Well, it’s Monday and here we are at the P’s. Technically, it’s Eric Peters’s turn at bat for the song of the day, but I’m in a Super 8 motel room in Wausau, Wisconsin and all of the EP music I own is on my home hard drive. Never fear, Eric Peters fans. Tomorrow is his day.
I chose this song because we dusted it off and included it in our set this weekend in Wisconsin and Minnesota, reminding me of how much I love to play it, and why it was written.
My friend Joel Caldwell flies around in Alaska, bringing much-needed encouragement to the many missionaries braving that fine country’s harsh-but-beautiful conditions. And when I say harsh, I don’t just mean the rugged landscape and the brutally long, cold winters. I’m also talking about the stoic, quiet, strong people who live there. Of course I don’t mean everybody, but during the week I spent in northern Alaska I encountered some of the toughest people I’ve ever met. Wonderful, warm, gracious people, but tough.
This lyric is peppered with images and metaphors that I knew would be a little vague to the casual listener, and when I perform it I have a hard time not explaining the minutiae of each line, knowing that it’s too much for an audience to digest in one listen. I trust that the repetitive chorus is enough to latch on to, enough to help the listener fill in whatever blanks are left by the images flitting by. But I thought I’d tell you a little about what’s behind some of these lines, just for fun.
ALL SHALL BE WELL Words and music by Andrew Peterson (Matthew 16:18, Matthew 5:16, Luke 15:20-24, Luke 15:4, Isaiah 40:8, Hebrews 12:1)
We touched down on the sound (1) At the top of the world In the land of the midnight sun Where the frozen river melts away And breaks into a run (2)
Into the sea, into the mighty waves That waited just to see it From a long way off that river thawed And the tide ran out to meet it “Welcome home, unfrozen river, welcome home” (3)
‘Cause all shall be well, all shall be well (3) Break the chains of the gates of Hell Still all manner of things will be well (4)
See the quiet hearts of the children of The children of this land (5) They have stayed alive in the day-long night By the fires that warm their hands There is a wilderness inside them It is dark and thick and deep And beside the fire at the heart of that wood Is a precious missing sheep (6) So go on in, hold your torch, let it shine
Cause all shall be well, all shall be well Break the chains of the gates of Hell Still all manner of things will be well All shall be well, all shall be well The Word of God will never fail And all manner of things will be well
There’s a light in the darkness There’s an end to the night (7)
I saw the sun go down on a frozen ocean As the man in the moon was rising (8) And he rode the night all full and bright With his face at the far horizon And the night can be so long, so long You think you’ll never get up again But listen now, it’s a mighty cloud of Witnesses around you (9) (They say) Hold on, just hold on Hold on to the end
All shall be well, all shall be well Break the chains of the gates of Hell Still all manner of things will be well All shall be well, all shall be well The Word of God will never fail And all manner of things will be well
The Norton Sound. The towns we visited were mostly coastal, the farthest north of which was Nome.
Those of you who live in cold climates know about the “river going out”. I remember seeing in a town in Minnesota an old car parked on a frozen river where everyone could see it. The town held a yearly raffle to predict what day of the spring thaw the car would finally sink through the ice. Well, in Alaska there’s much speculation about which day of spring the ice on the rivers will break apart and pour into the ocean. It apparently all happens in one raucous moment, and we missed it by two days. It was the talk of the town. I couldn’t help thinking of the thawing of the heart of the prodigal son and his eventual return to the arms of his father.
“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” –Julian of Norwich
Which is to say, all Hell may break loose, but in the end things will be made right.
Many of the Native Americans I met in Alaska were quiet, stoic, intimidating. But behind those fierce eyes was much kindness, and much that needed kindness, too.
The landscape of that wild country was much like the inner terrain of that country’s people. Dark, dangerous, but with the bright, warm fire of a soul burning somewhere inside, a lost sheep waiting to be found and loved and carried home.
This of course refers to the long night of winter. The occurrence of depression and suicide in Alaska is many times that of the lower states, which is part of why I wanted to write a song of encouragement.
On the shore of the coastal village of Unalakleet I sat by a fire and watched the sun slide at a 45 degree angle into the sea while behind me a fat yellow moon lifted over the mountains.
I thought about the mighty “cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews when I saw that moon surrounded by clouds on its long journey into the night.