Faith

Faith

When I was a child, I spoke like a child,” says Noel, recalling the songs he wrote following his spiritual “rebirth” in 1969, in which he encountered the Divine as unconditional Love. After that experience, the vocabulary of faith he heard most frequently, especially in the contemporary Christian music community, was evangelical, which he eventually found limiting.

Although he did make use of that language in many of the songs he wrote over the next twenty years, it was, in fact, faith itself that encouraged his departure from dependence on it and a shift to metaphorical language. “After all,” he explains, “to the best of our knowledge, Christ himself spoke in parables, which are extended metaphors that invite listeners to reflect and wrestle with their meanings. They are the most inclusive and accessible manner with which to present the ‘good news.’”

And what IS the “good news”? Well, the way Noel tells it his song “The Love of It All,” Love is at the center of all creation, and until we discover that fact for ourselves, we are easily led to disagreements over what he calls “terms of description.” And though most of the songs he has created in the 60 years of his career might not be considered by some parts of the religious community as “gospel,” they are, in fact, revealing of a consistently evolving faith.

One Light Many Candles

One Light Many Candles, Noel and Betty Stookey

Betty Stookey, a graduate of Harvard Divinity School, has incorporated some of these songs as part of her One Light, Many Candles multifaith presentations. The programs feature readings from sacred texts and world spiritual leaders counter-pointed with the songs of her husband. Betty says, "The spiritual and relevant nature of Noel’s music lends itself beautifully to the message of our program. His songs reflect the diversity and integrity of individual faith while seeking a global spiritual community.”

Noel and Elizabeth StookeyAn example of Noel’s evolving faith is contained in his current introduction to the “Wedding Song,” perhaps the best known song “attributed” (his word) to him. He acknowledges it came to him through his prayerful attempt to answer his musical partner Peter Yarrow's request to “bless the wedding with a song.” Although the lyric, received by prayer, was in the first person (“I am now to be among you…”), when he first sang it at Peter’s wedding, he changed the pronoun “I” to “He” to avoid misunderstanding about who was the troubadour and Who was “among you.”

Coincidentally, at the time the “Wedding Song” was written, the use of inclusive language for God was beginning to be a hot topic in mainline seminaries, but Noel wasn’t acquainted with the controversy. As his faith has grown, his language for God and human beings has become more inclusive, and in performance, he has returned to singing the original lyric and often introduces the song with a sentence he refers to as a bumper sticker: “In Matters of Theology, It's Good That We Remember—In Christ There Is No East or West, in God There Is No Gender."

Noel’s vocation as a songwriter has encouraged him to express musically all things experienced. He has both explored and articulated his faith journey through songwriting and communicated it through recording and performing songs that invite others to reflect on their spiritual journeys. Since so much of his music invites listeners to love of neighbor—be that neighbor near or far, individual or collective, humanity or all creatures, or the earth itself—through working for equity for all, it is inextricably connected to justice.