Album Release: Light for the Lost Boy

By

Two years ago Andrew Peterson posted an essay here on the Rabbit Room in which he describes the experience of reading Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’s novel The Yearling.

I sat on the front porch at the Warren on a rainy day, read the last sentence, turned my head so my children wouldn’t see my face, and wept. I asked God, aloud, “Why must it be so? Why must it be so?” Why must the bright wonder and innocence of youth be shot and killed? Why must the little boy in me pass into the night, gone like a ghost? Why must I spend the second half of my life grieving that boy’s departure from the world, always seeking him, always wishing for a world untainted?

Soon, however, Andrew found that he was no longer grieving his own past, but his children’s future.

I thought of all my children, and the loneliness that will dog them all their days, and how I long to protect them from it. But the world is drenched in sorrow. For in these precious few days of childhood the Lord grants us a glimpse of Eden, and as we age we are called back again and again to remember what was lost, and to reclaim it, to tell its story. We weep for the death, and hope in the resurrection, when Christ’s Kingdom of wise, old children may walk a healed world unharried by the looming certainty of death and more death.

Light for the Lost Boy, one suspects, was born in that moment on the porch where AP sat surrounded by children fast approaching adolescence, The Yearling still fresh and raw in his heart. He explores the aching truth that the fully alive heart of a child must always come to terms with a broken world stalked by death and sorrow. And he lets us sit in it a while and wonder, not rushing to a solution.

The first words of the first song, “Come Back Soon,” drop us into a swirling chaos where a boy is forced to deal with death:

I remember the day of the Tennessee flood
The sound of the scream and the sight of the blood.
My son, he saw as the animal died
In the jaws of the dog as the river ran by.

One of the many things I love about Light for the Lost Boy is the fact that the light it offers is light for this world—the one in which we are so often confused and doubtful. AP tells the truth about what it is like to live here. The son who sees the animal die beside the flood-swollen river doesn’t get a pat explanation from his father. Rather, the boy’s experience is a comment on the man’s:

If nature’s red in tooth and in claw,
Then it seems to me that she’s the outlaw.
Cause every death is a question mark
At the end of the book of a beating heart.
And the answer is scrawled in the silent dark
On the dome of the sky in a billion stars
But we cannot read these angel tongues,
And we cannot stare at the burning sun,
And we cannot sing with these broken lungs,
So we kick in the womb and we beg to be born.

As the old saying goes, “For every difficult question there is an easy answer. And it’s wrong.” AP wrestles with exceedingly difficult questions in this record, and he resists the temptation to offer any easy answers. We live a world full of sin and hurt and sadness and confusion; the gospel answers all of it, but it doesn’t twinkle it away like pixie dust. The angel at the gate of Eden doesn’t step aside. He doesn’t sheathe the flaming sword.

The hope of the gospel is not clarity in our confusion, but the knowledge that God is at work in spite of the fact that we don’t understand what he is up to. Consider these lines from “The Cornerstone,” in which AP describes his boyhood experience of God:

I read about the God of Moses
Roaring in the holy cloud,
It shook my bedroom window panes.
I did not understand then,
I do not understand now.
I don’t expect you to explain.

I don’t mean to suggest that these songs are without hope. There is plenty of hope throughout Light for the Lost Boy, but it is hard-won, born out of an honest wrestling. Rather than anesthetize the discomfort of this world, AP treats that discomfort as a clue to a deeper truth.

Light for the Lost Boy is literally a nostalgic record. We think of nostalgia as a longing for the past, but etymologically speaking, it’s a painful longing for home–nostos (homecoming) + algos (pain).  What often passes for nostalgia is sentimental and naive, not idealizing a past that is gone, but a past that never existed. In its desire to go back, most nostalgia is not especially productive. The home-pain of Light for the Lost Boy is another thing altogether. It is a spur to look ahead to the New Heaven and the New Earth, as AP puts it in “Day by Day”:

And it hurts so bad
But it’s so good to be young.
And I don’t want to go back.
I just want to go on and on and on.

