Back Home In Nashville! We sit down with Grammy Award-Winning Recording Artist Amy Grant. Part One of Two.

The article below is an excerpt taken from Mind and Heart, a weekly podcast series hosted by Sr. John Dominic Rasmussen, OP. The producer of the series was GoLEDigital, a digital community created by the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.

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Amy Grant shares insight into her life’s journey with music as well as how God has worked in various ways in her life.  In Part One, we discuss the impact God has in our lives and those around us and where we can identify the work of God in everyday life experiences.  In Part Two, released next week, Amy and I share stories about education, the mystery and power of the brain and Amy shares her insight into a new technology from Cereset.

Sister John Dominic Rasmussen: 

This week, I’m taking you back to my roots where my education and vocation began in an unlikely place and during an unlikely time. I’m taking you to Music City –  to Nashville, Tennessee. Throughout this four-part series, I will introduce you to some special people that use their gifts and talents to promote goodness and virtue: Grammy award-winning artist Amy Grant, Hall of Fame golfer Joe Taggart, and award-winning architect Dick Miller. The first two of these episodes I sit down with a longtime friend of mine and fellow Tennessean singer-songwriter Amy Grant.

Sr. John Dominic Rasmussen:

Amy, it is great to see you again. This is always my highlight when I come back home to Nashville if you’re in town, and there’s nothing else going on, even if we can sneak in a visit for 5 or 10 minutes. For the people listening, you need no introduction, but could you give a little background of who you are?

Amy Grant: 

I’m a singer-songwriter, and I have done that since it was a high school hobby. I love music. I always have. When I was a kid, I started writing songs that helped explain my faith or helped me ask questions musically. I grew up loving James Taylor, Carole King, and The Beatles, but simultaneously I was having an exciting, life changing faith journey that began in high school. I thought, “Nobody’s singing about this,” so I started writing and the rest is history. I don’t know how to do anything else. 

Sr. John Dominic Rasmussen:

We’re both from Nashville. We grew up here. One question I often get is how in the world did you meet us? We’re from Nashville, but in my mind, it’s Christ Who brings us together. What’s your memory of “who’s that person dressed in all white?”

Amy Grant: 

I’m trying to remember if I met you before you were 18. I knew your mom. I remember her saying, “I have a daughter who is thinking about becoming a nun.” 

Sr. John Dominic Rasmussen:

I was curious because she was working with Chet Atkins, and there were a lot of people interacting at that same time. 

Amy Grant: 

That’s right. She was working with him about that time, and I remember her talking about you. I didn’t go to St. Cecilia, a Catholic school. I went to a girls’ prep school, so I wasn’t brought up with a lot of my friends joining Convents. If somebody was committing their life to service, they were going to be a missionary. I love your habit. I love it when you’re down or you’ll drop by or bring sisters to the Detroit show, and I could hear security saying, “Oreos are coming in the back.”  It feels like family. To other people, it might feel like a collision of worlds.

Sr. John Dominic Rasmussen:

It’s very natural, and I often think of Vince. You know how he teases everybody, and my problem is that he always has the microphone. Once he gets on a roll, he’s not going to stop. Someday, I’m going to have the microphone, and he doesn’t know what I’ll do. I’ll figure out something. I think of these different times where the path would cross. It was more organic. It naturally happened.

Charlie Pride and the Dominican Sisters perform, “Hail, Holy, Queen” from Sister Act at the Vinny Karaoke

Amy Grant: 

Your mom had a long career in the music business. She worked with Chet Atkins who I knew for many years, even before Vince and I were a couple. Chet was Vince’s main inspiration as a young guitar player, and then Joe came back marrying your mom a little later in life and playing golf together. I was late to the golf table but fell in love with it in the mid 90s. It’s funny that being married to Vince has given me the gift of having to own my own spiritual journey and to share it openly with him without manipulation. So many times you can want something for somebody. I want you to like the music I like. I want you to want the things I want, but every one of us is unique. When Vince and I first married, I went to church Sunday morning and Wednesday night. That’s nothing compared to how many times you go to church. After Vince’s brother’s accident, I don’t know if they ever went to church again. At some point, I thought, “This is the man I love, and I’m going to tell him about my journey the same way I tell my kids,” so something incredible would happen, feeling like I was supposed to go pray for somebody, and it wound up in this crazy experience. I couldn’t have orchestrated it myself. I would say, “You are not going to believe what happened today,” and I’ll tell him this experience. One time I laughed so hard because I was telling him this moving, life-changing, spiritual, transformative experience for me, and I finished, and he slapped the kitchen counter and said, “It’s settled. We have to get you a TV show.”

So many times in our culture, we want unity to be like-mindedness, but really unity is the freedom to share our differences with each other in a setting of compassion. We all benefit from a broader perspective. I remember coming to him one time saying, “Okay. Come on, when you’re in front of a sunset, is there ever a time that you have to raise your hands and say thank you? What does it take?” I was asking him what in you is helpless to respond to God?

