Counting Stars: Release Day Ruminations

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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.


31 Comments

  1. Caleb

    What a wonderful blessing to read this morning! I love the new album, and to read a post like this – amazing! Reading your words regarding “The Reckoning” sent chills down me again.

    Two days ago, there was a terrible thunderstorm in our area, and my in-laws little dachshund was going crazy because of the storm. She was completely terrified. I picked her up and felt her heart beating so fast – I thought she was having a panic attack. I started to pet her, whispering that it will be OK, and her heart rate slowed until the next loud thunderclap. I’m not as eloquent with words (that’s why I’m not a contributor to this wonderful site) but it amazes me to see how this little puppy feared a powerful act from God – the thunderstorm. What a gentle reminder that God is in control, and He created everything. How I need to fear him more! Maybe then, my life will be drastically different and the world would be changed. Maybe then…God help us all to live our lives dedicated to you.

    God, thank you for your mercy, grace, goodness, and for blessing us with community the spurs each other on. Andrew, thanks for the beautiful album and letting God use you! Jonathan, thanks for the wonderful post and letting God use you too!

    Happy Tuesday! He lives!

  2. Dan K

    I’m still in the immersion stage with the album. So far (for me) the most powerful line has been from the full intense thunder roar of The Reckoning.

    After asking how long until this burden is lifted…how long

    “I know that I don’t know what I’m asking”

    Something rings so true in that for me. The weight of God’s glory will be crushing and wonderful. As much as you can smile & weep at your child riding a bike for the first time, singing a song in church, or making a profession of faith….it’s a sliver of the joy that waits.

    A great album, it’s battling against Love & Thunder as my favorite.

  3. PaulH

    Only if I could put my reaction as precisely to “Counting Stars” as you have, Jonathan. I want to write a review for it here at the RR and for Amazon and others sites, but I can’t get past being taken up in the Great Glass Elevator and being left there to enjoy the journey through thought and scene, place and time.
    You are brought in closely to Andrew’s marriage at the same time made to look at what you hold dear to your heart, to their kids at bedtime, then to a back seat of a van/car with all the young Square Pegs with their dreams and hopes full of expectation, to a ground level view of the woman caught in adultery and then to cry for the Lord Jesus’ return. You are comforted by Andrew’s admittance of his faults but yet still how given the promise of how God views you as one of His children.
    This is a very intimate album both from Andrew’s point of view and the tone of the music. It is traveling music for the heart, mind and soul.
    I CAN’T STOP LISTENING TO IT.

  4. Toni W

    I never have the right words. That is why I appreciate all of you. This is so dear to my heart, as my marriage did not make it through the minefields. Listen and learn everyone. Nothing is a walk in the park, without a Savior to walk with. I feel like a sentimental geek, but, well…that is what I am. Thanks AP for the courageous lyrics and thank you Captains Courageous for the living music.

  5. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    I’m loving this recording. The lyrical images, the truths, the singing, the musical support, production – all of it so well done without any sense of being contrived. Different songs keep hitting me at different times, and I’ve been waking up each morning with one or another of the songs in my head. There is such a good balance between honesty about our humanity and yet holding to Reality within the human struggle. Like the song Dancing in the Minefields is an affirmation of the struggle and beauty of marriage, so nearly every song speaks in the same way, affirming that it is natural to struggle and supernatural to hold to the truth in the midst of it all. Good work.

  6. Nathan

    I just saw the live stream of tonight’s concert on AP’s website. I am so excited. I am going to watch it right up until I have to leave for a Bible study tonight at church.
    I’m giddy.

  7. Robert Jacobsen

    Just heard Andrew on Haven Today (www.haventoday.org). Great interview! I remember when I first heard Rich Mullins as well and the impact it had on me and my appreciation of music and art. I’ve got youth group tonight while the convert is live …Ugh! Hopefully there will be a west coast tour.

  8. Josh Petersen

    Love ya man.

    I’m thankful that words and lyrics still matter.

    Hopefully the fruit we have planted all over the country for the past two years will come to fruition.

    Josh

  9. Mark Cook

    love the album. the whole thing just builds and builds to a beautiful crescendo. i especially like the last 4 songs, they way they just hit you so hard with truth and beauty. what a great album!

  10. Mike

    I hate new clothes. It takes several good washings before they are comfortable and a long time before they become my favorites. I’ve got an old Georgia sweatshirt that’s going on about ten years now. My wife hates it but I love it. “Counting Stars” came with the comfort built in. I feel like I’ve known these songs for a long time. I can’t listen to this album enough. It fits. It fits like a grace mold that has been poured to shape of what God has been teaching me. It is very reminiscent of what “Love and Thunder” did for me personally. The Truth in Dancing in the Minefields (married 23 years) is so honest that I wonder why the concept for the song hasn’t already been thought of. I heard Andrew and Ben live in Jefferson Ga last week and it was the first time that I had heard many of the new songs. I’ve had the privilege of seeing several shows. This particular one was among the best. Andrew’s honesty, grace, and connection with those of us who were there has deepened over the years. Right now we’re listening to it and “In the Night, the Hope Lives On” is playing. It is my initial favorites song. I’m sure as I continue to wear this album others will emerge. That’s the way Andrew’s albums are.

