“Gimme Shelter” is a Rolling Stones song found in their 1969 LP “Let It Bleed”. I’m not much of a Stones fan. Given the sorting question, “Beatles or Rolling Stones?” I ALWAYS would choose the Beatles — there is never a doubt. “Gimme Shelter” is not a “pleasant” Stones’ song as one could categorize, e.g., “She’s A Rainbow,” “I Am Waiting,” and “Ruby Tuesday.” The song can be called brooding and menacing. However, the song is powerful. It was written by Jagger and Richards, and there is a background to the song and its lyrics. Richards was sitting in a friend’s apartment with an acoustic guitar in hand, “…When suddenly the sky went completely black and an incredible monsoon came down. It was just people running about looking for shelter — this was the germ of the idea.” Jagger gives his account: “When it was recorded, early ’69 or something, it was a time of war and tension, so that’s reflected in the tune.”
I have been aware of the song for decades, but, while recently watching a YouTube performance of the song covered by U2, with Jagger on stage with them, the impact of the lyrics and the power of the song hit me. “Gimme Shelter” is not just about the turmoil of the late ‘60s, it profoundly resonates with the tensions, turmoil and threats of our times since late winter of 2020 throughout America, Canada, Australia, the UK, and much of Europe. Early last year I would say there were dark, menacing clouds on our horizon. Now the storm is upon us, and it is later than we think. One would have to have lived in the proverbial cave for the past 20 plus months not to see how its lyrics speak to today’s threatening climate. Hence, no commentary is needed as samples of the lyrics, though not in strict sequence,
Oh, a storm is threatening my very life today, if I don’t get some shelter, yeah, I’m gonna fade away!
Oh, see the fire is sweepin’ our very streets today. Burns like a red coat carpet — mad bull lost his way…
War, children, it’s just a shot away…rape, murder it’s just a shot away…
“Gimme Shelter” gives the vision of a complete breakdown of community and society. With such social stresses come many responses. There is worry, anxiety, and depression. There is anger and rage. There are responses of hoarding goods. There are responses of moving assets to various investment strategies deemed safer than the standard options. There are preparations meant to preserve life (even from violent attack), property, and even basic sustenance. All may be good and wise, but may tragically lack the insight of faith’s preparations which would provide hope, love, and peace
I now move to the Psalms for guidance. This book of both Jewish and Christian scriptures dates back thousands of years. Psalms’ words often come from ancient times of similar and worse troubles. To begin the examination of Psalms’ advice, let me paraphrase Psalm 145: 3 (LXX): “Put not your trust in precious metals, cryptocurrencies, non-perishable foods, firearms, and survival gear in which there is no salvation!” Thus, we are to look to God, not only to the limited provisions and protections offered by the world. I do not dismiss such worldly preparations, but we of faith must see far beyond them.
The Psalms teach us we are not alone in the course of human history. David addresses such stresses and fears about 3,000 years ago:
My heart is in anguish within me, the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me. And I say, “O that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest; yes, I would wander afar, I would lodge in the wilderness, I would wait for him who saves me from the raging wind and tempest (LXX Psalm 54: 4 – 8).
Who offers us protection? Ultimately, it is not Glock, Ruger, Smith and Wesson, and 9mm rounds (along with two or three magazines ready to go in reserve) that will preserve us. It is God. For example, we find these words in LXX Psalm 53 (MT 54): 1 – 4, 7:
Save me, O God, by your name, and vindicate me by your might. Hear my prayer O God; give ear to the words of my mouth. For insolent men have risen against me, ruthless men seek my life; they do not set God before them. Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life…For you have delivered me from every trouble, and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies.
Let me say once more that I do not dismiss wise preparations, but for us who are of faith there are other activities that prepare us for evil times — activities that will strengthen our resolve spiritually. To prepare for the possibility of being contemporary confessors we must worship God continually in spite of threat, and live the Christian life in everyday simplicity. LXX Psalm 99 (MT 100) gives this exhortation regarding worship:
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the lands! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord is God! It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him, bless his name! For the Lord is good; his mercy endures for ever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
Living the preparatory life spiritually extends from the corporate life to private life within home and greater community. LXX Psalm 100 (MT 101) vv 1 – 4 addresses such conduct:
I will sing of mercy and justice; to you O Lord, I will sing. I will give heed to the way that is blameless. Oh, when will you come to me? I will walk with integrity of heart within my house; I will not set before my eyes anything that is base. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me. Perverseness of heart shall be far from me; I will know nothing of evil.
Furthermore, as we move with our Lord through these troubling days, we must also live in solidarity with each other and with those not of faith. We are to bless, to pray, and to give thanks. I shift from the Psalms to St. Paul:
…Be at peace among yourselves. Now we urge you brethren, to warn the idle, encourage the faint hearted, and to be patient with all. Do not repay evil for evil, but always pursue the good, both for one another and for all. Rejoice always. Pray constantly. Give thanks for all things for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do do not restrain the Spirit, do not despise prophecy; test all things and hold fast to the good. Avoid every appearance of evil. Now may the God of peace sanctify you wholly and keep your spirit, soul, and body sound and blameless in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful and he will do this (1 Thessalonians 5: 13b – 24).
Let’s trust in God when we consider Mick and Keith’s lyric: “Mm, a flood is threatening my very life today. Gimme, gimme shelter, or I’m gonna fade away.”