For the entirety of my adult life, almost like clockwork, every two years or so I have been given the gift of being “forced” into taking stock. I’ve often told people that I don’t know how to write songs if I’m not writing them out of my life, out of my own personal experience, and so for me I think it’s inevitable that any new group of songs will tell some sort of story about where they have come from. And so for the last 15 years, 8 times to be precise, thanks to the deadlines that the powers that be “impose” I have been given the gift of taking stock, of evaluating where I have come from, what God has been unfolding – to unpack, assess, organize, and then repack those thoughts, questions, failures, triumphs, mysteries, and prayers into a group of songs that will make up a new record. And from these sort of extended therapy sessions there always seems to rise to the surface a certain theme that in one way or another every song speaks to – as if the collective retrospective of the songs somehow seems to give clear vision into the season of life from which they were derived. It’s like my own personal yearbook full of images, descriptions, collages, and signatures of all that have taken part in writing my narrative; but somehow the clarity of the narrative isn’t apparent until you’re thumbing through the pictures and marking pages weeks, months, or even years later.
The title track of this new record is a song called “Ocean,” and it is, fittingly, a prayer. “You are an ocean, that I can get lost in, the first wind on my shore / You are the sunrise to open my eyes, and the dark night is no more / You are an ocean.” The overwhelming emotion that seems to rise as a theme to the surface of this record, and this song in particular, is the search for real identity – where we find it, who we are, where we draw life from. As I wrote in my blog from a few weeks ago, “Idols of Misdirection,” I have spent most of the seasons of my life drawing my identity from the gifts in life that I have been given, rather than the giver of those gifts – be it occupation, marriage, fatherhood, relationship, or even theology and intellect. The irony is that I’ve always imagined that the older we get, the more comfortable we become in our own skin. And although that certainly is true in a lot of ways – we begin to accept ourselves for who we really are, we recognize our weaknesses and begin to work our way through (or around) them, we come to terms with reality and “adjust” our dreams to fit within its more “realistic” parameters – on a more eternal scale, I find myself understanding less and less, and wondering more and more. Not wandering, wondering. The thought of it would have frightened me into seclusion years ago, the not knowing, but today I feel comfortable there somehow – resting and reveling in the idea of wonder, of wonderment. Because wonderment has a direction, it is not an aimless search, but targeted awe. Brennan Manning, in his book Ruthless Trust, describes this as the kabōd, the glory of God, “the divine and terrible radiance…that no human can [grasp or] understand,” the “otherness” of God that when experienced exposes and allows the self-absorbed “human tendency toward projection – ascribing to God our thoughts, feelings, and attitudes about ourselves and others – [to be] unmasked in all its absurdity.” He goes on to say:
The reality of kabōd shatters every delusion. As previous certainties desert us, we become vulnerable and open. The glory of God makes possible the primordial act of religion: the realization that we are not sufficient unto ourselves, that we have received our life and being from another. In a decision that reaches the roots of our most intimate self and demands the renunciation of belonging to that self, we freely ratify our condition as creatures. Through this fundamental act of dispossession we acknowledge the illusion of control and open ourselves to the reality of God.
If those words rhymed they would be the words to the song “Ocean.” It is a feeble comparison, all wrapped and weak in human projection, but standing before the ocean is as small and humbled as I ever feel on this planet. I know that we are called, compelled even, to be in the world, exposed and engaging our culture, but I am the sort that can so quickly draw my identity from how that world responds (or doesn’t respond) to me. This song is my prayer that I be hidden in the identity of Christ alone or else, even if just for a day, I become an island unto myself, self-absorbed in self-sufficiency. However incomplete my experience of the kabōd, the absolute and unrivaled glory of God, may I drown in it, lost in my complete and singular identity as a child of such glory. You are an Ocean.
Here’s a link to the song “Ocean”