    Thanks Andrew and everyone else involved.

    Stay In One Peace

    Mike

  11. Paul

    So this album should have a “Do Not Operate Heavy Machinery while Listening” warning. I downloaded the album as I was leaving the office to head home, loaded into iTunes, synched my iPod, and drove away… tears rolling freely down my cheeks as I listened. A couple times I wondered if I was going to have to pull over, but I made it with injuring myself or anyone else.

    In all seriousness, thanks for another deeply moving album. It was so good to hear today and I look forward to letting this album soak in.

    Paul

  12. MargaretW

    Well, we just finished watching the Counting Stars concert on First.com and are humbled and amazed by the music and AP’s insight. I don’t think we’ve ever huddled around the computer like that before. The cynical part of me wants to find fault with words or music, just because I can. Alas, not this time. But I think what leads me back and back again isn’t Andrew Peterson at all, but Christ reflected through him, like he is the prism through whom the Lord of Lords shines. He inspires me and moves me to write and live more for the glory of God than any other artist I have been acquainted with.

    My 20 month old son was up for several hours a few nights ago because of an intense lightening and thunder storm. Our bedroom was racked with the furor of the wind and rain, but that is not what woke me up. It was the little whisper from my son saying, “Wow!” over and over again and leaning toward the window because he wanted to see more. The thunderstorm is a created thing and yet we marvel at its beauty and are awestruck by its power. In some ways that is how I feel about AP’s body of work. He is a vessel and a created thing that purposefully draws me to search the heavens for the creator. I echo the sentiment from “The Reckoning”. How long?

    And all I can say is, wow!

  13. DrewP

    Thank you Anrew for writing songs which draw me closer to God and help me see the ways God is revealed in everyday life. Thanks for the magic in your music.

    Be blessed,
    Drew

  14. Gwen

    I listened to the album for the first time today, as it had just arrived. Amazing. But I have a couple of questions. First, which version of The Reckoning is the REAL version? What I mean is, the version we got before the release date had a lot of drums. Too much for my taste. My dad and I were a little surprised. But then we listened to the version on the CD and liked it a lot better. Was the first version some sort of joke? Or was it just an alternate version? My second question relates to track thirteen, the bonus track, The Same Song. I loved it, too. Is that Ron Block on the banjo? And is the banjo line basically the same as Rocket from RL vol. II? Just wondering. This album met all my high expectations. Thanks a million, AP!

  15. Tina

    This is my first AP album and I LOVE it. My favorite song so far is “In the Night My Hope Lives On” – a beautiful reminder of God’s love and faithfulness thru the scriptures. I especially love the guitar work in this song – it got a grin of approval from my 19 year old classical-guitar-major son. I haven’t enjoyed an album this much since Rich Mullins. So, I guess I will be getting AP’s other albums soon.

  16. Andrew Peterson

    @andrew

    Thanks for all the well-wishes, folks! It was such a fun release day, and a nice surprise to read Jonathan’s kind words. I’m humbled and excited and grateful that the songs have been a blessing.

    Gwen: It’s not unusual for a song to be remixed for radio. The version the label released early was the single, the same version the radio stations are (hopefully) playing. The reason for all the drums is that the radio stations don’t think people will listen to a slow song; it has to come in fast and hit the ground running or folks will change the channel. I don’t think that’s true, but neither am I a radio guy. So after a lot of grumbling on my part, the label convinced me to allow a remix of the song. Well, the good news is, it worked. To my surprise, the song was added (and is still being added, from what I hear) to playlists around the country.

    I’m not a fan of the edit. The reason the song on the album starts with Andrew Osenga’s beautiful Daniel Lanois-esque electric guitar solo is to evoke the calm before the storm. The song is supposed to build slowly, to be full of anticipation, like a racehorse at the gate–then at the end of the first chorus the drums come thundering in and the race is on. That moment when the drums enter might be my favorite on the record. So when the drums were added to the beginning all that was lost. The slow-burn momentum that led to the explosion into the second verse was gone, and so was the drama, at least for me.

    I was bummed about it. But I agreed to it in order to give the rest of the songs on the album a chance to be heard by more people, and besides, the original version on the album wasn’t in any danger of changing. Anyone who bought the record would experience it as we intended. And here’s the thing: it worked. It helped spread the word that there was a new album coming. While I may not prefer the radio version, I don’t regret allowing it to happen. In a perfect world, I guess, radio stations would be willing to present a song in its original (and more impacting, in my opinion) version–but this is nothing new. There have been remixes and radio edits of songs for years upon years, so I’m in good company.

    Should any radio or label folks read this, I hope they know I’m mainly just grateful they play any of these songs at all. Because of the reach of radio, quite literally hundreds of thousands more people have heard “The Reckoning” than would have otherwise. And that’s pretty cool. None of these songs were written with radio in mind; they were written and recorded to suit Ben Shive’s, Andy Gullahorn’s, and my tastes, and the fact that there ended up being a few songs radio might play is icing on the cake.

