In a viral parody video online titled “How It’s Made: Christian Music,” two record executives explain “the formula” for success to an up-and-coming Christian band—a formula that includes predictable chords, imagery, and Christian terms. “We were thinking about writing more honest lyrics—stuff from the heart,” one band member protests. “Okay, John Mark McMillan,” one executive scoffs. “Who’s that?” she asks. “Exactly…McMillan writes from the heart. No one’s ever heard of him.”
Well, if you haven’t, it may be time. McMillan recently joined forces with Josh Garrels, another under-the-radar Christian musician known for honest lyrics and rich soundscapes, for “The Revelators” tour around the country. Now, the two men—both of them fathers—have teamed up for a beautiful remix of one of McMillan’s songs: a meditation on fatherhood and faith titled “Magic Mirror.”
The video for “Magic Mirror” is instant proof that McMillan is looking to make big art and not art that makes it big. The string of random VHS-scrambled exterior shots, superimposed statues, and large, solemn red text quickly attain a Harmony Korine level of weirdness. But while the visuals may not be everyone’s cup of tea, the song itself is just radiant:
Bloody like my Savior King, you came to me
I’ll admit that I’d not always had eyes to see
Are you some kind of magic mirror?
Come to show to me
God with my own face?
Are you some kind of magic mirror?
Come show to me
God in time and space?
I saw the outline of my Maker dancing backlit
By the rays of your incandescent light
I saw the figure of my Father’s shadow dancing
By the flames of your electric desire
I saw God
“Over the last decade,” McMillan explains, “nothing has shaped the way I see the world, God, and myself like my children have. This is essentially the idea behind the song.” Garrels adds that it’s “a song for fathers finding new dimensions of God in the light of their children.”
One of those dimensions is more apparent. The singer, a father and a man of faith, is marveling at his growing child, who reflects the natural image of himself (a mysterious thing glimpsed by every father) but also the supernatural image of God. His child’s face, bearing his features and flooded with God’s joy and light, reflects back to him more clearly his participation in God’s own life through the fearful, wonderful experience of having and raising this child.
But the song also seems to double as being about the great mystery at the heart of Christian faith: the Incarnation. These same lyrics could very well be springing from a human soul adoring the Son of God, made flesh in Jesus: a God with a human face like he has, moving through time and space like he does; a divine mirror reflecting his own human nature. And the trembling insight at the end of the chorus (“I saw God”) may well be an instant of overwhelming gratitude or joy where the two sights converge: the image of God living in his child and the “image of the invisible God” in Christ, in whom he lives.
It’s a beautiful song, and the video’s chaotic collage may seem to detract from that beauty. But in fact, both of these “mirrors” meet in the video in a subtle but striking way in the person of Mary. We see two statues of her throughout the video: one, surrounded by flowers, encased in glass, and crowned with a crucifix; the other, adorned with a light and halo. Why Mary? Well, whether intentional or not, it’s perfectly fitting: this is a person who actually experienced the wonder of parenthood and the wonder of the Incarnation as one living reality. She freely trusted God and accepted the invitation to parenthood, with all the unknowing and danger and sorrow it promised; and all the grace that came flooding in with the Incarnation hinged on her “yes.” And as the child, the Son, grew older, she must have looked into his face—which must have resembled her own—and, in amazement, asked the same question we do, but in both senses, as both his loving parent and faithful disciple: “Are you some kind of magic mirror?”
That’s another mystery worth pondering; but as it is, “Magic Mirror” is a lovely portrait of the adventures of faith and fatherhood, and one of those songs from the heart that you hope gets heard.