With Easter Sunday coming up, Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ is sure to cross the minds of many moviegoers. It's also been a favorite topic among country stars lately, leading some of them to write songs about the experience.
Ricky Skaggs, an artist who has long been outspoken about his Christianity, contributed "Are You Afraid to Die" to a new companion album, Songs Inspired by The Passion of the Christ. The Rev. Billy Graham offers the introduction to the piece of music.
"It's one thing to sing about ... cheatin' and drinkin' and partying and let's just go have a good time," Skaggs says. "But it's something else to really speak to somebody's heart and sing a song that can really change somebody's life."
Jessi Colter and Shooter Jennings -- the widow and son of Waylon Jennings -- also contribute to the project with "Please Carry Me Home." Others featured include the Blind Boys of Alabama, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Dolores O'Riordan, Elvis Presley and Leon Russell.
Lian Lunson, one of the album's producers, first approached Shooter Jennings because she particularly wanted Colter on the album. When the mother and son arrived at the studio, neither knew what they wanted to record.
"We were going to do a hymn, and I felt like the hymns were draggy and long," Jennings recalls. Instead, they sequestered themselves into a room for about three hours with Jennings on the organ and Colter on the piano. The result was the duet, "Please Carry Me Home."
"We ended up writing this song and about the time we got through playing it once, the band showed up, which was mostly people from my dad's band," Jennings says. "It was awesome. We had a great time. It came together in three hours. All of a sudden, we had a song we were really proud of."
Noting that it was their first time to collaborate, Jennings called the experience "a healing ritual for us."
As for the movie, Colter says, "I thought it was a great triumph in Christ's struggle."
Other country stars have been touched -- if not shaken -- by the film, which has already raked in $330 million.
Wynonna says, "The movie was very powerful and very moving. Mel invited me to see it back in November, and I was moved beyond belief. I have a newfound love and appreciation for the Easter season. But I should probably leave my reaction to just that because this film's a journey everyone should take and discover for themselves. Go see the movie and formulate your own opinions. ... Don't just listen to what everyone else is saying. Go and experience it."
Jimmy Wayne's most recent hit, "I Love You This Much," invokes the Holy Spirit in its lyrics. He says, "When I was leaving the movie theater, I felt as if I'd just left a funeral. I immediately had to be alone, for a one-on-one with the Big Guy."
Sara Evans says, "Meeting Mel Gibson was such a thrill because I've been a huge fan of his work ever since Brave Heart, which is one of my all-time favorites. He was very personable, yet very passionate and candid about The Passion. I got the sense that he felt that The Passion would be the greatest work of his life. This movie is like no other. It's extremely hard to watch and extremely necessary to watch. I absolutely loved it. ... I have never been so moved by a movie. I cried so hard. I was watching something terrible that happened to someone I love."
The members of Trick Pony saw the film after Country Radio Seminar last month.
"I was touched and overwhelmed with emotion," says Heidi Newfield. "It was difficult to watch but so powerful and thought provoking. I accepted Christ a long time ago, but the visual intensity of this movie shook me to the core. The Passion has reminded the world how much God loves us and how much we have to be thankful for."
Keith Burns adds, "Extremely powerful! It is hard to watch anyone go through two and a-half hours of torture, much less the Son of God, but I am glad I did."
Ira Dean concludes, "After watching the movie that night, I was inspired to get down on my knees and pray when I got home. I feel it is important for kids to see the movie to really comprehend the suffering he went through."