Resurrection Letters, Volume II is artful and beautiful. We’ve come to expect that from Andrew Peterson’s work, haven’t we? Like magnet to steel, we detect a divine pull. With the rising sun, the voice of beauty beckons. Something important is about to be illuminated. Melody after melody, phrase upon phrase, the Tennessee songwriter with a Barnabas heart imparts familiar truths unconventionally. Despite tackling some of the same topics as other Christian songwriters, it usually feels like we are getting a remarkably different take; one that burrows inside the emotional truth far deeper than might be expected from songs that are less nuanced and thoughtful.
Andrew Peterson is a born storyteller; fundamentally, his songs are great stories. As we turn each page of a suspenseful novel, so this man’s songs compel us similarly, as heads metronomically nod to the time of the music, in empathetic agreement. Each line fuels a desire to hear the next. And though a Peterson song routinely elicits surprise, if we look closely, we might see an oft-repeated pattern, which confirm the contemplative method by which these songs were built.
The first verse establishes a theme. Like a prophecy or parable, verse one is often a type of that which is to come. In succeeding verses, the type is developed more expansively, majestically and/or divinely. Routinely, from the AP pen, we discover—if we have ears to hear—that each line has a corresponding line from prior verses, similar, but different. Each line depicts something specific to the verse where it is found, but also cleverly corresponds to the other verses.
For example, notice how angels show up in all three verses of “Rise and Shine” from Carried Along. We find references to sleeping and waking (rising and shining) in all three verses. Later, the bridge literately links to the chorus, which magically and succinctly solidify the song into a cohesive whole. Though each verse tells related but different stories, the chorus applies accurately and appropriately to all three verses.
So as we (for this is a joint exercise) prepare for the task of identifying the top moments of Resurrection Letters, Volume II, please note that it is a somewhat trivial exercise. As AP continues to hone his considerable songwriting gift, it’s become indelibly obvious that Peterson songs are compelling because at their heart, they are superb stories. There’s nothing wrong with parsing lyrical passages and musical moments from Resurrection Letters, Volume II, but let’s be clear: these songs are best appreciated as a complete, cohesive package. The regal beauty of this collection of songs is found in the seamless, thematic congruency. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun!
So, without further ado, here they are, the Top Ten Moments from Resurrection Letters, Volume II.
1. “Raise up, oh you sleeper,” the opening line from “All Things New.” It’s an Andy Gullahorn vocal contribution. Like another biblical mandate, “If any man have ears to hear, let him hear,” it none to subtly signals that, “If we snooze, we lose” (now you know why AP doesn’t take songwriting tips from me!). Co-written with Ben Shive and Andy Gullahorn, this song is eloquent encouragement, a reminder that God doesn’t see the utter black of guilt and shame. He sees Jesus’ sacrificial atoning blood. With a suspenseful string prelude (honorable mention for the best moment in this song), with megaphone in hand, Gullahorn reminds us why there is reason to awake: “The dawn is upon you.”
2. The resounding chorus of “Hosanna,” another Peterson/Shive/Gullahorn cooperative, easily makes the top ten. The celestial hook is made more magnificent by the harsh, vivid indictments which precede it. The more a heart surrenders to the will of God, the more it recognizes its need for a Savior. The stately choir sings this melody with intense passion. With soaring harmonies, one can almost catch a vision of the King of Kings cresting the mountain, on a white horse he will ride (sorry, I didn’t mean to channel my inner Michael Martin Murphy there).
3. The beautiful irony of “Invisible God.” While the lyrics explicitly acknowledge the outlandish idea of a personal relationship with a transcendent God, it also affirms intelligent design—not from an arcane textbook—but from astounding evidence advanced in the process of living. This lyrical cousin to “Windows in the World” is a gentle reminder—the infamous velvet-gloved fist—that we divorce ourselves from God with a willful choice to ignore the evidence. “If any man has ears to hear, let him hear,” is not only a nice piece of biblical sarcasm, it’s is profound reminder that if we listen, we will hear. If we look, we will see.
4. “… and you set me free with that ball and chain ..,” the line from “Hosea.” This is another example of the way in which Andy’s perceptive, contrarian perspective sheds light on profound theological truth.