It is indeed good to be young. One of the sorrows of parenthood is the fact that our children can’t stay young and we can’t do their growing up for them or absorb their heartache. As a father of teenage boys, I find “You’ll Find Your Way” especially moving:

When I look at you, boy,
I can see the road that lies ahead.
I can see the love and the sorrow
Bright fields of joy,
Dark nights awake in a stormy bed.
I want to go with you, but I can’t follow…
And I know you’ll be scared when you take up that cross.
And I know it’ll hurt, ’cause I know what it costs.
And I love you so much and it’s so hard to watch,
But you’re gonna grow up up and you’re gonna get lost.
Just go back, go back,
Go back, go back to the ancient paths.
Lash your heart to the ancient mast,
And hold on, boy, whatever you do
To the hope that’s taken hold of you.

No amount of idealizing of childhood is going to change the fact that our children grow up and get lost and have to find their way just as we did.

At the end of The Yearling, Jody Baxter’s father Penny makes a remarkable speech. He has worked hard to shield his boy from the hard realities of their world, but the time comes when his man-made Eden collapses.

You’ve seed how things goes in the world o’ men. You’ve knowed men to be low-down and mean. You’ve seed ol’ Death at his tricks…Ever’ man wants life to be a fine thing, and a easy. ‘Tis fine, boy, powerful fine, but ’tain’t easy. Life knocks a man down and he gits up and it knocks him down agin. I’ve been uneasy all my life…I’ve wanted life to be easy for you. Easier’n ’twas for me. A man’s heart aches, seein’ his young uns face the world. Knowin’ they got to get their guts tore out, the way his was tore. I wanted to spare you, long as I could. I wanted you to frolic with your yearlin’. I knowed the lonesomeness he eased for you. But ever’ man’s lonesome. What’s he to do then? What’s he to do when he gits knocked down? Why, take it for his share and go on.

This is a lovely speech, and it speaks to the instincts of every father everywhere. But in the end, it demonstrates the limits of a father’s love. Do we really have to “take it for our share and go on”? Or, to ask it another way, what does it mean to “go on”?

This is where AP has surpassed his subject matter. It feels like a spoiler to say this, but Light for the Lost Boy reaches a climax with this astonishing truth:

Maybe it’s a better thing
To be more than merely innocent,
But to be broken and redeemed by love.
Maybe this old world is bent,
But its waking up,
And I’m waking up.

It’s not fair to the album to skip straight to the ending like this, because Light for the Lost Boy earns this ending. To quote Flannery O’Connor, “A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is.” Light for the Lost Boy is a story that proves its truth in ways that can’t be summarized. You just have to live with it.

Those of us who are parents all wish we could protect our children from the brokenness of the world we brought them into. To put it another way, we all wish our children didn’t need the gospel. But they need it as much as we do. And the gospel is sufficient.

[Light for the Lost Boy is now available in the Rabbit Room store.]

Profile photo of Jonathan Rogers

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.


37 Comments

  1. Tony Heringer

    Nice thoughts JR! I have had many thoughts lately on how little I reckon the power of the gospel in the lives of my kids. Looking forward to hearing theses tunes and wrestling further with these thoughts. It is in the wrestling that hope is born anew. Barliman is so good a capturing this type of tension in his songs. What a great gift for us all to share in.

  2. RonH

    My pre-release order arrived a couple of days ago. This is an absolutely beautiful album. To Andrew Peterson and the Captains: You fellows have outdone yourselves. As the father of three boys, and as a boy who’s been lost himself, I have really connected with the Story told on this album. AP has now officially made me cry more than any other musician.

    Brilliant lyrics. Brilliant playing. Brilliant light. Thank you, my friends. Well done.

  3. Allan Binford

    Excellent review of the album. The music leaps off the cd and impacts the heart. If only Christian artists all had the depth of AP. I don’t mean to be critical, but when music causes me to weep or laugh with joy before the Lord I know it’s purpose has been well served. Light for the Lost Boy is a masterpiece that I will savor for years to come.

  4. Elizabeth of the Kirk in the Woods

    The words are incredible. Absolutely incredible.
    I. Want. This. Album. O.O

    Speaking of not having listened to it yet… My teacher called me about something today, and my Dad handed me the phone, telling me it was AP himself calling to ask what I thought of the new album. Cruelty.

    I’m going to go beseech my wallet now, and get this. 😀

  5. Alyssa

    This took my breath away. Before today I had never re-read a music review for the sheer enjoyment of its loveliness and truth. Astonishingly beautiful.

  6. April Pickle

    “Light for the Lost Boy is a story that proves its truth in ways that can’t be summarized. You just have to live with it.”
    O, how I am humbly and joyfully living with it.
    Beautiful review. Thank you, Mr. Professor.

