“You’re a musician,” my supervisor at work said a few months ago. “I’ve been listening to a Rich Mullins’ song called Sometimes by Step, but the lyrics are a little strange. Can you tell me what it’s talking about?”
Now this is my kind of assignment! I began to research the song, and the more I studied it the more amazed I became at the quality of the songwriting.
You see, I’m convinced that this praise song is a modern day Psalm. The Psalms in the Bible use several poetic devices, and identifying these can help us understand their meaning. If I were to analyze this song the way I’d analyze a Psalm from the Bible, then I would conclude that this song was using a poetic device called merism.
Merism is the use of two contrasting ideas to represent an entirety. For example, when Genesis 1:1 says that “God created the heavens and the earth” it is using two contrasting things (heavens and earth) to say that God created the heavens, the earth, and everything in between. So this phrase is actually saying that God created absolutely everything. Another example is from Psalm 139, where the Psalmist declares that God knows “when I sit and when I rise.” By using two contrasting ideas, (rising up and sitting down) the Psalmist is saying that God knows the Psalmist’s sitting down, rising up, and everything in between… so he is saying that God knows all of the Psalmist’s actions – every single one of them.
In the first stanza of Rich Mullins’ Sometimes By Step, I believe he is using merism just as the Psalmist would have. He uses contrasting ideas to say that God will lead Him and that He will follow God every single day of his life, on the good days and the bad days.
I think the key phrase of the song is “I will follow you all of my days.” The merism used in the first stanza uses contrasting ideas (good days and bad days) to represent every single day of the songwriters’ life, saying that he will choose to follow God’s guiding hand every day, without exception.
Isn’t this a beautiful thought, and isn’t the artistry of this song just astounding? As you listen to this song in the video below, may we make the prayer of this modern Psalmist our own:
Sometimes by Step – Rich Mullins (1992)