Faith out in the outland – TIL #5: “Hammers and Nails”

I know, this artist has already appeared in my young Theologically Interesting Lyrics series. But I heard this song again today and because I related to it more strongly than ever, I feel compelled to share it.

Mark Heard was no sappy idealist. He was “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.” Most of his songs — at least the best remembered ones — tend toward the depressing side. This guy had major problems with the dominant evangelical culture of his day, but he wasn’t one to let God off too easily, either. A man with a keen sense of social concern and an empathy for the plighted, he took on their role of crying out to anyone that would listen. An unconventional Christian who unnerved many believers by his penchant for “un-Christian” personal habits and for openly airing his theological concerns, he probably left many people listening to him wondering, “Why did he even bother self-identifying as a Christian?”

As if to finally answer this question, this song from Heard’s last album Satellite Sky (1992) speaks in words that could almost come from my own mind (more eloquently, naturally), as he describes something that perpetually drew him back to belief, trust, and hope in God. Despite all the problems in our universe, some of us hang on to an unshakeable sense of His love; not some mamby-pamby, touchy-feely love that merely winks at whatever we do, but a fierce, invincible force that will stop at nothing to have us clean and birth such love in us. (music below the lyrics)

Hammers and Nails
written and recorded by Mark Heard on Satellite Sky

Fire in my shallows, sap of my soul
I’m hungry for mercy and thirsty for slack
Out in the outland, the flesh and the dust
Weight of the tired earth is breaking my back
Hope where I left it under the skin
Countenance of maidens, the stance of the laddies
The healing of old wounds, the trust of my kin
The voices of children calling me Daddy

Your love
Never can fail to pierce me
Hammers and nails
Rhythm of passion louder than Hell
Thunder of Heaven
Hammers and nails

Light in the dark eyes, coal into diamonds
Shelter from heavy skies, sand into pearls
Bread for the breathless, cloth for the fresh wounds
Order and chaos orbit the half-world

The taste of a color, the flavor of light
None but a blind man can measure that weight
I am a deaf-mute idle as statue
Music of hemispheres lost in the half-haze

Your love
Never can fail to pierce me
Hammers and nails
Rhythm of passion louder than Hell
Thunder of Heaven
Hammers and nails

Hum in the graveyard, whistle in the dark
Stains on the stained glass, pains in the heart
In darkened corners love lies forgotten
In the heat of the moment it waits to be spotted

How could I slight you, how could I turn
How can you take it when I’m blind to your pain
The burning of fingers, the smoldering nerves
How can you take me back over and over again

Your love
Never can fail to pierce me
Hammers and nails
Rhythm of passion louder than Hell
Thunder of Heaven
Hammers and nails

YouTube – Mark Heard – 11 – Hammer And Nails – Satellite Sky (1992)

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  • Ed Burley

    Heard was part of the L’Abri community at one time. Probably where he got his edge – Francis Schaeffer was never one to just let things pass…when it was an important enough issue, he didn’t sugar coat it.

    • I was not aware of that. Very interesting! (Though of course it could be
      said that he was attracted to Schaeffer because of his own “edge.”)

      At very least, their association helps explain Heard’s very strong views on
      the necessity of excellence in art, a major bone of contention he had with
      CCM at the time. What would he think of today’s mainstream CCM?