"Fear not, for I am with you!" It is a confession that burns with a white phosphorous intensity through every song of worship leader Karen Davis' new release, SONGS IN THE NIGHT.
Produced by Karen's long time collaborator, Gabriel Alonso, this highly-anticipated album – her first since 2009’s The Lord Roars From Zion - captures the heart and soul of the Detroit, Mich., native who has called Haifa, Israel home for the past 20 years. Set against a sonic tapestry that reflects the multi-cultural nature of Karen's adopted homeland, the album explores its central theme of unified worship through songs of wonder ("Who Am I"), songs of exultation ("Be Exalted"), songs of praise ("Hariu L'Adonai"), songs of warfare ("Hodu L'Adoinai") and songs advocating unity between Jewish and non-Jewish believers, referred to as the “One New Man” in Ephesians 2 ("We've Come Together").
"Musically, SONGS IN THE NIGHT is a unique blend of styles," Karen explains. "The Jewish people in Israel have returned from the four corners of the earth. There are European Jews who are very involved with the classical music culture of Europe. There are Argentinean Jews who bring Latin music, Sephardic Jews with their Middle Eastern rhythms, and then you have people like me who grew up on Motown and R&B. All of these cultures have come together bringing their musical traditions with them. We have all these wonderful, ancient Middle Eastern instruments, like the oud, combined with modern orchestral arrangements. What you hear is a musical amalgam; a blend of many sounds and rhythms and languages, all unified in glorifying Yeshua, our Messiah."
Karen points to her own journey to faith in Jesus as Messiah, as almost a metaphor for Kehilat HaCarmel, the Messianic congregation that she and her husband David helped establish atop Mount Carmel in the Galilee region of Israel, where she serves as worship leader. "I was raised as a reformed Jew, the most liberal wing of Judaism," she explains. "We celebrated all the holidays and I went to Shabbat services every week, but there was no reality of the living God in the traditional services for me."
Musically gifted, Karen studied classical piano from the age of four, and soon expanded her repertoire to include vocal training, painting and other artistic expressions. Hungry to be in the center of the artistic universe, Karen left her hometown of Detroit and headed for New York City where her brother worked as a professional jazz musician. Equally hungry for spiritual fulfillment, she dove headlong into the New Age.
"As someone with an artistic temperament, I was very sensitive to beauty," Karen recalls. "I knew that there was some kind of eternal creative force, and New Age seemed to address that with all its talk about ideal things and eternal values. The New Age masquerades as light, but it is not the true light; it teaches meditation techniques that make you feel a sense of peace, but it is a false peace."
As with any life that is built on the sands of counterfeit religion, eventually the foundations of Karen's world washed away, leaving her spiritually empty. She turned for advice to the one friend who had a peace that seems to transcend the emptiness she was experiencing through New Age spirituality.
"I was a seeker after truth, and God had brought a young lady named Camille into my life who worked on Sesame Street, creating characters for the Muppets. She was a very funny single woman, and occasionally I would see her carrying a Bible. She just completely defied every stereotype I had of a Christian. She was just my friend."
During a conversation one afternoon, Camille asked Karen if she wanted to pray, and gently led her in what Karen now recognizes as the "sinner's prayer."
"I asked Jesus to forgive my sins and to save me. I had no idea what my sins even were, but I knew I needed to be saved from the life that I was in. The Spirit of revelation, the Spirit of truth and the knowledge of God pierced my heart. It went against my upbringing; it went against everything I had ever believed, everything I stood for, every prejudice I ever had about Christians and the name of Jesus. But I knew I was in the presence of Truth."
Reading the New Testament for the first time, Karen suddenly realized it was a collection of Jewish books written by Jewish people. It compelled her to return to the Old Testament and she began to understand it was one story. "For the first time in my life I realized what it meant to be Jewish," she says, "that God had called a people who would know Him in an intimate way, and that they were to share Him with the nations. “A joy entered my heart that I never experienced before. I felt like the whole meaning of my life was coming forth, that the love of God was transforming me, that the words from the Bible were expressing God's personal love for me."
Unable to sing about anything but the love of Yeshua, her Messiah, Karen quit her gig singing in a rock band. "I just couldn’t sing another love song between a man and a woman," she explains. "That's not the message that the world needs." Although New York had been the center of her world, God put a burning desire in Karen's heart to return to the land of her inheritance, and to share the gift of Messiah with the Jewish people in Israel. Once she and her husband David moved to Israel, she unexpectedly discovered that the Lord had also given her a heart for the nation's Arab population.
"God had really spoken to us about the One New Man of Ephesians 2:14-15; that he had broken down the wall of enmity between us," Karen declares. "We are proactive in creating worship events where we can invite Arabic teams. There are three Arab musicians on the worship team at our Messianic Jewish congregation. Week after week we stand together and sing the Scriptures. In these end times I believe the Lord is forming one body, one voice, one heart, One New Man. I want to demonstrate that to the people in all the nations."
To accentuate that Biblical truth, Karen invited her friend, Amal, an Arab Christian, to join her on the song, "You Restoreth My Soul," an intimate meditation on the 23rd Psalm, and on the album's closing track, "We've Come Together."
"Many people pick up my albums because they have a heart for the Jewish people or for Israel, or because they are interested in Messianic music, but many of them have never felt God's compassion for the Arab people," Karen says. "I used to hate the sound of the Arabic language because the only time I heard it was when rocks were being thrown. But when I heard Arabic sung under the anointing of the Holy Spirit as a language of love and adoration toward the same Jesus that is my God, something really powerful took place. We've come together, Jew and Arab, our voices woven together to create a habitation for the Holy Spirit. When we come together in that kind of unity, He is very present."
Like Kehilat HaCarmel congregation's worship leader, the album is joyful, vivacious and relentlessly encouraging, without flinching at the realities of life in this war-torn, strife-ridden region of the world. "The album is appropriately entitled SONGS IN THE NIGHT," Karen explains. "We live in difficult times. Since we moved to Israel in 1989, we've already lived through three or four wars. There is a serious drug problem in Israel among both Jews and Arabs. The city of Haifa, which is built on Mt. Carmel, has one of the nation's highest concentrations of Satanism and New Age practice. The spirit of Baal is still very much in operation here. We take it very seriously. We choose to take an offensive stand."
Many of the songs on SONGS IN THE NIGHT were birthed in the night seasons, when Haifa's residents were huddled in shelters, riding out rocket attacks or grieving over a suicide bombing, Karen says. "I remember going to my keyboard one day after a suicide bombing and I just started pouring my heart out to the Lord. As I lingered over a simple chord pattern I began to recall the words of Psalm 90: Lord, You have been our dwelling place in every generation, from everlasting to everlasting You are God. I started to sing, You're the Bright and Morning Star arising in my heart, the Light that shines in the darkest night ("You Are My Only Rock"). "
"By His Spirit, our spirits rise up in the midst of darkness," Karen declares. "The Light that shines in the darkness is our song. Yeshua, our Messiah, is our song, and He will always be with us. That's what I want to share with people. I want them to have a song in the night."