a genuine gospel song, righteous and optimistic. It just has an extra semi-hidden energy. Muldaur’s girlish voice lurks in low, blue notes, a cobra swaying side to side, ready to strike us with Truth—and also playing a cobra game like a kid, thrilling in fear of that Snake.

“As An Eagle”

What’s the rhythm of cities falling? What’s the chord in war? It’s the very thing believers are asked to put their practical trust in, divine Providence: “God shook the nations.” “God stirs the world.” “God stirs up the dead.” If God does rock that way, “As An Eagle” is how faith rocks.

But this is not the only possibility. “As An Eagle’s” fierce father-oriented view of the relation with God differs utterly from another great rocking approach to the subject in “It’s Love” by King’s X, where there’s no history, no intention, no fault—“There’s a ship on the ocean, but I can’t decide if I like it”—there’s only Love, “that holds it all together, and the same will let it go,” a motherly God on whose bosom we mystically lie, centered in a radiant wordless chorus.[2]

“It’s Love”

Is that better?

[1] “Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience.  I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction.  I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly . . . I was angry with God . . .” Preface to 1545 edition of Luther’s works, in Luther’s Works, Vol. 34, ed. Lewis W. Spitz (St. Louis:  Concordia, 1960), pp. 336-337.

[2] For which precedent can be found in Friedrich Schleiermacher:  “I lie on the bosom of the infinite world”—On Religion [1799], trans. Richard Crouter (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1988), p. 113.


About Steve Smith

Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies and Director of Film Studies at Millsaps College
This entry was posted in Passions & Attitudes, Rock Aesthetics and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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