Song of the Day: Andrew Peterson

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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

——————————————-

  1. The Norton Sound. The towns we visited were mostly coastal, the farthest north of which was Nome.
  2. 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.
  3. “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” –Julian of Norwich
  4. Which is to say, all Hell may break loose, but in the end things will be made right.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
Profile photo of Andrew Peterson

As a singer-songwriter and recording artist, Andrew has released more than ten records over the past fifteen years. His music has earned him a reputation for writing songs that connect with his listeners in ways equally powerful, poetic, and intimate. He has also followed his gifts into the realm of publishing. His books include the four volumes of the award-winning Wingfeather Saga.


21 Comments

  1. DrewSmusic

    We do love this song. It both speaks to our ituations and regularly reminds us of our brothers and sisters on the mission frontier, Thanks.

    Hmmmm… I’d like to see a special footnoted edition of Randy Goodgame’s liner notes. But I think he’s rather just grin at us.

  2. Jodi

    I was at the concert in Lakeville, MN (I was the groupie in the front shouting lyrics at you), and I’m glad you included this song and the story behind it. This was one of my “overlooked” songs, i.e. it didn’t click with me right away the way so many of your songs do. But I’ve added it to my favorites now – those of us outside of AK who struggle with the “long night” appreciate listening in on stuff like this.

  3. Ron Davis

    I love the great descriptions in this song. It makes me want to visit Alaska.

    Thanks for the footnotes, too. Those were great to read. And I’m pretty sure Drew’s right about Randall. 🙂

  4. Ben

    This song helped me through a lot of times when life wasn’t as kind to me as I’d have hoped it would be. Its funny to read about the true meaning behind the song because it is in such stark contrast to the meaning I drew from it. But then, I suppose that is the beauty of Andrew Peterson songs.

    From a long way off that river thawed
    And the tide ran out to meet us
    “Welcome home unfrozen river, welcome home.”

    The way the song describes the unyielding flow of nature truly spoke to the unyielding call of God in my life. My nature is sometimes to fight against what God knows is best in my life. And still the thawed rivers of God’s call flow through me, regardless of what I think I want or need.

    BUT its still good to know the true meaning of the song. No matter how my weird mind takes it. 🙂

    P.S. Any update on the new album, Mr. Peterson?

  5. dawn

    I’ve been traveling in Alaska for the past 10 days, and thinking of this song almost constantly. It’s one of my favorites.

  6. Jacob Tilton

    This song has often made me smile in quiet enjoyment of God’s creation. I just love the imagery presented. The beautiful details of creation remind me of the same in Rich Mullins’ lyrics, like in “The Howling” and stir my heart just the same.

  7. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    AP:

    You and Eminem are my two favorite songwriters.

    Seriously, though, I love this song – one of my favorites from The Far Country. Stephen mentioned later James T, and he’s right. This cut has that vibe.

    The thing that strikes me often about your writing is that the words both sound and say. There is a flow to the sound of the words separate from the depth of meaning. Lewis said of the unliterary, “They read exclusively by eye. The most horrible cacophonies and the most perfect specimens of rhythm and vocalic melody are to them exactly equal. It is by this that we discover some highly educated people to be unliterary. They will write ‘the relation between mechanisation and nationalisation’ without turning a hair.” And there’s depth, real meaning to what is being said in your songs, as well as the flowing sound of the words themselves.

  8. Sue

    It Is great to hear the story behind the song. This song has always reminded me of Iceland, the long nights of winter and the hearts of the people. God finds a way to bring His light and life to every corner of His creation.

  9. c.Lates

    This is one of my favorite songs off Far Country, and I’m glad I can finally give this song real meaning now. I’m a fan of Julian of Norwich (I think it’s because of how odd she is), so I’ve always enjoyed this song for that reason. And I’ve tried to give the rest of the song meaning based on what the chorus says. Now I can stop coming up with stuff that doesn’t really seem to fit.

    I love that you were moved by a people, which moved you to write a song, which would (hopefully) be moving to the people who moved you.

  10. Peter B

    Andrew, I can’t tell you how much I’ve loved this song, ever since The Far Country hit the shelves. Maybe I’m just intuitive, but it didn’t take your notes for this to make perfect sense. Call it resonance, if you will.

