Greatness: keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn.

You were cold as the blood through your bones
And the light which led us from our chosen homes
Well, I was lost

And now I sleep
Sleep the hours that I can’t weep
When all I knew was steeped in blackened holes
I was lost

Keep the earth below my feet
For all my sweat, my blood runs weak
Let me learn from where I have been
Keep my eyes to serve and hands to learn
Keep my eyes to serve and hands to learn

And I was still
But I was under your spell
When I was told by Jesus all was well
For all must be well
—Mumford & Sons, “Below My Feet” from Babel

Here Mumford & Sons perform “Below My Feet” on Saturday Night Live:

Mumford & Sons at Hyde Park (July 2nd, 2011)

While Mumford & Sons is not an overtly “Christian” band, their appeal with the “youths” cannot be underestimated. (The video above is from their recent show on Saturday Night Live.) They sing of the angst of maturing, of pain and joy, pleasure and loss. Their lyrics are honest. Which is probably why I resonate most with this West London band that seemed to come out of nowhere. In a brief trip to their hometown last year Kari and I ventured into Hyde Park to listen from afar to their concert. When the rains set in we headed out, but not before witnessing thousands (tens of thousands?) of twenties congregating to see Mumford and an opening act by Arcade Fire.

The last few years have been a journey for my feet, and my heart. Both feet have chronic plantar fasciitis, yet running has become the best thing for my ailing back. It’s a tight rope of stretching, running, resting, enduring. Grateful for an understanding wife who gets it when the weather turns and I’m hobbling around like an eighty-year-old man. It’s a wonder how inexplicably linked one’s spiritual vitality is connected to physical health.

Mumford & Sons’ first album Sigh No More became a heart-grabbing soundtrack for most of my runs, long and short. As my feet (and back) rehabilitated to becoming a runner again, songs like “The Cave” and “Little Lion Man” (warning on language) helped pushed me up the hills time and time again. Finishing a half-marathon — without injury — became a running goal, alongside renewing my heart to be a man after God’s heart. It’s fitting that disciplining one’s body goes alongside finding joy and freedom before the Father (1 Cor. 9:27). Come to think of it, on that half-marathon a few days ago I didn’t listen to a single Mumford tune. Not enough steep hills I guess. They trained me well to not rely on them too much, for I have “learned from where I’ve been.”

When Mumford’s sophomore release came out a couple weeks ago, Babel (pronounced ‘BAY-bel’), I was again reminded of the original story of ambition and striving for “greatness” (see Genesis 11:1-9, the Tower of Babel). As each of us attempt to become great, whether with noble ambitions or selfish dreams, we must reckon with the reality of our place. We are not God, we are not in charge. Few of us can complete a simple to-do list for the day, let along rule the world as only the Son of Man and Son of God came to do.

‘The Tower of Babel’ by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (circa 1525-1569), at Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

So, while we daily build our own tiny ‘towers of Babel’ in a yearning to be great and do great things in this world, let’s remember where we stand. For the earth to stay beneath our feet — for us to have power and authority, on loan to us as we assume responsibility and press through in faithfulness — we must ask Jesus, “keep my eyes to serve and my hands to learn.”

You might not resonate with every song (or any) from Mumford. Maybe their rousing tunes clad in choirboy harmonies and clawhammer banjo aren’t your cup of British tea. Maybe an f-bomb sprinkled among a song or two is offensive to you. Yet, can you identify with, even wrestle with, the reality and hopes of which they sing?

Some other live Mumford classes, from Sigh No More:

Another great one from Babel, “I Will Wait”: