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Life in Community

Modern Musical Pilgrims

October 4, 2016 by

Most readers of our blog are probably familiar with the basic canon of Christian writers: ancient inspirations like Francis of Assisi, Patrick of Ireland, and Augustine of Hippo, and more recent additions like George MacDonald, Therese of Lisieux, and C.S. Lewis. I’ve heard countless pastors use their writings in sermons, and I often turn to such writers when I need inward stimulation.

pastor Jamie George
Pastor Jamie George

But no matter how stirred we are by their words and witness, it’s doubtful too many of us turn that passion into a months-long pilgrimage of Europe, tracing the steps of these men and women. That, however, is what the Tennessee-based musical group All Sons and Daughters (Leslie Jordan and David Leonard) and their pastor Jamie George did in 2015. And they didn’t just passively follow footsteps; they worked at bringing back plaster casts, if you will, to the rest of us, crafting songs and stories that appear in a new album and companion book, both titled Poets & Saints.

Part travelogue, part church history, and part praise-and-worship jam session, this intriguing project pairs biography, current events, and even architecture with engaging musicianship and artistry. In the book, over the course of ten chapters, we learn about eleven spiritual masters (one chapter highlights the work of English songwriters and hymn publishers William Cowper and John Newton, the most obscure figures in this collection) as Jordan, Leonard, and George visit their hometowns or places of ministry in Europe.

There’s much to glean from the quotation-studded prose and not-always-obviously connected vignettes, but the chapter on Patrick’s mission in Ireland is especially enlightening in a time when so many churches are seeking new ways to make disciples; George notes that “It appears that Patrick would often engage the people by using their gods as a springboard for describing his God. Rather than rail against the Irish culture, he identified the truth within it. . . . His way was patient and subtle, and he allowed his listening to govern his talking. He modeled a way of love and then described Love’s origins.” It’s an approach we would do well to heed today as we try to proclaim the Gospel.

cover of Poets and Saints album

In the accompanying album, ten songs flow from the legacies of these poets and saints. Heaven Meets Earth draws from the Creation scene in C.S. Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew (which in turn drew inspiration from Genesis); I Wait expounds on George MacDonald’s maxim that “the principle part of faith is patience;” and the final song Creation Sings is an attempt to counter the prevailing image of John Calvin as a dour killjoy. As the songwriters explain, it was Calvin’s “desire to express the creative nature of God in all things [that] led him to bring excellence in music back to the church. . . . [and] to change an apathetic musical culture into a symphony that might make you wonder if it came from Heaven itself.”

It’s a noble effort, one that reminds me of Plough’s recent Spiritual Guides series.Termed “backpack classics for modern pilgrims,” the series will include installments from Hildegard of Bingen, Oscar Romero, Christina Rossetti, and Nicolaus von Zinzendorf, among a long list. The volumes already published, particularly Eberhard Arnold’s treatise on prayer with commentary from Richard J. Foster, are of a similar bent: examinations predicated on the idea that these men and women are worth not only studying, but emulating.

So check out both projects; any effort to bring such treasures into relevance deserves attention, because the writers and musicians are doing their best to follow the advice of Timothy Keller as quoted in the chapter on George MacDonald: “Every good endeavor, even the simplest ones, pursued in response to God’s calling, can matter forever.… There is a future healed world that he will bring about, and your work is showing it (in part) to others.”

For more information, watch

You may also be interested in these recently published works on Saint Francis and George MacDonald, from Plough.


About the author

Red Zimmerman

Red Zimmerman

Red Zimmerman lives at the Woodcrest Bruderhof and is the editor of

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  • I enjoyed the video of poets and saints ... Nice view from France and Italy and nice words. Thank you brother Red.

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