And it might have come from a friend, Jeff Slaughter, who was the piano teacher for my three Chapman children. He used to come on Monday nights, and I would feed him dinner with my family, and then everybody would get a piano lesson. During that time, he had a niece that was killed in a four-wheeler accident. I felt like I knew Jeff’s family because they were from Mississippi. They were very Southern and funny. I’d heard so many stories about his family. We all imitated his mom and some of her funny stories. That was a time of tragedy. Life went through a lot of different changes. Years later, I’m married to Vince. I have had another child. Piano lessons are long since forgotten. Jeff said so many weird things have happened to me in my life. I finally put them all together. He contacted me and asked, “Would you write some comments in the front of this book? I’ve run off a couple of chapters.” I said, “Sure.” It was an afternoon when I was free. At the time, my father was deep in his journey with dementia. My mother had already passed away. It was gut-wrenching for us. I’m at the recording studio waiting on the producer, and Jeff brings this loose pile of pages, and I see on the beginning of one that it refers to his niece being killed in that four-wheeler accident. I went, “Oh my gosh, that was over 12 years ago. I remember we were all together. I remember him talking about his niece.” In fact, it was so crazy back then because Jeff would write a musical for their small, Mississippi, Southern Baptist Church and go home and lead it. He said, “Amy, I’m telling you, I’d look out at that church with all these people with their nose in a songbook, and the only person in the audience with their hands like this is my niece. She would say, ‘Uncle Jeff, someday the whole congregation is going to have their arms up. Everybody’s going to get free.’” She was such a letter writer. Way back in the 90s when they were going to get a new youth group leader in that church, she had been writing that youth group leader all summer saying, “You’re going to love this family. Their kids are XY & Z. You’re going to love this person. Somebody that might be hard to get . . .” She actually was killed Labor Day weekend. That youth group leader never met her, but he gave the eulogy at her service because he knew her so well from her letters. So all the time I’m going, “Oh my gosh, 15-years had gone by. It was like it was yesterday.” What I had never heard was the end of the story.

As it turns out, they had her organs donated to different people. Time had gone by, and the man who had received her heart was in his mid-50s. He was a grandfather, and he wrote a letter to her mom, Jeff’s sister. He said, “May I ask you some questions about your daughter? I’m grateful for her every day of my life. When I came out of that surgery, there were things about me that were different. Because of my education, I’ve never been much of a letter writer. I was always afraid I would make a mistake or not say something the right way, but from the time I got her heart, I was obsessed with letter writing. I write letters to my children. I wrote letters to my grandkids. I wanted to ask if she’s a letter writer. It’s hard for me to explain. I’m not a religious man, but my wife goes to church and occasionally, I will go to church with her. When the music begins, I am helpless to keep my hands down. 

Sr. John Dominic Rasmussen:

Wow, isn’t that something?

Amy Grant: 

That was so timely for me because I’m dealing with my father who is a blank wall. If the heart of a child that has died can be put into the body of a living man, and if that heart tissue can carry that kind of energy and memory, I’m going to look at my dad, who can’t remember my name, and I’m going to put my hand on his heart and say, “I know you’re still in there. I don’t care what any of this says.” We’re helpless. That conversation has gone on for years with Vince and me. “Something’s got to make your hands go up!” One day he wrote a song (When My Amy Prays) that was like his answer to the question. 

Sr. John Dominic and Vince Gill enjoy the performances.

Sr. John Dominic Rasmussen:

Did he just come out one day and say, “I got something,” or did you know he was working on that? 

Amy Grant: 

I can’t remember the first time I heard it. That was a recurring conversation with us.

Sr. John Dominic Rasmussen:

That’s what I was saying at the beginning, noticing that change. I think it’s the different chapters in our lives. God is working our hearts, and that’s bringing us home. Thank God we have a lifetime because imagine if this life is as wonderful as it is at the moments when your hands are raised, imagine what eternity is going to be like. I personally want to thank you for the impact that your music, and who you are as a person, have on so many people that you touch. You don’t know how many young women that you’ve helped with their vocations to become a sister, singing the music and having the words resonate. You don’t know how many Catholic churches sing the song about the breath of heaven with the blessed mother. Did you think about that for years, or is that one of the ones that just came together?

Amy Grant: 

Strangely enough, that song had a life of its own before I stumbled upon it. It was a song written by Chris Eaton. I heard it and the chorus he had written, but all the imagery in the verses was different. Chris and I were good friends. We were on tour together. He’s from England. I went to him one day because when I heard that song I imagined Mary. I said, “I’m about to skate out on thin ice here. Would you let me rewrite your song?” I know. So bold. So presumptuous. He could have said, “No way, no how.” Instead, he said, “What do you mean, rewrite it?” I can’t remember his lyrics, but it was all nature imagery, and I said, “This is the ultimate prayer, but in letting this be Mary’s prayer, it becomes all of our prayer.” He gave me carte blanche. So that beautiful melody is all Chris Eaton’s.

Sr. John Dominic Rasmussen:

It’s haunting. Those are the parts in scripture where all it says is that she pondered. I think people are like, “Well, how do I read scripture?” Do what she did. You ponder and let it chew in your heart. As you ponder on your life Amy, What’s kept you grounded all these years?

