“River” by Leon Bridges is my favorite Christian/Gospel song right now. I keep listening to it over and over. The fact that Bridges is not a “Christian” artist, per se in the exclusive sense, only means that he has moved this song and its message into the mainstream and it is affecting people deeply. From performing it on SNL to Grammy nominations, Bridges is causing people to think more deeply about where redemption comes from. And, not to put pressure on him, but I think he is demonstrating how Christians can witness to God’s transforming grace while living life, making art, and interacting with a world doesn’t know it is looking for. In troubled times like we are facing now, Bridges’ call to heed his Momma’s words and “Surrender to the good Lord and he’ll wipe your slate clean” is resonating with people who maybe don’t even know why. Reading the comments on the Youtube video below of people crying as they listened to this song and saying it was one of the most beautiful things they had ever heard reminds me that God gets his message out, even in the midst of brokenness. Perhaps especially then.
From a Rolling Stone article:
Leon Bridges explores human despair and redemption in the stirring video for “River,” the ruminative closer from his Grammy-nominated debut LP Coming Home. The clip, written and directed by Miles Jay, finds Bridges quietly singing the track on a motel bed, as footage from the Baltimore unrest plays on a nearby television.
The intimate performance seamlessly fades into the recorded track as Bridges belts in a gospel style, “In my darkness I remember / Momma’s words reoccur to me ‘Surrender to the good Lord / And he’ll wipe your slate clean.” The video, filmed in Baltimore and featuring glimpses into a candlelight vigil, speaks to the resiliency of the city’s black communities.
“The river has historically been used in gospel music as symbolism for change and redemption. My goal was to write a song about my personal spiritual experience,” Bridges said in a statment. “It was written during a time of real depression in my life and I recall sitting in my garage trying to write a song which reflected this struggle … I want this video to be a message of light. I believe it has the power to change and heal those that are hurting.”
From an Esquire interview:
“When you look at the video you see a depiction of a struggle within black communities. I wrote that song three years ago when the topic of injustice wasn’t as prevalent in the media,” Bridges says. “The song as it was originally intended is the song of salvation. Within my struggle and within my pain I can lean on God for salvation. That’s what a river has always meant in gospel music. You go to the river to be baptized and that’s how you know God.”
“Despite all the pain and injustice and hurt, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” Bridges says.
Yeah. This is how you #tellabetterstory and invite God right into the pain in your own life and in your community. Go on, Leon Bridges. Take us to the River. I want to go.