    And no, that’s not Ron playing the banjo. It’s Gabe Scott–Ron is the man, but he wasn’t with us in Washington and Gabe did a capital job filling those shoes.

    Thanks again for the support, everybody.

  17. Mark Geil

    I recall the radio discussion in the notes on Appendix A regarding “Isn’t It Love?”. I’m still blown away by the contrast in those two versions.

    “Counting Stars” is indeed a blessing. Many thanks. I’ve posted my thoughts elsewhere ( http://markgeil.wordpress.com/2010/07/29/review-andrew-peterson-counting-stars/ ) because they’re too verbose for a comment, but suffice it to say that once again you’ve made me think a little differently about God and my wife and my kids and planting trees, and you made me look closely at a map of Scotland. That, in turn, made me think about Braveheart, but I can’t really give you credit for that.

  18. Chris R

    I didn’t actually like this album as much as I liked previous AP albums (apologies AP) but as I have listened more and more, it has sunk in deeper and deeper and as a result, continues to impact me and hit me in new ways. The last three songs on the album are, to me, the most powerful, a beautiful way of telling stories of love and redemption and failure and grace. Thanks AP

  19. Andy

    Counting Stars is finally here! Our family lives in China and so we finished breakfast and moved back to the bedroom to sit on the bed and watch the release concert on hearitfirst.com. Thanks for agreeing to do that. For those of us who don’t get to see you in person due to other limitations, it was a huge joy to hear the stories, laugh at your camaraderie and have our gaze returned to Jesus’ beauty by the songs. As Andy G. told the cameraman to cut the feed we were clicking to the RR website to get the deluxe edition download. Tremendous stuff. You are most certainly not fools with fancy guitars, keyboards, accordions, banjos, video cameras or mics. My fellow priests and princes/princesses I salute you all. Well done.

  20. Melanie

    I love this post. It really sums up my feelings about the album. I downloaded it before we got in the car to drive 15 hours. The sun was setting and the stars were coming out. It was perhaps the most perfect way for the first listen. My husband and I both wept. I really couldn’t believe that I would love this album more than some of his others. I have worn them out. I think I might just love it as much or more. It is beautiful. Beautiful! He speaks into the deep places of the heart. Andrew, thank you! God is using your worlds to speak hope into my family every time we listen to one of your albums.

  21. Pracades

    Amazing…this album is leaving me teary-eyed and breathless and thankful and in awe of my place in this universe and my connection to it all. Already fighting its way to the top of my favorite AP albums…aka my favorite music albums period. I love how Ron describes it, its not just the depths of the lyrics but the music and the melody and the richness of it all, it envelops me. I was cranking it up in my car today and I could feel the steady rhythm of my heart beating through the music. Andrew, I am so glad you listened to God’s call in your life and that he brought you here to give us this album (as well as all of you involved in creating it, I’m sure there were many.) And that He carried me along (no pun intended) to this place to hear this. I will share this album with many!

  22. Pracades

    P.S…Andy, I totally agree with you about the album version of “The Reckoning.” It had a totally different impact on me when I first heard it as opposed to the radio edit. The guitar is beautiful and haunting and you can just feel that something magnificent and scary is coming, it leaves you on the edge of your seat…just like that day that will soon come…

  23. Laura B

    One of my favorite things about this album (and all of AP’s work, for that matter) is that, though the songs are “about” marriage, family, etc., they are also about much, much more and are therefore beautifully accessible. For instance, I am single and have no kids. Because of this, songs about marriage and family often just sort of skim the surface of my heart, leaving me thinking and feeling little more than, “Oh, I hope someday I have a family” with varying degrees of longing.

    AP’s music about marriage and family does so much more than that–he wraps his songs around truth that is true for all of us. Probably my favorite lines in “Dancing in the Minefields” are: “So when I lose my way, find me / When I loose love’s chains, bind me / At the end of all my faith, till the end of all my days / When I forget my name, remind me…” I think these lines affect me so powerfully because they reflect what I already know but am sometimes scared to admit–that I do lose my way, that I am not always faithful, that I forget who I am in Christ. He goes on to remind us of the best kind of hope–that even when we forget our names, we are known and loved by Christ and have nothing to fear. That is good news for all of us, whether or not we have life partners to “dance” with!

    Anyway, I guess all that’s just to echo what everyone else has already said–thanks for the encouragement, Andrew.

  24. John

    I am enjoying the true beauty of this new collection of songs also. Just want to add that as it was so appropriate for our family, I personally dedicated “Dancing in the Minefields” to my wife of 15 years too. This song gave us a “shot in the arm” over a few difficult days while raising three boys, two with severe Autistm.

    Andrew thank you for writing all these songs from your heart, but we thank the Lord that one was made “ours” too. Keep pressing on as He leads you too, our brother.

  25. Danielle

    I heard Dancing in the Minefields on Joy FM in St. Louis yesterday!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I was ECSTATIC. I was so excited I was trembling. I’m serious. I was trembling. I was excited. 😀 I actually called and thanked them for playing it. It turns out that Kim, the person on Joy FM at that time of day, is an Andrew Peterson fan, too, and is excited that she can play his music on the radio now. I am happy.

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