Amy Grant: 

I remember my mother got me a paraphrased version of the New Testament in fourth or fifth grade. I was six when I got my first Bible. In fact, I still have it. It’s totally torn up, but it makes me laugh because my name was in gold on the front, “Amy Lee Grant.” That had such little impact. I always wanted a beautiful long name, and when I got my first Bible, I thought, “I want something fancier than that.” I still have that old Bible because I hand wrote in the front of it my version of what my name should be, a long version that had shimmer and sparkle. It was Amy Kay Lee Goldfish-Lynn Grant. It was hard for me to understand that Bible. I don’t think I was interested in reading it. I just wanted a big fancy name on it. A few years went by and the Good News for Modern Man came out, the paraphrased little bible, and my mom got me one. It had these tiny stick figure illustrations, very simple, and it was in little stories. I remember opening that book and reading about Jesus, so drawn to him. As a child, I couldn’t get enough of the stories. “He did what? He said what?” It was so innocent, but I think that’s what it was, something related before I had a curiosity about Him as a person. That superseded everything about religion, but I think we’re going to someday look back on all of our stories and go, “We were all such numb-nuts. How did we get where we got?” Clearly God was intervening at every point.

Sr. John Dominic Rasmussen:

He’s totally leading us. I felt that way when I was teaching first grade. It was, “Dear God, You’ve got to help me with this.” He writes straight with the crooked lines of our lives and brings people together. I think even in my own family, the whole situation with my sister and her struggle. She’s probably one of the people that I admire because if I was in her skin day in and day out, I have to believe that God is taking care of her. That was a big step for me because about the time when I entered the convent, she mentioned to me about the time our parents divorced, and it was very difficult for her. I remember praying, “Lord, I’m going to stay with this vocation. This is what I want and believe You’re calling me to do. I trust You in this, and I know You’ll take care of it.” Life goes on, and her life goes on, and then she had this moment where things turned upside down. I remember praying, “Why is this happening?” What I heard in my heart was a voice saying, ” I love her more than you do, and I died for her, and I will take care of her.” It’s hard. You let go, and you let God. That was a moment of peace. We don’t know God’s providence. We don’t know what people are experiencing, and what we can do is love them. 

Amy Grant: 

In the human experience, every step forward is based on our good performance. The reason you get to go to college or experience a high school reunion is because you passed first grade, and then second grade, and third grade. The reason you get invited to this circle or to be on that board is because you have proved yourself responsible. Everything about our human experience is based on, not so much accomplishments, but you got the job done. If you don’t get the job done, then you don’t get that job. If you don’t do the work, that relationship falls apart. We are experiencing human life, and everything is about performance. Then, you have your spiritual life, and when you’re young, it’s, “Here’s what I’m going to do for God. Oh my gosh, people in my life are falling apart.” Then you’re white knuckling, holding on to them in front of God. At some point in later life, you’re able to divide those two things in your head. “I’m not helping my friend by white-knuckling them right in front of me so I can give them all my advice. I’m loving them the most when I ponder them with an open hand in front of God.” It’s an open conversation, surrounding them with your thoughts in the presence of God.

Sr. John Dominic Rasmussen:

Ultimately, He’s the only one that can do that. We bring that love, but ultimately, He brings that grace. It’s interesting, the suffering and hardships, the things that don’t look like achievements that bring people together. With my parents divorcing, how do we bring together this blended group of people? It was suffering that brought everyone together. When everything looks messy and dirty and yucky, healing comes forth. It’s hard to remember when you’re going through it, but when you look back, you say, “This is what it’s all about.”

Amy Grant: 

Then you get older, and you really do. You see somebody’s life imploding. Somebody filed for divorce. When you’re young, you think, “Ahh, it’s contagious.” Then you get older and go, “I know it doesn’t feel like it right now, but that person got a very immediate invitation to take a long hard look in the mirror.” You see it differently. We all want desperately to feel connected, to belong and be a part of something. We try to create that with our best selves as separate love. You want real belonging? Let your needs show. You have a sick child. Somebody is in recovery, and we need help with who’s going to watch the kindergartner. You have an accident, or somebody’s lost their job. These people’s house burnt down. Nobody wants an invitation to that party, but those are the circumstances out of real need. You can’t turn away. The next thing you know, everybody’s pulling clothes from their closet to fill the need.

Sr. John Dominic Rasmussen:

The whole thing in Matthew comes together where Jesus says, “When you do it to the least of My brethren, you’ve done it to Me.” It’s in those needs where he’s present. Amy, thank you so much for your wonderful hospitality. I’m so grateful for your friendship and your presence and the times we’re able to come together. The way I look at this is that we’re sharing our normal conversations with other people and inviting them to the table to be present. Hopefully, they can walk away with something that makes them feel lighter and helps them greet the day with a smile. Why don’t we end with you repeating that prayer for others to carry them forth?

Amy Grant: 

Lord, lead me today to those I need and to those that need me and let something I do have eternal significance.

Sr. John Dominic Rasmussen:

Thank you Amy. Tune in next week as we continue this conversation with Amy Grant in Part two of this episode.

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