Many know by now that Amazing Grace is one of my favourite songs, as is the movie with the same namesake. The word "grace", commonly referred to as unmerited favour, has been a commonly touched on phrase in Christian settings—but what about those places and spaces which would not be typically referred to as Christian, in that sense of the word?
Good news rings out
The birthplace of Christ, Bethlehem, which we often sing about around this season of the year, has banned Christmas. Many know that the origins of Christmas celebrations are far from "Christian". The commercial nature of this 'festival' overwhelm many. Yet the amazing grace of the good news still rings out unfazed throughout time and space.
So how does this have any bearing on those who wouldn't call themselves Christian? I recently had the opportunity to connect with Sonam Kalra, who recently went on tour with her brainchild, 'The Sufi Gospel Project'.
On their 10th international tour, performing at places in the UK, the US, the Middle East, and eventually at the Sydney Opera House while touring Australia, they just concluded in New Delhi, India.
What many don't know about Sonam Kalra and The Sufi Gospel Project is their unique diversity—the keyboard player is Christian, but the flautist and percussionist are Hindu. The sarangi and tabla player are Muslim, and Sonam herself identifies as a Sikh.
Yet, one of their favourite songs is Amazing Grace. In fact, Sonam tells me that it is this song, Amazing Grace, that made her want to create The Sufi Gospel Project.
What stood out to me is when Sonam mentioned that she "blends poetry, prayer and music that transcend the barriers of language and religion to create one voice of faith". It is for this reason also that the amazing grace of the Gospel continues to bring people together around the truth—a truth that remains so real for those who hear it.
A harmonious melody
The blending of many voices behind one truth is the reason that Sonam Kalra & The Sufi Gospel Project exists and continues to touch so many with their music. Sonam herself grew up singing Indian classical music, but as she grew older she was drawn to Gospel music. She started singing Gospel music as a soloist in churches and other arenas, and, in a way, the amazing grace of the Gospel became her truth—the truth of acceptance of all humanity as equal.
Yet we often forget how this truth applies to us when we see the state of the world. Natural disasters, political degradation, and societal upheavals crowd out the sound of a grace so amazing. It is difficult to understand the reason Christ came to this world when He seems so unwelcome in it. But that's exactly the reason why Christ so loved the world: us.
An unlikely composer
As amazing as this sounds, we must be able to understand why such grace is given. The original author of the song by the same title is probably the last person on earth that you'd think would be capable of composing such a composition.
John Newton was a captain of a slave ship in the late 1700s, when slavery was commonly condoned. Yes, a slave ship. During a violent storm out at sea, he came to his senses and ended up leaving his job and moved back to England. While there, he became a prolific writer, becoming the author of the Olney Hymnal, named after his hometown, amongst which the song Amazing Grace became so well-known.
According to the movie of the same name, Amazing Grace, was sung at the wedding of William Wilberforce, who eventually helped abolish slavery across the entire British Empire.
So how could the captain of a slave ship, a drunkard with the mouth of a sailor, literally find grace at a time when he could be the furthest from the truth? Because grace is a gift. We can neither buy it nor earn it, but its worth is priceless.
Grace finds us when we least expect it. Whether or not we choose to accept it is our prerogative. But the fact that Christ would extend this gift of grace to us in our deepest moment of doubt and fear is a cause for celebration. Perhaps this is why the good news is still able to be sung about after so many years; the fact that it remains the truth for all ages. That's what makes it so amazing.
A third-culture-kid born in Australia to Indian parents, Joseph returned from California where he was studying theology at Fuller, and recently began working for a BAM initiative in South India; his love of books & writing has drawn him to PSI.
Joseph Kolapudi's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/joseph-kolapudi.html