5. The evocative richness of “Love is a Good Thing.” “It can hurt like a blast from a hand grenade when all that used to matter is blown away,” is one metaphorical example of many used in this song which vividly describe the irony of being held captive by Christ. Like the ball and chain that gripped Gomer, Love is a good thing.
6. There’s a magnificent goosebump moment in “Don’t Give Up on Me” which follows this great passage, which others have noted: “I have felt the holy fire of love, been burned by the holy fire of love, made clean by the holy fire of love.”
In the last verse as the singer wakes up in the golden dream, something happens to the texture of the musical canvas which elegantly move the listener from his own place, right into the middle of the singer’s dream. I’m a reviewer guy and as such should have some kind of dispassionate curiosity of how the Shive/Gullahorn/Peterson team created this moment. But like good sausage, I just want to bask in its utter goodness; seeing behind the curtain might somehow reduce the charm of the moment. With the, “Now I wake up in a golden dream,” line, I feel the crisp air, I hear the birds sing, I see a striking celestial glow. I feel this magical, supernatural moment which sonically reproduces a sliver of the majesty found in the unknowingly saturated moments of daily living. Man, I’m there. Man, woman, and child, each one of is there.
7. For consequential revelry, how about the song, “Rocket?” So, I have to pick one moment? How about this line?: ” … to count down the seconds, as destiny beckons into the arms of the astral glow.” Maybe it’s not appropriate, and maybe I’m stretching the resurrection theme too far, but I can’t keep myself from following the resurrection theme in “Rocket”—please forgive me—for imagining Jesus wearing a jetpack as He disappears into the clouds, while the disciples stare skyward.
8. “Windows in the World” is a handcrafted masterpiece, a prototype of AP’s songwriting method as noted earlier. While he could have chosen many things, he picked movies, Communion, and marriage to illustrate “windows in the world.” Besides the beauty of the overall concept, my favorite aspect of this song is the songwriter’s choice of marriage as one example of what some call “layered songwriting.” The earthly window of marriage is a reflection—a type—of Christ’s love for the Church. “It’s a window in the world, a little portal where you get a better view.” Indeed.
9. The Bridge in “I’ve Got News.” “So you think you don’t need anyone to love you? So you think you don’t need anyone to love. But you do.” In this section, the normally poetic AP writes uncharacteristically direct.
I’m a loner. I have great friends and family, with whom I enjoy spending time. Still, given a choice, my natural inclination is to do what I do alone: books, movies, and music. Me and my art. Then one night I dreamed that my wife of 28 years was gone. The dream was lucid, as was the pain. And guess what? The pain was at least one hundred times worse than I would have guessed. It was palpable. I started to cry the kind of cry that was so deep that I couldn’t catch my breath. I remembered the unspeakable love that I have for my wife. And it changed my behavior (for a half day or so, which is a miracle at my house).
Part Three of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People discusses interdependence as being a higher calling than dependence and independence. Then there’s Galations 6:2-3 — Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
We were meant to love. We were meant to be loved. Once again, our friend Andrew Peterson uses his own personal transparency to bless us, reminding us of something we may have known, but buried. Like a dog and his bone, we bury our personal wounds. We don’t want anybody to see it, steal it, or touch it. Grrr.
10. When the choir joins in on the chorus of “The Good Confession (I Believe).” In a most moving way, we hear tacit agreement that the story of one of us is to some extent, the story of us all. The only thing more moving, would be to have the historical Church join in—the disciples, Joseph, Mary, David, Moses, and Abraham singing along too. Some day, they will. I’ve often said that the most moving art is that art which compresses a lifetime of emotion into one work. It’s a formidable challenge, a challenge which AP has navigated successfully, and then some. For we sense the weighty significance of not only our respective lives, but how those individual pieces fit collectively into the Church. My story, yours, the story of our forefathers and apostolic fathers and their mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, it’s the same story, written with supreme, infinite wisdom by the Author of Love. That, my friends, brings glory to God. After all, it’s what He wrought. At the end of the day, that’s why I support Andrew Peterson’s music.
So, now it’s your turn. I purposely waited for a few weeks to write this, giving us both the opportunity to listen and reflect. My top ten happen to be the group I chose today. Tomorrow will be different. It’s that kind of record. Nevertheless, don’t let the difficulty of the task hold you back. What are your favorite moments from Resurrection Letters, Volume II?