Blessings at the Crossroads

crossroads article bannerMartin Guitars has an ad campaign called, “Crossroads.” In the ad, they retell the legend of Robert Johnson’s encounter with the devil. It’s a gloomy night at a crossroads on a rural Mississippi plantation in the early 1930’s. A struggling blues musician named Robert Johnson has a burning desire to play his guitar better than anyone else. At this lonely intersection, the Devil waits for Johnson. With the moon shining down, the Devil plays a few songs on Johnson’s guitar. When Robert Johnson gets his guitar back, he has complete mastery over the instrument. His soul now belongs to the supernatural being, and for the next 5 years or so, he creates music that will live past his tragic, suspicious death in 1938 at the age of 27.

A closer look at the lyrics of “Crossroads” shows not a man struggling with the devil and fame but with loneliness and pain. The crossroad is whether or not his pain will overwhelm him or whether or not he can come through it with a song. Here are Robert Johnson’s lyrics and a video to listen to the original version

I went to the crossroad fell down on my knees

I went to the crossroad fell down on my knees

Asked the Lord above “Have mercy, now save poor Bob, if you please

Mmmmm, standin’ at the crossroad I tried to flag a ride

Standin’ at the crossroad I tried to flag a ride

Didn’t nobody seem to know me everybody pass me by

Mmm, the sun goin’ down, boy dark gon’ catch me here

oooo ooee eeee, boy, dark gon’ catch me here

I haven’t got no lovin’ sweet woman that love and feel my care

You can run, you can run tell my friend-boy Willie Brown

You can run, you can run tell my friend-boy Willie Brown

Lord, that I’m standin’ at the crossroad, babe 

I believe I’m sinkin’ down

 The challenge of life is less a struggle with the devil and more of a challenge to take the pain of life and turn it into a song. That’s the challenge which is the basis of not only the blues but of faith. The Bible’s song book is full of similar songs of lament, of struggling between what we long for and what we have, where we are and where we hope to be, and songs like Robert Johnson at the cross roads, that are looking not for the devil, but for God like in Psalm 13,

 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain[a] in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long?

Jesus offers some strange blessings in Luke’s version of the beatitudes in Luke 6

20 “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. 

“Blessed are you who weep now,  for you will laugh.

I don’t believe those are the blessings that people are thinking of when they say, “Have a blessed day.” (This seems to have replaced, “Have a ‘nice’ day,” around Nashville.) The crossroads everyone of us faces is the challenge to take the struggles of our lives and turn them into a song or some other music for the world. The Blues as well as lasting songs that touch our souls often begin with pain transformed to music. If we can meet the challenge of those crossroads, then we will not only find a blessing, but be a blessing for the world.