The concept behind The Project: Martyrs Prayers is both simple and fascinating. Prayers attributed to nine martyrs are set to music and sung as contemplative ballads that confront the listener repeatedly with a stark question: What would you die for?
The album represents a collaboration between Duane Arnold, professor of church history, and musician Michael Glen Bell. They are joined by numerous artists from the world of contemporary Christian music, including Margaret Becker, Glenn Kaiser, Phil Keaggy, Jennifer Knapp and Randy Stonehill.
The songs include prayers written by Clement and Ignatius, martyrs of the early Christian church, as well as by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Oscar Romero, who were murdered by oppressive governments in the 20th century. In general the album honors Christian martyrs, but one song remembers the mostly Jewish martyrs of Ravensbruck (a Nazi concentration camp).
More provocative than entertaining, this is the sort of album that might be used in an adult study group or for private devotions. An accompanying booklet contains lyrics to all the songs as well as information on each of the martyrs.
The artists eschew conventions of pop music that might trivialize their theme. Most of the songs are slow and tranquil, though some build with a somber intensity typical of modern rock. Bell’s voice is thin but appropriate for most of the material presented here.
We encounter praise and lament, cries for deliverance, prayers for the killers, and expressions of trust and hope. An extended chorus of voices crying “God be with me now!” against a background of wailing guitars is chilling. The most poignant moment is Romero’s simple request, “Let my blood be a seed of freedom.”
Martyrs Prayers is available for listening or purchase at www.themartyrsproject.com.
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers