This is my review of the new CD Way to Emmaus by my friend and fellow-blogger Russ Rentler.
Russ Rentler's blog, "Crossed the Tiber," was one of the first Catholic blogs I came across when I got into blogging a few years ago. He first commented on my blog on April 26, 2007. The next day, he wrote his first blog post. Shortly after that, I added him to my blogroll. He was the first blogger I met in person — he and his wife live not far from my parents out in Eastern Pennsylvania. He's a revert to the Catholic Church and he puts his faith into musical action.
His new CD, Way to Emmaus, is a spiritual gem. The music is joyous, folky, and reverent. It's admittedly outside my normal listening spectrum, but the performance and content win me over. The thirteen songs on this CD pull from nearly 2000 years of wisdom revealed by God to His Church: Late I Have Loved You channels St. Augustine's struggle to let himself surrender to a "beauty so ancient yet ever-new", while The Offering is inspired by the "Prayer of Surrender" written by Rev. Walter J. Ciszek, SJ, a Polish-American priest who died in 1984. In Way to Emmaus, the title track, Russ captures the emotions of the two disciples as they walked, disappointed and disoriented, to Emmaus from Jerusalem where Christ was crucified; but Russ bares his soul and tells his own journey from Jerusalem towards Emmaus, through a time of doubts and questions, and finally back to Jerusalem, in Stained Glass Windows.
The more lighthearted tracks, such as Upsy Daisy Angel, Old Time Religion, and Nicean Blues (which I subtitle "A Little Church History"), provide some levity to balance the gravity of tracks like Whisper (which I subtitle "An Act of Contrition") and Room of Tears (where the newly elected pope dresses before he walks onto the balcony to greet the faithful). Also included is Russ's ode to the Blessed Virgin Mary, under the title given to her by St. Irenaeus: Untier of Knots. This Church Father wrote that "The knot of Eve's disobedience was untied by Mary's obedience: what the virgin Eve bound through her disbelief, Mary loosened by her faith." (Adv. haeres. 3, 22, 4; quoted in Catechism 494) There are two instrumental tracks, both of which are hymns you probably know: Holy God (We Praise Thy Name) and Sing of Mary.
Closing the CD is a song which touches upon the heart of Russ's other ministry, serving the poor of Haiti as a medic-missionary. Jewel of the Caribbean is a haunting look at the deep beauty of Port-au-Prince which is shrouded by its poverty.
This CD is a testimony to the beauty of faith, the power of grace, and the freedom of surrender to God. I give it The Cross Reference seal of approval: support Russ's ministry in Haiti by purchasing the CD and telling your friends about it.