Not long ago I was driving my wide-eyed and wonder-filled six-year old daughter Clare to school and we decided to listen to the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem’s rendition of The Whistlin’ Gypsy Rover. (I start priming my kiddos for St. Patrick’s Day in February. Actually, we’re always celebrating St. Patrick’s Day at our house). If you’re Irish, you might know this tune, which has been covered by a bunch of singers over the years, slightly tweaked each time, but essentially holding the same heart-warming tale; a mysterious and melodious wanderer comes whistling over hill and dale into the very comfortable and luxurious life of a young Lady, and his song sweeps her away, into the wilds, where her father quickly pursues for fear she has lost her senses. I won’t give away the ending yet.
As we drove along, and the fields and houses slipped by on route to school, Clare and I sang out the chorus “Ah-de-do, ah-de-do-da-day, Ah-de-do, ah-de-da-day… He whistled and he sang till the green woods rang, and he won the heart of a la-a-ady.” Then it happened. That moment when the Lord whispers through the thin veil of our songs and stories to reveal Himself, to remind me that He is the Word behind our every syllable, He peers through the lattices of our simplest melodies. Jesus was the Gypsy and the Lady drawn out of her surroundings, our hearts. Let’s see how this Irish tune matches the Tune of all tunes, the Song of Songs:
For your love is better than wine…
Your name is a flowing perfume…
therefore young women love you.
Draw me after you! Let us run!
– Song of Songs 1:2-4
I’ve often reflected on how God has used music to draw me to Himself, whereas my sin has the feeling that I’m being dragged someplace else. The Gypsy Rover carries with him in His Song the air of freedom and open spaces. The enemy suffocates, shuts up and clips the wings of our desires. He wants us “tied down” by those old comforts, those “false infinites” that the “castle great” represents in this Irish tune. And the Devil doesn’t easily give up on us when we start to wander…
Her father saddled up his fastest steed
roamed the valleys all over
sought his daughter at great speed
and the whistlin’ Gypsy Rover
In his clever novel about intercepted letters between devils on how to tempt humans, The Screwtape Letters, author C.S. Lewis has the devil admit “…Even if we contrive to keep them ignorant of explicit religion, the incalculable winds of fantasy and music and poetry – the mere face of a girl, the song of a bird, or the sight of a horizon – are always blowing our whole structure away.”
There is comfort in the castle for the Lady. There is security and stability. And the wild open spaces are just the opposite. But the Music calls us. The Lord invites us. He encourages us to find Him, just as the Bridegroom does in the Song of Songs…
If you do not know,
most beautiful among women,
Follow the tracks of the flock
and pasture your lambs
near the shepherds’ tents.
– Song of Songs 1:8
The Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote “The disciple simply burns his boats and goes ahead. He is called out… The old life is left behind, and completely surrendered… out of his relative security into a life of absolute insecurity…” And yet, in the great paradox that lies at the heart of God’s revelation, at the very heart of the gospel, is the truth that when we leave all we find all, when we give our all we receive everything we need. And so the Irish tune closes with the Lady telling her father what she found in what appeared to him and to all to be complete folly:
He came unto a mansion fine
down by the river so shady
and there was music and there was wine
for the Gypsy and his lady
“He is no gypsy my father.” she said,
“But Lord of these lands all over.
and I will stay till my dying day
with my whistlin’ Gypsy Rover”
May we hear Him sing to us this Lent, drawing us out of our comfortable and confined places into the wilds, into the expansive air of trust and of a holy detachment. And may we stay for Undying Days with the Bridegroom for all eternity!
BILL DONAGHY has spoken internationally on faith and the New Evangelization since 1999. Through his work with the Pontifical Mission Societies, Bill gave hundreds of talks on the spirituality of mission to young people throughout the greater Philadelphia area and beyond, creating a teaching and speaking ministry known as MissionMoment.org. He holds an Associates Degree in Visual Arts, a Bachelors in Philosophy and a Masters in Systematic Theology. In addition to his full-time work for the Theology of the Body Institute, Bill teaches at Immaculata University. He and his wife, Rebecca, live outside of Philadelphia, PA with their four children.