  7. Derek

    What an excellent write up for an amazing album! Just absolutely love the theme of “Light For The Lost Boy” and it is one of those things that continues to haunt me, especially now that I have 3 kids.

    Every day I see my former self in my 5 year old son. He is so full of life, has very few worries, and just trusts in what he sees around him. I so deeply want to protect that in Him and wish that he would not have to walk through any dark moments in his life. So that is why AP’s song “You’ll Find Your Way” is probably my favorite and resulted in tears welling up. Just struck a chord in me that I was not expecting.

    Thanks Jonathan for a perfect description of this album.

    Thanks Andrew for yet another stellar long player.

  8. Jeanine

    Just listened this morning for the first time. I now need a moment on my front porch for another listen-through so I can fully digest the beauty that is this album. It might be the best so far…and I absolutely love every album AP has ever made. But the way these stories speak to the depths of my heart…of our longing for Home…they are poetry at its’ finest.

  9. David

    Today is, among other things, the feast day of St Augustine of Hippo. And this afternoon, as I listened to “Don’t You Want to Thank Someone” for the first time, I thought that Augustine particularly would have loved the song. It combines longing and restlessness with a grateful sense of the beauty of God and His works in a very Augustinian way. S’wonderful.

  10. Jimmie

    Different, but as beautiful and honest as ever. I cannot say enough how much this album has already touched me, both as a father and a 37 year old little boy. Even though “You’ve been a mystery since the moment that I met You” and “You never move”, but I can never seem to catch you”…I’ll keep chasing. Thank you Lord for the beautiful gift you have given to Andrew, the soundtrack to my pursuit of You.

  11. Dan

    Bravo Mr Peterson. Thanks for getting back in the saddle and producing another beautiful, though provoking Christian Album. I believe Mr Mullins would (and mabye does) love this work of art.

    I recommened the son “You’ll Find Your Way” to the youth pastor at our church. I can just imagine this being played to a slide show without a dry eye in the crowd.

    May God keep you on the ancient path and allow you to keep producing such great Christain art.

  12. I wish my children didn’t need the Gospel. | resolved and reforming

    […] Read this beautiful review of Andrew Peterson’s new album. Just giving it a first listen and I know it’s going to be on repeat on all my iTunes. “Those of us who are parents all wish we could protect our children from the brokenness of the world we brought them into. To put it another way, we all wish our children didn’t need the gospel. But they need it as much as we do. And the gospel is sufficient.” Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. […]

  13. Stewart Brenegar

    “A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is.” I think this Flannery quote sums up all of AP’s work. He tells stories that you won’t understand until you’ve lived with them. That’s what I love about his music; I am always coming back and finding new life in each song. Love this new one, and I’m sure it will grow on me.

  14. PJ

    What a beautiful review, Johnathan. My copy of *Light for the Lost Boy* arrived a couple of days ago. Such a blessing, and richer with every listen.

    Interestingly, shortly after reading this I got an e-mail from my 30 year old daughter who is dealing with the weight of bearing burdens and as her mother I still ache for her. Sending her the words to “You’ll Find Your Way” right now.

  15. Jonathan Noël

    Thank you, Jonathan. In familiar fashion, I read the last sentence of your review, turned my head so my children wouldn’t see my face, and wept. It’s true, isn’t it, about the gospel being enough. Thanks for the reminder. *sigh*

  16. Peter B

    Maybe it’s everything we’ve been going through for the past too-long time now, or maybe it’s the lack of sleep in the wake of our recent upheaval, or maybe it’s just this 38-year-old soul’s recognition of these wishes for two little girls and a boy — and his own miserable failures to them — but I’m glad the room is empty right now as I read this.

    Thank you Jonathan, for giving us this little foretaste; a soul-piercing was just what I needed right now.