    This song is Exhibit A when I try to tell someone why Andrew Peterson’s songwriting is so great. “The guy can craft a tear-jerking salvation metaphor out of a glacier” is more or less what I’d say (never mind that it’s technically not a glacier; the message is obvious and overwhelming). Anyhoo, the depth and beauty of these words has sunk deep and coated my soul with a quiet joy that aches to burst forth in celebration of what the Creator has done in and for us.

    I said it two Christmases ago in person, AP, and it bears repeating: your music makes it easier for me to believe. Please keep doing that.

  11. Jud

    I still remember hearing this song on squarepegalliance.com about two years ago. I’d never even heard of Andrew Peterson before, but needless to say I immediately went to buy the album, and discovered it on sale: 10 copies for a mere $20. Talk about serendipity!

  12. Julie

    I love this song! Its one of favorites from the Far Country. There’s something so mellow and soothing about it. It also feeds my desire to go to Alaska, which I may get to do one summer with my sister and her husband. He knows some missionaries up there, so we may get to go and do some ministry/sightseeing!

  13. Greg Hartley

    Andrew,
    Listening to your song as I type, and remembering…

    My brother told me about this website, but I stumbled on it doing some research on The Great Divorce and fish and chips (long story). So I spent half an hour or so and reacquainted myself with your surprisingly diverse and vibrant ministry, feeling connections between your work and mine that I never could have anticipated standing with you on the roof of a half-finished library back in the summer of 1994.

    There’s no sonata to write or emotional gushing, just pleasure at a fellow Christ-lover and what he’s done with that Love.

  14. Eric

    so, I’m sitting here in Ted Stevens International airport in Anchorage and hop on the computer to check facebook and see what’s going on in the rabbit room. My wife and I love this song, but even more so now. For the last eight months we’ve been trying to get to Alaska to visit the Kodiak Baptist Mission on the island of Kodiak. It finally worked out and we just spent two amazing weeks there. We’re especially excited because we’re hoping and praying that God will continue leading us here for many summers to come to work with the summer staff at the Mission. At the same time, we’ve been a little apprehensive because we know a lot of changes are coming up for us, including a new job and a move and we’ve been asking God to continue to lead and affirm in us His leading. If we’re making these decisions on our own we’re super afraid, but if He is leading us we really have nothing to fear…and fear always rares its head when new, unknown things approach us. So as we’re flying out of Kodiak today my wife and I prayed, asking God to affirm us again in His leading. It’s notwonder that you’re in Wausau today and not at home to play Eric Peters. We needed this encouragement today. We needed to hear the words “The word of God will never fail”…another theme God has been gently echoing in our hearts for the last month through Isaiah 55. We’re holding on and waiting eagerly to see where this journey will take us.

  15. jeremy byrd

    andrew,
    this was a great post…interesting to read the background on a song that i’ve enjoyed so much but never really got at the meaning of…

    the first time i really fell in love with this song was when i was on the plane coming home from Brazil on a mission trip. i was simultaneously reading a children’s book called “the land of Elyon” and listening to this particular song. in the second book, the story details a people who have been oppressed for a long time and yet still continue to hope. and then, i was also hit with the reality of how Jesus is still working, even in the flavelas of Brazil. kinda’ neat how God can pull together several things all at one time and hit one with the truth inherent in a moment.
    you should check out the books if you haven’t read them…
    jb

  16. Kevin

    This is definately a wonderful song. Sometimes I sing it to my son as sort of a lullaby. I love the personification of the moon riding the night.

    The Far Country is definately in the short list of my favorite albums. I’ve descibed it to friends as an album that is all about death, but it is one of the most hopeful albums I’ve every heard.

    This may be morbid, but I’ve told my wife on more than one occasion that I would like “Lay Me Down” played at my funeral.

  17. Val

    I liked the comment that this song is reminiscent of “The Howling” by Rich Mullins. I hadn’t connected that before, but I’d be willing to bet that both songs have significantly stirred up some willingness to be used by God in the lives of a forgotten people.

  18. Esther

    After listening to this song so much, I finally looked up the story behind it and wasn’t disappointed. Being from Alaska, I caught most the Alaskan references and was wondering how it came to be! Members of my family and my church does a lot of mission work to those remote villages, so this song is extra special now.

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