And All Will Be Made Well

I’ve been listening to Josh Garrels’ new album, Home, over and over since it was released this month.  That’s how I tend to listen to music that I love – repeatedly.  Until I run it into the ground.  Which can take years.  In that time the songs and the voices that sing them become so familiar I would know them from hearing one bar.  They become a part of my story.

I’m so glad to include Home in my complicated tale.  It’s absolutely welcome here.

The second half of the album is already near and dear to my heart.  As my cousin insightfully reacted to it, “Gah!”  I agree with her exasperation at such creativity and beauty and relevance.  It’s almost too wonderful to bear.  But not quite.  And in that not-quite I find a thankful addition to my life.

I don’t like a lot of “Christian” music.  It’s often trite, poorly written and produced, a copy of other artists’ styles.  In my mind, not worthy of it’s subject matter.  Then there are the few inspired musicians whose art is worth hearing no matter what you believe – because they make good music.  Josh Garrels knows how to speak of God unabashedly, but with insight and grit and authenticity.  There’s no false-modesty; no making it seem that trusting Jesus means you avoid the real, hard stuff of living; no fake-it-til-you-make-it.  It’s just him, and his God, and his contemplations about the two.  He gives his listeners an honest offering.  Sometimes, even for free. (more about that here)  And that makes the world better.

In his book The Crowd, the Critic and the Muse, Michael Gungor (another great musician) talks about pain as a source of great art.

Pain is that blessed and despised universal experience that creates more true art than any other human experience.  Love is racked with pain.  Life’s most joyful experiences – the birth of a newborn baby, the formation of deep friendship, or first consummation of love – all are associated with an experience of pain. A wedding is the joyful union of two lovers, but it begins with “Who gives this bride away?”

Garrels’ song Heaven’s Knife puts this idea to music.  He speaks of a precious experience that began with pain but ended in a beautiful realization.  He hits on a universal reality.  The place of pain is also the impetus of searching, the reaching outside of the self.  Pain is the place where all you can think to say is “Help.”  As Anne Lamott says, it’s one of the three prayers (along with thanks and wow), and to pray it, we have to see our need.  When we’ve reached the end of our rope, we cry out for a bit more – with less fraying and a softer braid to grip.  But we know we can’t make it ourselves.  That point of acknowledging need is the very birthplace of hope.  It makes us look up.

I read that this album was written from a place of trying to find joy, and you can sense his search in the music.  Working it out through writing – I can relate to that.  Some songs are more pensive.  Asking for mercy.  But as the album moves along, the songs feel to me like a rising out of a pit into the light.  He expresses the joy he sought – not shallow happiness which changes with each situation, but a gladness which can exist in the midst of sadness or terrible circumstances.  The less fickle, more reliable relative to happiness.  David and the other psalmists wrote with this in mind; they were working it out through writing, too.  Honestly dealing with the painful aspects of living on this planet.  Reading them lets me know I’m not alone.  And so does Josh Garrels’ music.

He demonstrates what Gungor says…

Pain is not the same thing as suffering.  One can fully experience the pain of life without being the tortured artist who lives in constant agony.  But creation is no easy task.  Good art demands a fight.

Thank goodness Josh Garrels is willing to fight the fight.  To work it out.  To make good art.  His attempts to find joy help mine.  Here’s a sample, in case it helps you, too…

 

And it may be broken down

All the bridges burned like an old ghost town

But this my son can be made new

It’s gonna be alright

Shake it out and let back in the light

And joy will come

Like a bird in the morning sun

And all will be made well

And all will be made well

And all will be made well

Once again

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