We Fall Back Amazed | Mike Janzen’s Psalms Project

I was honored to be asked to write a piece for Mike Janzen’s book of original devotions to accompany The Psalms Project – a double album collection of new settings he has written for 19 of the Hebrew psalms.

The collection is a soulful marvel of songwriting, arrangement, and production. The companion book is a collection of devotions by thoughtful pilgrims who have traveled long with these texts. Together they offer both personal and corporate music and reflection for individuals, small groups, and congregations alike.

Contributors include (among others) Carolyn Arends, Mark Buchanan, Ins Choi, Lorna Duek, Malcolm Guite, Tim Huff, and Greg Paul.

Below is the piece I wrote to accompany Mike’s setting of Psalm 97, followed by a performance video of the song we recorded only a few weeks before the pandemic struck globally.

The Psalms Project CD and Book set can be found and purchased at: http://www.mikejanzentrio.com/psalms-project

We Fall Back Amazed | Psalm 97

By Steve Bell

“The Lord is King!” claims the author of Psalm 97. The poet goes on to use language befitting an Imperial anthem, or a Nationalistic display of military might, or the immoderate spectacle of the opening ceremonies of a Superbowl Sunday:

Clouds and darkness surround Him…

Consuming fire goes before him…

Lightning rods terrorize all who see him…

Mountains melt like wax…

Righteousness and peace follow in its terrible, destructive path…

If one were to commission a composer to create a piece of music from the above images, one would expect to hear blazing trumpets, crashing cymbals, portentous medieval choirs, and no end of audio wizardry to complete the task.

Instead, Mike’s setting is far from triumphalistic. Its keening tone, melody, and chord structure illicit the ache and longing of a displaced people far more than the victory parade of a conquering army.  Only one who has been traumatized and humbled by a profound dark night of the soul could have conceived of such a musical setting.

The genius of Mikes’s setting, in my mind anyway, is in a paradox embedded in the repeated line “Be lifted up” following the declaration “Most High God!” The first pass ends on a triumphant major chord as if to declare, “It is finished!!”  The second pass ends on a sorrowful minor. The artist, here, has intuited the true glory of the Most High.

I find it interesting that the Church, in her cruciform imagination, has traditionally used this Psalm on Christmas day to celebrate the birth of her unlikely King; born on the periphery of power, displaced as a refugee, misunderstood, rejected, betrayed, murdered, and publicly displayed as a warning spectacle to any who might dare to imagine an alternative to Empire.

How do we understand God’s glory? Do we fall back amazed as we consider the counterintuitive power of God shown most clearly in the Son of Man lifted high on the cross?

*****

Mike’s setting of Psalm 97 is a profound example of what I’ve always maintained, that music, in itself, is language. And music, like all other languages, can say things that only music can uniquely say. Blessed are we on account of those for whom music is their mother tongue.

WE FALL BACK AMAZED | Psalm 97
music and lyric adaptation by Mike Janzen

The Lord is God
And towering clouds enshroud
Deep fire glows in His eyes
His holiness glows and lights

The mountains melt
Like candles before the flame
The heavens lit bright proclaim
The glory spun for His name

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord
Holy is Your name
Righteous are Your ways
We fall back amazed

The Lord who reigns
His throne wrapped in righteousness
His love held with justice
His people made glad with this

The light that shines
It pierces the righteous heart
Envelopes their every part
Death’s shadows and each new start

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord
Let the earth rejoice
Lifting heart and voice
Holy is Your name

Most high God, over all the earth
Be lifted up

There’s something very special about this project!

Brian Doerksen

To view and purchase the CD, LP, and book – or, to access chord charts and lyrics, visit:

Mike Janzen: The Psalms Project


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