Daylesford’s digital ministry includes a series exploring scripture through the lens of rock music 

Sometimes Father John Zagarella ministers in flowing vestments. Other times he wears a “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy” T-shirt.

“Captain Fantastic” is an Elton John album released in 1975, and Zagarella, a longtime fan of John’s, wears a shirt bearing an image of the album’s cover in Episode 5 of Season 2 of his “Rock the Word 153” series on Daylesford’s Facebook page.

“Rock the World 153,” Zagarella’s ongoing exploration of scripture through the lens of rock music, is part of Daylesford Abbey’s social media and digital-ministry outreach, Springhouse Media. The number 153 refers to the Bible story of the disciples who, fishing, catch nothing until they see Jesus on the shore and hear him urging them to try again. Dutifully doing as Jesus suggests, they reel in 153 catches – supposedly the number of species of extant fish. (The number, we know today, is much higher: It’s in the tens of thousands.)

The first installment of “Rock the Word 153,” based on John’s song “Healing Hands,” came out in June 2020, after Andrew Del Rossi, director of the spirituality center at Daylesford, heard Zagarella weaving rock music references into a homily and suggested he consider doing the same on a regular basis through Daylesford’s digital ministry, Springhouse Media. To say Zagarella liked the idea would be an understatement; he started a semiweekly video series and hasn’t looked back.

“It just took off for me,” Zagarella says. 

“[Rock music] has been inside me ever since I was a little kid. When I was 1 or 2 years old, I would carry 45s [records with a single song on each side] around in my hand. It was always the primary channel to my spirituality.”

Public reaction to “Rock the World,” Zagarella says, “has been unbelievable.”

“It’s been wonderful. I never dreamed that this would get this kind of a reaction. People who are younger, people who are older, people who never were able to understand the lyrics of rock music, have come up and said. ‘I never knew that’s what they were saying.’”

The series also has worked the other way, Zagarella says, illuminating the meaning of scripture with rock music.

Zagarella isn’t just an Elton John fan; he loves rock music in general. In the fifth episode of the second season of the series – the first episode after Easter 2021 – Zagarella draws parallels between Ezekiel Chapter 37, verses 1-14, and the rock group Evanescence’s song “Bring Me to Life.”

The inspiration for that episode of “Rock the Word” came to Zagarella like most do – out of the blue — as he was driving to his teaching job at a high school in Claymont, Delaware. 

“I’m on the blue route, as the locals know it, and I hear a song on the radio from Evanescence’ latest album, and all of a sudden this song ‘Bring Me to Life’ starts going through my head, and I thought, ‘Oh, my Lord above, this is the Ezekiel reading.’”

In the episode of “Rock the Word”that resulted, Zagarella tells his audience: 

“I love this song. It’s a very intense rock song. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought this really was the appropriate song for a post-Easter ‘Rock the Word’ because the Resurrection, let’s face it, is a very intense event. It really is amazing how the song parallels Ezekiel.”

But Zagarella’s admiration for Evanescence, like his admiration for every other musical artist not named Elton John, pales next to his sense of wonder for the Rocket Man, as John is known for his hit 1975 song of the same name.

“To my ear [John’s is] the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard,” Zagarellal says. “When I first heard ‘Yellow Brick Road,’ I couldn’t believe how incredibly beautiful it was. And it never ended. I’m still saving my lunch money to buy this stuff.”