Sara Groves Illuminates the Invisible Kingdom
Sara Groves is one of the most penetrating and vulnerable artists in Christian music today. Beliefnet contributor Collin Derrick recently caught up with her to talk about her life, spirituality, and new album.
BY: Collin Derrick
“Obsolete” is a reflection on "what are we doing?" Not to say that the internet is of the devil but I hear people say things like "I couldn't live without my phone or the internet". I don't want to demonize everything but I do believe that we worship the things that we made with our own hands. I’m reading a lot of Albert Borgmann, or I’m trying to read Albert Borgmann. He writes very academically and talks a lot about focal practice. Eugene Peterson talks about doing slower things, which are actually the way that your brain is made. I’ve been reading articles about the rapid-fire influx of information - that just the ding on your phone tells your brain that new information is coming and you literally lose your train of thought the moment that bell rings. Your brain is hungry for the new information but the way your brain works the creative process are interrupted. Creative processes are like stew; they have to come to a boil. It’d be like trying to cook something but turning the oven on and off. I’ve been feeling that recently - having difficulty writing and feeling peace. I feel frenetic. A lot of this record started with the idea of “Obsolete” and it's a very precious song to me - my favorite song on the record.
You seem very comfortable being personal. Maybe ‘comfortable’ isn't the right word - experienced being personal?
For my mother in law, who is an incredible lady, to disclose at a 3 is a big deal but I live at about an 8 - I’m a highly disclosing person. But there are things that people don't know about me in the 9 and 10 range, that only my close friends know. I hope I don't go around barfing on everybody but I feel that transparency is important in Christianity. The role that I play, I feel, is to be transparent - that's part of what I’m doing. Not to compare myself with the prophets but I’ve identified with them, like [the Lord saying] “here Hosea I’m going to let you live this out, this embarrassing thing - your wife is going to go sleep with all these guys and then you're going to have to take her back.” In that way I feel like the artist is similarly living stuff out and then airing it to the public so that you can see "oh that's sin" and "oh that's where God's redemption is, that was him working, that's where we're falling short, that's where he's meeting and reconciling us"
I’m impressed with the amount of inspiration that you take from people around you. Invisible Empires is based on chapter 9 of "A Long Obedience in the Same Direction" by Eugene Peterson and I was surprised the book title comes from a Nietzsche quote. What is your perspective on incorporating secular themes into your music?
That's a great question. I actually grew up in the Assemblies of God and they put a lot of emphasis on the anointing of the Holy Spirit and that language. I wouldn’t say that I’m not Assemblies of God, but I call myself a mere Christian because I’ve seen too much. I’ve seen the body of Christ alive and well behind bars in prison. The way that I identify myself has morphed and changed over the years. I have appreciation for my heritage but one piece of baggage I carry from it is a great deal of fear. A verse that terrifies me says, "the Holy Spirit departed from Solomon and he knew it not." That is my worst nightmare - that the Holy Spirit would depart and I would not know it. I’ve asked, "Lord how could he not know it? Would I not know it?" Early on in my ministry I was very careful in my language to never call it a concert I would call it a ‘ministry opportunity’. I’ve moved away from that language because you don't invite your neighbor to a ministry opportunity, you invite him to a concert. My dad sings beautifully and could communicate the songs and you would feel every word. People would say to me "your dad is so anointed", and when I started doing it they would say the same thing to me. When I started struggling, when I was literally running from the Lord people were still saying that to me. I felt like it was true and that God was still working, so I began looking in the scripture for the way that the anointing works and found that it's a station, like a king. Paul says it’s for all believers. I went to an Assemblies of God college and the mantra was “integration of faith and learning - all truth is God's truth.” Even though we believe that we talk out of the both sides of our mouths. I would be up front singing, people would feel something and they would hold up anointing score cards. I believe that as a believer we resonate with the Holy Spirit - we are a resonating chamber. If there's any truth in what I’m saying we will resonate with a sense of the Holy Spirit. I’m anointed in my position but there's an anointing in every believer that responds to beauty and the truth of God. I could stand in front a painting painted by a womanizing scoundrel and that if something of God’s truth was captured in their painting I was anointed to respond to that. I resonate deeply with true things everywhere.