Is a pandemic the best time or the worst time to release an album of children’s music based on the Psalms? Musicians Flo Paris Oakes, Sandra McCracken, and Katy Bowser Hutson hope that All Creatures, the fourth album from their musical collective Rain for Roots, reaches the world at just the right time and offers hope in the midst of a storm. The album explores the emotional range of Israel’s original songbook and points listeners to God’s glory made manifest in creation.
The three Nashville musicians talked with Megan Fowler about their project, which just released.
The three previous Rain for Roots albums have focused on Bible stories, parables, and Advent. What was the inspiration for All Creatures?
McCracken: We started out talking about Psalms, and then all these images of creation were so present in the themes that were coming up. So we started paying attention to that. A secondary theme that emerged was songs, loosely based on Psalms, but then creation and the creatures that we saw calling us into worship. It’s not strictly a praise album, but a praise album by way of the Psalms, by way of the owls and birds.
Hutson: When you say it that way, Sandra, the two themes that kind of run through are, one, there’s so much of seeing how God reveals who he is in the natural world; and two, yes, there’s so much beautiful praise, but there’s also lament and fear. I like that the Psalms are such a great way to display, to young ones in particular, that all of the range of emotions are okay to bring before the face of God.
Oakes: And that God is with us, not just in this spiritual realm, but in our humanity. God is with us in every bit of the physical world.
How do you talk to your kids about hard things in your family’s life or hard things going on in the world?
Oakes: It’s really changed as our children have gotten older, especially with things going on in the world, because they see it. We used to protect them, and now my oldest is 16, so she’s on her way to being an adult. Since they were little, we’ve kept those lines of communication open. Something I have really leaned into is asking a lot of questions. Instead of just telling them, “This is how we should feel now, and this is what’s going on, and here are the answers,” asking them, “I wonder how you feel about all of this right now.”
Right now, we’re asking them, “I wonder if there’s something you’re looking forward to after we’re out in the world again.” We ask them every few days, and their answers change, and it opens up a lot of good conversations. When they were little, I wouldn’t tell them the bad scary news but let them tell me what they knew was going on, and then I’d match what they were talking about. That has been a helpful approach for us.
Katy, three years ago, you received a diagnosis of inflammatory breast cancer. In that context, how did you talk about suffering with your kids?
Hutson: We told them that I had a sickness called cancer. The weird thing was that the sickness didn’t make me feel sick right now, but to get better, I was going to have to go through very hard things. I was going to look sick and be really tired, and my hair was going to fall out. When I told my daughter that my hair was going to come out and my breasts were going to come off, she laughed because she was six.
But part of the beauty of the gospel is that you can’t tell the good news until you’ve told the bad news. You can’t tell children the good news until they know that there’s death and brokenness in the world. There really is death, there really is suffering, and death has been defeated. We try to give our children really good stories. Like Flo said, we didn’t tell them more than they needed to know. They didn’t need to know that death was a real possibility for me, because it was more than they needed to handle at the time, unless that subject came up.
McCracken: You both have a lot of wisdom on this. I think that leading with questions and curiosity has been the theme of Rain for Roots since the beginning. To engage on that level has been a practice for us, partly because we know it’s good for our kids, but mostly because we know it’s the way by which we experience the gospel too. We participate in it not as above them, but having been given this unique role by God to parent our kids and to be in community together.
You’re releasing these songs into a world that is really different from the one in which you wrote them. Do you hear the songs differently now than when you started working on them?
Oakes: I hope this can be a point for people to connect with God and be outside and have a little bit of that being near to God in this time, to know that you’re not alone, even though we are isolated.
McCracken: There’s some good providence in the timing. Most art that we’re experiencing now, we’re all hearing it from a place of receptivity in a way that we wouldn’t have four months ago. I think that’s encouraging, just to see the juxtaposition of springtime, the changing of the seasons, the weather, the invitation to be outside, and the fact that it’s really the only choice you have right now.
A song like “Wisdom and Grace,” punctuated around Psalm 90, teaching us to number our days, is always relevant, and in times like this, it seems a little more electricity is around that. You start thinking about it in a new way.
You have some new collaborators on this album. Sandra, your daughter Carter sings. Flo, your daughter Sera sings. And Sera’s friend Skye Peterson contributes, as well. I’m curious what it’s like when your children and your children’s peers become artistic partners.
Oakes: It’s really sweet for me and for all of us. On the day in the studio when Sera was singing “Wisdom and Grace,” it was hard to not be teary. Not just because her voice is so pretty, but the words. I’m thinking, “This is heavy, but it’s also true.” And there’s something sweet and powerful hearing that from a child, even an older child singing. I’ve enjoyed hearing them grow as the albums grow.
McCracken: Seeing the progression and trying to honor them—it’s a tricky thing to try to navigate raising kids with the social media presence that there is now. We want them to be part and also to protect them. It’s been really fun to see them grow and always to have guests and collaborators with us. Skye has done a lot in the church community as a worship leader. She has a new EP that has come out this year, and it’s beautiful.
What are your hopes for this album?
McCracken: When I think about the work, I think about the faithfulness of being committed to our families, singing with them, leading them, asking questions, and learning by the work of the Spirit. And then the outflow of that, the fruitfulness of that in songs we would do together, is such an additional gift. I’m just happy to see it come out.
Oakes: I hope it would be a comfort to people right now. I feel like it’s a strange time to be putting something out, but on the other hand I just want people to have these songs and to feel the comfort and closeness of God in this time.
Hutson: I think we’re trying to listen in a new climate and see. I’m a little agog at the timing on this. I got a text from Flo, asking, “Is this the best time or the worst time to put out an album?” I think it might be the best time for this album. It feels like something good and beautiful to help people see God’s beauty and character in the middle of a really hard time.
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