Here’s the thing about Andrew Peterson: he’s never content to let ordinary things be ordinary. Vast meanings, cosmic meanings pulse beneath the most familiar facts of everyday life. In“World Traveler,” from AP’s new album Counting Stars, an act as common as looking in on the kids after bedtime becomes an encounter with the divine:
Tonight I saw the children in their rooms,
Little flowers all in bloom—
Burning suns and silver moon.
And somehow in those starry skies
The image of the maker lies
Right here beneath my roof tonight.
This moment is emblematic of the whole album. AP marvels at the marvelous. It’s the sort of miracle that we learn to ignore, but AP insists, “Look at this! Can you believe it? The image of God himself—right here beneath my roof!”
Or consider the hour of dusk in “The Magic Hour”:
Here in the magic hour,
Time and eternity
Mingle a moment in chorus.
Here in the magic hour,
Bright is the mystery,
Plain is the beauty before us.
Could this beauty be for us?
For all the wonders of the Magic Hour, the most wondrous, perhaps, is the fact that it happens every single day—usually while we’re fixing supper or ortherwise paying attention to something else. And yet God beckons out of a beauty that says—every day of our lives—“Psst…what do I remind you of?”
We are full participants in the grand and overwhelming story laid out in Scripture. The God of Abraham is the God of our fathers and of us and of our children too. If we believe any of it, we must believe that. God told Abraham to count the stars if he wanted to know how many descendants he would have. We are those stars, suns burning hot and bright with the image of God himself. It is a great mystery, yes. But we don’t choose the mysteries we find ourselves in.
As for my favorite songs from this album, it’s hard to know where to begin. “Dancing in the Minefields” is one that deserves its own post. Its honest portrayal of marriage gives me new courage and makes me want to kiss my wife square on the mouth every time I hear it.
“The Reckoning” is an astonishing song in which an approaching thunderstorm isn’t just a metaphor for God’s fearsome power; it is God’s fearsome power. There’s a stark, Old Testament feel to this song that, like so many songs on this album, reminds us that this world we live in is the same world that the Scriptures depict. As surely as it ever was, this is our Father’s world.
Two songs on this album are worthy of the darkest of David’s psalms—“You Came so Close” and “The Last Frontier.” I’m afraid we won’t be hearing either of these songs on the “Safe for the Whole Family” radio station I see on the billboards. These songs aren’t safe. They hunker down and wrestle around, and they come up limping. The hope they express is hard-won.
But the whole album prepares us for these songs. Counting Stars is about the the great mysteries in which we live—beauty, marriage, redemption. And what is so mysterious as hope? To hope is to be open to the possibility that, however grim things look, you don’t really know how they are going to work out. Despair, on the other hand, is a false certainty that you already know how things will end—badly.
What I love about Counting Stars is the fact that it causes me to know again what I forget too easily: I’m a part of something huge. My joys—even the small ones—are a faint echo of the deep hilarity of the divine comedy. My struggles—when I’m willing actually to struggle—are no less momentous than Jacob’s wrestling match with the angel. And while it’s true that I’m a jackass, it’s not the truest thing about me. The truer thing, as AP puts it in “Fool with a Fancy Guitar,” is that “I am a priest and a prince of the kingdom of God.” Hallelujah.
Jonathan Rogers is the author of The Terrible Speed of Mercy, one of the finest biographies of Flannery O’Connor we’ve ever read. His other books include the Wilderking Trilogy–The Bark of the Bog Owl, The Secret of the Swamp King, and The Way of the Wilderking–as well as The World According to Narnia and a biography of Saint Patrick. He has spent most of his adult life in Nashville, Tennessee, where he and his wife Lou Alice are raising a houseful of robustious children.