April 2, 2013

Album notes

Album credits

Words and music by Katarina Stenstedt

Vocals, guitars, bass, and keyboard by Katarina Stenstedt
Drums and percussion by Bobby Medcalf
Vocal harmony on “Kristina’s Song” by the lovely and talented Kristina Dunworth

Produced by Bobby Medcalf and Katarina Stenstedt
Recorded and engineered by Gene Anderson
Mastered by Masaki
Photography and album design by Gene Anderson

About the album

Gene, Bobby and I recorded every sound on Go in Peace in the living room of Gene’s and my house in the Oakland hills. We used a Roland VS-1880 digital recorder—a dinosaur with no computer interface. (Next album, ProTools!) Each time we’d record, one of us would jog down to the basement and flip the breaker to turn off the refrigerator so it wouldn’t hum and rumble in the background. We’d turn off the phone’s ringer and hope neither of the cats was about to launch into an inexplicable, crazed romp around the house.

Back cover - Go in Peace CDThe album does have subliminal messages, in the form of unintentionally recorded meows, purrs, and bird chirps; the sound of my fingernail catching on a string once in a while; a sigh or a badly sung note here and there; the whirr of the 1880 recording itself recording itself; creaks and squeaks when weight was shifted from right foot to left on our old hardwood floor. In short, this album was not recorded in a million dollar studio. I can say with confidence, though, that it was created and recorded with love and in joyful camaraderie. Masaki called it a “good effort,” which I take to be a compliment. My hope and prayer is that you’ll enjoy it, and that you’ll receive something of the profound love of God that I received in the writing and recording of the songs.

The songs. For me, that’s what it’s about. I’ve been writing and rewriting songs for the last twenty years, and in a kind of a “bucket list” experience, I realized that now was the time to record some of them.

I’d like to share a little bit with you about each of the ten songs that made it onto this album.

Go in Peace

The album’s title song is a benediction and a goodbye, written first for my aunt Marjorie in early 2006, when she was dying of lung cancer. I rewrote the song in 2007 to make the lyrics more generic, and also with my dad in mind as he was dying. So the song is for both of them, but I’ve realized that the song is even more universal than that—it’s meant for everyone. Here’s my favorite part:

The God who wove you in the dark
the one whose rough hands made your heart
had you in mind before the dawn of time
The one who gazed with gentle eyes
at all the colors of your life—
before the threads were dyed
the artist saw your life.

Go in Peace sample and lyrics

Lord of the Waves

For me, most of the songs on this album have a crux, one line that embodies the song. It’s usually not the line that jumps out for other people when they hear the song; it mostly just jumps out for me.

I wrote “Lord of the Waves” in 1995, on a day when I was afraid of being overwhelmed by a situation I was soon to encounter. I was reading Matthew 14: In the middle of the night, Jesus walks out onto a lake and heads towards the disciples, scaring the wits out of them. Peter asks to be asked (which I love), so Jesus asks him to come out onto the water. Peter steps out, then begins to sink. It’s the next line in the story that caught my attention that day in 1995, because Peter’s prayer was my prayer too. He said, “Master, save me!” For me, drowning in a storm-tossed sea felt like a perfect metaphor for being emotionally and interpersonally overwhelmed.

So sitting there playing my guitar on the couch in my living room, I sang “Master, save me!” over and over. Eventually other pieces of the story fell into place, but for me this song has always been a way of crying out for a very practical kind of support “in the ‘whelming flood.”

Lord of the Waves sample and lyrics

Bless These Hands

I have a part-time vocation as a spiritual director, and I received my training in the Diploma in the Art of Spiritual Direction (DASD) program at SFTS. The program involves a three-week residential intensive each January for three years in a row, and each January, it’s a tradition for the graduating class to design and offer the final worship service.

Our graduating class (2004) did a number of cool things during our worship service, one of which was to gather the community in a large circle and anoint and bless each person’s hands. It was a benediction that we offered to our companions as they dispersed into the world to love and serve. My classmate and dear friend Judith Brown Bryan gave me this phrase to start with:

Hands that pray,
hands that love,
hands that serve.

I wrote the song “Bless These Hands” during the last few days of that January intensive, building around the phrase “Hands the pray, hands that love, hands that serve.” Then I sang the song during the hand-blessing ceremony.

I’ve revised the song since that evening, but the heart of the matter is the same. As we did the work of recording this album, I came to think of “Bless These Hands” as a blessing for the work that Bobby, Gene and I were doing.

Bless These Hands sample and lyrics


I find it beautifully refreshing and life-giving to sing and pray using feminine metaphors for God. In my newer songs, like “Sewing,” I’m exploring images for God that are more often associated with women, like sewing. (My great uncle Alfred Berglof was a tailor in San Francisco at the turn of the 20th century, but that just makes the sewing metaphor all the richer for me!) I hope my next album will include more such songs. Right now I’m working on a song called “The Great Ship of Grace,” which is a strong metaphor that gives me an unaffected way to use the word “she” in reference to God.

