Every Grain of Sand

Bob Dylan’s song Every Grain of Sand is almost shockingly profound.

I had mentioned a little bit about this in my post on Bishop Barron’s Tribute to Bob Dylan.

Lately I’ve been thinking about these lyrics:

I have gone from rags to riches
In the sorrow of the night
In the violence of a summer’s dream
In the chill of a wintry night

In the bitter dance of loneliness
Fading into space
In the broken mirror of innocence
Of each forgotten face

I hear the aging footsteps
Like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there
At times, it’s only me.

I’m hanging in the balance,
Of a perfect, finished plan.
Like every sparrow fallen.
Like every grain of sand.

It’s that last verse, especially, which really captures me. I love the line “I’m hanging in the balance of a perfect, finished plan.” Part of what I like so much about this is that finished and perfect mean the same thing, at least as one of each of their meanings. Perfect, meaning without flaw, is related to finished, in the sense of complete, lacking nothing. Capping it with the line, “like every sparrow fallen” is a phenomenal reference to when Christ made vivid to God’s knowledge of all things, “Can you not buy two sparrows for a penny? And yet not one falls to the ground without your Father knowing. Why, every hair on your head has been counted. So there is no need to be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

This also touches on the Catholic sense of the doctrine of predestination, which is very, very different from the Calvinist doctrine of predestination. the Catholic doctrine in no way denies or diminishes free will. I’ve always liked how Saint Augustine put it, in a letter to some monks who were disputing free will and grace: if God knows the choices that men make before they make them, it is not nothing that God knows. We men, in our finitude and temporality can only imagine that if a choice can be known before it is made, there cannot have actually been a choice. As far as we can see, if it can be known beforehand, it was merely the working out of causal necessity. This is true, so far as it goes, because it is only the working out of causal necessity which we can see before it happens. This is because we are temporal beings; our being comes into existence moment by moment, and we can only know what has already been unfolded. God is not in time. He is eternally in the fullness of his being. He does not need to wait for us to make our choices because to Him we are always and eternally making all of our choices. By knowing our choices, God does not prevent Himself from also giving us freedom.

This also touches very much on the Christian idea that we are in the end times. Salvation history began with man’s sin, but in a real sense ended with God performing the sacrifice of Himself to atone for our sins. It is a basic truth of life that a dirty cloth cannot clean anything; if you want to clean something you must use a clean cloth. In like manner, there is no sacrifice we can make of anything in this fallen world which will wash away our own sin. Only God, who is not stained by sin, can wash it away. (In more technical language, we cannot give what we haven’t got and therefore cannot fill up the privation which is sin; only God who can create ex nihilo can fill the gap caused by our sin through an extra act of creation.) This sacrifice by God of Himself to wash away our sin completes salvation history. For the last 2000 years we have been merely in the epilogue of this story.

We are, all of us, hanging in the balance of a perfect, finished plan. Like every sparrow fallen. Like every grain of sand.

Bishop Barron’s Tribute to Bob Dylan

In honor of Bob Dylan’s eightieth birthday, Bishop Barron sung a verse from one of his favorite of Dylan’s songs in tribute:

He does a really good job. This is one hell of a birthday tribute.

As a side note, Bob Dylan is a curious figure—one of the most popular singers of all time, but not exactly gifted with a great voice. To be fair, he’s famous as a singer on the strength of his writing rather than his singing; there are many of his songs I haven’t heard, but the best versions of all of his songs I know of are covers. Heck, Bishop Barron sings the song better than Dylan did in the recording that I looked up of the original.

Just to pick an example at random, Jeff Healey did When the Night Comes Falling From the Sky sooo much better:

I think just about every cover of Blowin in the Wind was better than Bob Dylan’s. My favorite is Peter, Paul, and Mary’s:

That, by the way, doesn’t have the best audio—it clips sometimes. This version is a much cleaner recording:

I think you can make a decent case that even William Shatner’s version of Hey Mr. Tambourine Man is better than the original, but I don’t think that there’s much argument that the Byrd’s version is the best:

When it comes to The Times They Are a Changin’ I think that Dylan’s version is closer to some of the covers, but still Simon and Garfunkel did it way better:

To be fair, his voice works much better for Like a Rolling Stone:

If you compare it to the Rolling Stones’ version, I think it’s about a draw:

Anyway, here is the full version of the song which Bishop Barron sang a verse from (Every Grain of Sand):

The lyrics really are brilliant. Consider this verse, which comes shortly before what Bishop Barron sang:

I gaze into the doorway of temptation’s angry flame
And every time I pass that way I always hear my name
Then onward in my journey I come to understand
That every hair is numbered like every grain of sand

It’s quite profound. Or again, this verse that comes right before it:

Oh, the flowers of indulgence and the weeds of yesteryear
Like criminals, they have choked the breath of conscience and good cheer
The sun beat down upon the steps of time to light the way
To ease the pain of idleness and the memory of decay

Somehow these few words capture both the complexity and the simplicity of sin; and of the desperate need to escape it once you can see clearly enough to see it for what it is.