  17. John Barber

    It’s three in the morning and I can’t sleep. The house is quiet, the children are out cold, my head is stopped up, and my nose is running. And you know what I can’t get our of my head? The drums in “Come Back Soon.” I haven’t spun the record enough yet to plumb the lyrical depth of these tunes (although I will), but I have to acknowledge the musicianship and production on this album. The fact is that it would be understandable for a fan of APs to hate this record (I think AP said something to that effect a while back) because it’s such a musical departure. Well, not a departure, but an evolution. This is exactly what I love to see from an artist. AP’s a stellar singer/songwriter. He always has been. But this record is a career maker. Maybe not in a financial sense, but in the way of legacy. We’ll talk about this album the way we talk about Mark Heard or Rich Mullins’ finest works. In fact, musically, this probably surpasses “A Liturgy, a Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band.” I’m sure AP would point to Ben Shive and Cason Cooley as the architects. So kudos to them. And kudos to AP for a masterpiece.

  18. Jon Micah Richardson

    Selfishly, this album couldn’t have been released at a better time (in my life). Its not an uncommon feeling for me to anxiously await AP’s latest release; I’ve always his loved music, but Andrew is the first musician/storyteller that I could actually relate with and to (as a fallen human being longing and struggling to bear the image of Jesus, as a husband, and as father….). This occurred more than ever when I first listened and connected to Dancing in the Minefields.

    In the last three weeks, as my wife and I have danced, I have held back a flood of tears from the world as we moved two beautiful daughters into their dorms at two different colleges. As I watched their two little brothers (my 9 and 7 year old sons) help move them in…time never seemed more valuable. I still can’t wrap my mind around what I was thinking/feeling at that moment in those stairwells. However, the line “I can go with you, but I can’t follow,” seems to capture the moment.

    In my humble opinion, this album is unique from anything he has produced, holy in a sense, set a part from anything I’ve heard before. Andrew has offered one the finest and most sacrificial works of art at the alter of our hearts; truly a blessing and labor of love. Quite simply, thank you Andrew.

  19. Debbie

    Bought this album. Was waiting for it. Love it! Thank you Andrew and crew/family for the musical pick-me-up that I waited ALL SUMMER for! 🙂 Praise God for Andrew Peterson! What a blessing. LOVE track 6 about neverland. It is on repeat right now in my car stereo. 🙂 GOD BLESS YOU AND FAMILY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 🙂

  20. Charles

    I love everything that AP has done. I’ve told many of my friends that, unlilke so much of current Christian music, AP’s is absolutely NOT “a mile wide and an inch deep”. There is a depth and a richness to his lyrics that few artists ever achieve. But this new album is, to borrow from a previous post, “a career maker”. This album is one for the ages. Every track unfolds like another facet cut on a gem. The word that came to mind on my first listen was “profound”. And with each subsequent listen I find that the depth and breadth of that profundity only increase. I honestly don’t feel I am overstating my reaction to this album. Just a couple of examples … “You’ll Find Your Way” makes me weep everytime I hear it. As a father of 3 boys, I know exactly the hopes and fears to which the song speaks. And then there is the final track, “Don’t You Want to Thank Someone”. If there were no other remarkable tracks on the album (and trust me, they are ALL remarkable), this one alone would make everything else worthwhile. It absolutely takes my breath away! Another one that I cannot hear without just breaking down and weeping. Thank you, Andrew and company for what you have achieved through our Lord in this album! The Body is far richer because of this gift you have given us!

  21. Josh Kemper

    I don’t know exactly what AP feels about this review, but I feel like it is so fitting that it belongs in the book. It just seems so right and I’m so glad for it and it helps my heart wounded by the recent death of my best friend to find strength and hope. Thank you.

  22. Bruce Bailey

    Rest Easy played on the radio during a Labor Day weekend trip from Chicago to Michigan and back again. I was so glad to hear it the second and third time. A wonderful, soulful song that makes my heart cry with joy for the Lord’s love for me.

  23. Abby Orchard

    I love the new album and am so excited to see Andrew Peterson in concert! If you haven’t had the opportunity to go to a concert, make time and find the money for your tickets. He’s got a great line up of shows in the coming months, including one in Wadsworth, Ohio! If you’re a fan in Northeast Ohio, try to make it! I know from experience how long it can take for him to get up there!

    Get yourself a ticket and enjoy a night of wonderful music, storytelling, and a great opportunity to get in touch with our Maker.

  24. UTR Dave

    Going slightly off course here…. I have a friend going through some pain & confusion, kind of wondering where God is at. This line you wrote Jonathan was so poignant, I sent her the quote to ponder today:

    “The hope of the gospel is not clarity in our confusion, but the knowledge that God is at work in spite of the fact that we don’t understand what he is up to.” Well said!!

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