The images in “Sewing” of bolts, bobbins, and the bright debris of a sewing project came from watching my mother sew when I was a little girl. An idea that I wanted to find a way to include in the song, but just couldn’t, was the to-me miraculous fact that a sewing machine joins thread from above the cloth with thread from the underside of the cloth. One thread is passed through the needle, and one thread comes from the bobbin, which is tucked into the lower part of the sewing machine, underneath the cloth:

Can a sewing machine
really join thread from above
with thread from underneath?

This strikes me as something like what God does in our lives, making a strong piece of work by stitching together what we see and what we can’t see.

Sewing sample and lyrics

Mary and Mary

The exact details of who found Jesus’ empty tomb, and how they reacted, vary from story to story. My favorite is the version in Matthew 28 when it is two women, both named Mary, who head to the tomb at dawn and encounter a heart-stoppingly scary angel. I wrote this song after spending some time with the story using the prayer of “lectio divina,” where you imagine yourself in the scene, filling in the sensory details, making up snippets of conversation that perhaps you would have overheard if you’d been there—and that you’re now overhearing thanks to your God-given imagination.

Maybe Mary and Mary were stumbling over rocks and tree roots on the path in the pale dawn light. Maybe they had headaches from crying so much. I bet they were tired, and maybe they were hungry and irritable. They were grieving, and I don’t imagine that they expected to find anything in or near the tomb except the dead body of Jesus.

My favorite part of the song is when the two women are “shocked by an angel who shook the ground with his news”:

His face sparked like lightning
flashing and blinding
and he said,
“Don’t be afraid.”

I wonder what it’s like to be a creature who scares people so much that the first thing you say is always, “Don’t be afraid”….

Mary and Mary sample and lyrics

Words of Life

The line in this song that resonates for me every time I hear it is this one:

When Jesus was sleeping
it was hard work believing.

This part of the song tells another story of Jesus calming a storm (Luke 8:22-25). Jesus falls asleep in the stern of the boat and doesn’t wake up, even when, the narrator tells us, the boat is in danger of being swamped. I have an icon that shows this scene—Jesus naps peacefully while Peter gestures to him aggressively and John folds in on himself. I’m familiar with these two responses to crisis: bargain with God and the world, or check out and disappear. I gazed at that icon while I wrote the song. When Jesus appears to be sleeping through scary events in my life, it’s hard work believing.

Words of Life sample and lyrics

Psalm 42

This is the oldest song on the album. I wrote the first version in 1991 and performed it with the group Intaglio. We have a version of the song from 1992, recorded live at the now defunct Karen’s Deli in Mountain View.

I’m always struggling to find a good way to speak and write about the Great One, the Ineffable One, the Benevolent Creator who I feel sure exists, and who I feel sure loves us. Writing about Jesus is one way of writing about this mysterious God, but I don’t see it as the only way. I do love Jesus, that’s for sure, and I’ve taken much inspiration over the years from the gospel stories. I also pray regularly with the psalms, and one thing I appreciate about these ancient prayers is their emotional honesty. Psalm 42 is a lament in which the psalmist describes the voices of doubt. It feels deeply true to me.

Psalm 42 sample and lyrics

You Set My Heart Free

To my surprise, this turned out to be my favorite song on the album. It has something to do with the freedom that the song expresses, plus the joyful, celebratory feel of the arrangement. I wrote the song in 1993 under the title “Path of Your Commands,” which is more serious and intense. When I revised it into “You Set My Heart Free,” my 1993 language felt like a too-tight pair of pants, so I loosened a few words. “Submission” became “surrender,” “obey” became “follow,” “the rules” became “your will,” and “the path of your commands” became “the path you’ve set for me.” Ahhh…that’s better.

My favorite translation of Psalm 119:32, by the way, is “Eagerly I follow your path, for you set my heart free.” This comes from the International Committee on Ministry translation, now out of print.

You Set My Heart Free sample and lyrics

Kristina’s Song

If you listen to nothing else on this album, listen to the sample clip of this song so you can share a moment of the joy that is Kristina and her song. Kristina is my niece, and a few days before she was born in 1995, I took a long walk around the grounds of St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park. While I walked, I prayed for Kristina and began to write this song, addressed to Kristina in my sister’s womb. The special line for me in the song is this one:

There are so many people
who can’t wait to see your face—
you’ve got friends all around you
who’ve been saving you a place.

For me, that’s the heart of the matter: No matter how much space is already taken up by the people in your family or in the world, a space is kept clear for you. No one but you will be able to fill it.

Kristina’s Song sample and lyrics

The Canvas

I wrote “The Canvas” to sing at a wedding that was celebrated on a brilliant, beautiful August afternoon alongside the Detroit River. Here’s the line in this song that I’ve always resonated with, for reasons I don’t altogether understand:

You be the waves that everyone can see
and I’ll be the current that moves us from beneath.

I’m also fond of some of the lines that I couldn’t find a place for, like this one:

You be the blue, and I’ll be the green
you be the dreamer, and I’ll be the dream

Or this one:

You bring the candle, and I’ll bring the flame
you bring the glasses, I’ll bring the champagne.

The Canvas sample and lyrics

(All songs and recordings are © Katarina Stenstedt.)