Keeping the Faith

Overcoming Pew-Bum to Appreciate Julia’s Heavenly Notes

Julia Stone live is a treat. But Julia Stone performing live in an historic sandstone church is something else.

HSoundsJULIA_A2poster_v1.600.SOLDOUTA bunch of friends jumped in a car after work last Tuesday headed for the popular singer-songwriter’s concert at St David’s Cathedral in Hobart, part of her Heavenly Sounds tour. We were late and a little saddle-sore when we squeezed into a pew with a view to the stage – if you leaned forward and craned your neck around one of the church’s enormous sandstone columns, that is.

Initial thoughts were: maybe the church venue wasn’t such an inspired idea – my butt was already heading towards numb and I could feel each ridge of vertebra in my spine if I sat at anything but a right angle. Seriously – the guy who invented pews has a lot to answer for.

Then she came from the dark onto the stage in her vintage lace dress, like a pretty moth to the light. She stood there, already swaying, demure and smiling widely.

Then, boom.

A sound incongruent with her frame emanated through the cavernous building with ease. A voice bold, gutsy, raw with emotion. A theatrical expression, rolling words around her mouth and allowing them to spill out as something Bohemian, otherworldly.

While Julia sang, I forgot about my bum and spine, even that I was sitting in a sacred place, a church, with its crucifix and stained glass saints. To be honest, the most spiritual component of that evening had to be Julia’s evocative notes and to a (much, much) lesser extent, the prayer I sent heavenward: “Lord, why didn’t you give me a voice like that?!” By spiritual I mean an experience that brings us closer to God somehow.

And don’t get me wrong – I think Julia would be the first to admit she’s no saint. She sang about relationships. Not God. She swore a bit. Not much. But her phenomenal talent was a reminder to me of God’s creativity. I mean, he did a really great job with Julia’s voice.

(“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” James 1:17).

But I also realised that it had been a while since I had such a soul-stirring experience in a beautiful old church like St David’s. But then, God isn’t contained in a church – or any building for that matter.

(“However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands…” Acts 7:48.)

I think sometimes we go searching for God in structure: Sundays, the Vatican, a worn-out prayer or a building with a cross at its spire. And we really miss out – because God is in the sunrise and the plump tomatoes I’m harvesting from my garden right now and the scrumptious sunny days and in the voice of a songstress called Julia.

Why did it work so well, putting Julia Stone in a beautiful church like St David’s?

Probably because it affirms the spiritual resonance of a beautiful voice. And it showed the contrast of something fixed and something free.


As printed in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday February 25, 2013.