Rebecca St James: A visit to L'Abri bears fruit for the pop rocker

Friday 20th January 2006

Pop rocker REBECCA ST JAMES went to Switzerland to find fresh spiritual input and that's reflected in her new album. Tony Cummings reports.

Rebecca St James: A visit to L'Abri bears fruit for the pop rocker

The latest album by Rebecca St James, 'If I Had One Chance To Tell You Something', is already being acclaimed by critics as her most rock-orientated since that classic of 1996, God. Certainly it has a fresh guitar-laden edge and will surely re-establish her with today's youth audience. Rebecca was clearly excited when she spoke about the album just prior to its release in November. "I'm working with Tedd T, who did my 'God' album, 'Christmas' and 'Pray' and has been a real mainstay with my music. Matt Bronlewee, who's also done quite a few of my recent albums, is really pulling some fresh rock stuff out on this album. So far it's been awesome! Then Shawn Shankel. He's done a lot of pop stuff. He's a really strong Christian, and he did Kimberly Locke and Hilary Duff, but he's really wanting to move away from just pop stuff to modern rock. I'm really pumped about what we're coming up with, too. It's a really strong team - we actually got all the producers in one room just the other day and it was a real sense of, God's doing something really cool here."

Intriguingly, the foundation stone of the album isn't hip record producers and knowing marketing men, but rather the L'Abri Fellowship Study Centre in Huemoz, Switzerland, the legendary retreat centre founded in 1955 by Christian theologian/philosopher Francis Schaeffer and his wife Edith. During the 70's and '80s L'Abri was a profound source of inspiration for the fledgling Christian music community and such artists as Mark Heard, Larry Norman and Steve Taylor made the trek to Switzerland to study at L'Abri. Even though Francis died in 1984, L'abri's work continues and it was for four weeks in September 2004 that Rebecca made the trip herself.

Rebecca immersed herself in study, reading, listening to audio tapes and discussing her questions with the L'Abri tutor assigned to her. She processed what she learned and worked in community among her new friends. She spent quiet time in prayer and Bible study and perhaps, more than anything, she listened for the still, small voice of God to speak. Rebecca told CCM magazine, "In every way, it was very renewing for me. Physically, you're out there and the sun is shining and you feel like you're healing - spiritually, emotionally, physically and mentally. And it was such a release for me.even the community aspect. I was a sponge. I needed to take it all in."

Challenged in the past by journalists and complete strangers who asked difficult questions about her faith and why she believes what she believes, Rebecca desired to go deeper, to reach for the all-important answer to "Why?" "You grow up in the Church and there's a lot that you just accept because you just grow up there," said Rebecca. "And you don't find it out for yourself until you have that moment of awakening where you go, 'I need to discover this for myself.' So, I really wanted to study more about how to defend my faith. Not just to those who might not know Jesus and to those who might challenge me, but for myself when the enemy attacks. I really wanted to understand certain aspects of my faith that I hadn't looked at in depth before."

While there, Rebecca faced head on her toughest unanswered questions about life, love and what it means to trust God with even the deepest desires of her heart. One of the most personal issues Rebecca took to L'Abri was her unfulfilled dream of marriage and a family of her own. A well known and passionate voice for sexual purity and abstinence, this "hopeless romantic" had often struggled with the reality that her prince charming had yet to arrive on the scene. Life on the road and dating don't mix well at times. And well into her 20s, with no prince in sight, Rebecca began to wonder if God really knew the desires of her heart. And if he knew, how could he be so slow? "I was withholding this area of my life because I wanted to control it. Because of [my need to control] it, I couldn't trust God with it, couldn't really let it go to him." L'Abri gave her the opportunity to work on those trust issues, to see a change happening from the inside out.

Said Rebecca, "Last year was really a difficult year and I think it revealed a lot in me. You know, difficulties reveal your character and problems in your life that cause issues to surface. I had the choice to deal with some of the self-worth, self-image stuff I was struggling with. A lot of pressure to be a certain way. To be super skinny, model perfect or whatever, and compound that with the pressure of being in the spotlight and on the covers of albums. I needed to see God's image instead of a 'self' image. When you come to that place of, 'I'm truly accepted and loved as I am,' then you can truly be all that he's created you to be."

That, she says, is the gift L'Abri gave her. "It was really freeing, a beautiful time of finding afresh how much God loves me as I am. A real purifying time, a rebirth. Everything I'd hoped for and more".

This "rebirth" is reflected in 'If I Had One Chance To Tell You Something', an album overflowing with images of personal renewal. "I'm very involved on a lot of levels in the making of this album," she noted. "I wrote on 11 of the 12 tracks which is, creatively, really important to me. I want to be singing my music passionately and when I'm writing from a place where God has been teaching me something new - when I write from that place - it comes across when I'm singing. That's vital to the message and the reality of God that I want to impart with my music."

'If I Had One Chance To Tell You Something' has been etched in edgy, bold relief from the highs and lows of her life in real time. From the unknown grey shadings of "Shadowlands" where she admits having walked with only God's Word to hold on to, to the exhilarating spiritual highpoints of "Alive" - the place Rebecca finds herself today. Sonically the album embraces a multi-layered symphony of diversity - from classically trained cellos to blazing rock guitars to pulsating loops. Some US reviewers have described the new music alternately as "raw," "passionate," "urgent." They've also noted the album's deep, lyrical thread: The message that we - each of us individually - is loved extravagantly by God. The title of the album comes from the track "You Are Loved", on which Rebecca set out to write a song for a childhood friend who had gone through a "prodigal" experience in his life. "I wanted to remind him that no matter what he has done God waits with his arms open wide to run to him. Initially I thought I was writing for my friend, but in truth I was writing this song for myself and every person that listens to the album. We all need to know that there is grace, that the love of God is there for us no matter what we've done or where we've been."  CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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