My Search for Joy in the Presence of the Future

My Search for Joy in the Presence of the Future

A few years ago I read N. T. Wright’s wonderful book Surprised By Hope and had my mind blown by all of the beautiful implications of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

Being an artist and songwriter, I naturally started to wonder how I might explore ways to connect with the resurrection musically. I found myself day dreaming about writing an album full of songs that sounded like they were coming from the other side of renewal, but with lyrics tethered to the present. I wanted to explore the “already/not yet” tension of living with expectant hope in the midst of suffering.

In addition to this, I wanted it all to sound like joy.

Joy is an elusive thing for an artist to capture. It is not something you can fake or conjure up at will. It is the presence of the Holy Spirit and, at least in my experience, seems to blow in and out like the wind. It is wonderful when it is present, but it’s absence can be frustrating, especially when you are trying to coax it onto the canvas of your work like a child fumbling with crayons.

Time passed and I kept reaching out for joy. I kept writing, struggling, and dreaming. I would fail and scrap everything then start over. Rinse and repeat. I had this joke of a phrase I would rhetorically ask myself: “I just want all my songs to sound like glory and feel like resurrection. Is that too much to ask?”

It may sound funny, but months turned into years and before I knew it I found myself at the cross section of suffering and hope, standing there with a big, bright cloud of joy swirling overhead.

My vision for this collection of music took all sorts of odd twists and turns—deep into the mystery of where all of the goodness in this life comes from—and I discovered that it’s true what my friend Billy Cerveny says, “My cup of joy is only as deep as my sorrow.”*

It took me a long time to find a lyrical voice for these songs but in the end I drew heavily from the scriptures, from the stories of my friends and family, and from my own life—wearily looking into my heart, searching for signs of resurrection in everything and everywhere. What resulted is an album called Death In Reverse, and I couldn’t be more excited or confused after such a long process of writing, reaching, dreaming, and hoping for something powerful to happen in these songs I’ve been wrestling with over the last few years.

Don’t get me wrong. I am super excited about the album. But the process itself—the songwriting and recording process, the painting across the canvas and the subsequent discipline of facing yourself in your work—can be a painful experience, because in order for it to be good, it has to be true. And in order for it to be true you have to face yourself, which can be the scariest thing of all because that means you have to trust.

Last summer, Andrew Peterson came over to my house and we visited for a couple hours on my front porch. We were trading stories and at one point he told me that pain is a sort of anointing. I think he’s right about that.

C. S. Lewis says that pain is God’s megaphone to a deaf world. As far as this record goes, you might say that God has my full attention. In the span of creating these 11 songs, I have seen the hand of God working in my life and in the lives of my friends and family. I’ve been taken to places I never thought I’d have to go—distant, dark and lonely places—only to find the presence of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost closer than I ever dared to dream or imagine. The Lord carries us through this life.

We are not alone. And now, I can sing you some songs about it.

[To support Death in Reverse, check out Jeremy's Kickstarter campaign.]

*Billy Cerveny, “Donnelly’s Lament”