Andrew Peterson has a fairly simple approach to songwriting: He writes the songs that he himself needs to hear, trusting that there are other people out there who might need them as well. And by the tens of thousands there have been. Peterson’s most loyal fans in fact, tend to be those who find resonance with the “glowing ache” that permeates his body of work. But it’s never been the ache of hopelessness or despair. Instead it’s the ache that comes from deeply loving something that has been lost, and from daring to hope that it will one day be restored. It’s the recognition that any pain we now feel is somehow inseparable from the joy that was intended for us from the creation of the world. And it’s the undying hope that that same pain is also a promise, a forward longing, a deposit of the redemption and restoration of the greater joy that is yet to come.
The songs on Peterson’s new Centricity Music release Light for the Lost Boy are deeply rooted in such paradoxes of the human condition, reflecting a grief permeated with light and hope and beauty and love. Andrew, perhaps better than any other songwriter today, recognizes the echoes of Eden and eternity that fill our daily lives for what they are.
“As I was reading over the lyrics,” Andrew says, “I realized that several of the songs had the image of this lost little boy haunting the woods. Sometimes he was on a happy adventure, other times brokenhearted and lost. Tolkien wrote ‘We all long for [Eden], and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature…is still soaked with the sense of exile.’ We sense that something has been lost, but at the same time we have this fierce hope that heaven is breaking into our lives, and that a day is coming when all things will be made right again.”
Peterson’s friend and longtime producer/collaborator Ben Shive was joined on Light for the Lost Boy by Cason Cooley (Katie Herzig, Mat Kearney, Audrey Assad). The two-way production chemistry yielded a sound that at its core should be familiar to Peterson devotees, while adding subtle, new colors to Andrew’s musical palette.
PortraitLyrically, the reality of living between the loss of Eden and the promise of redemption is the common theme that runs through the project. We find it in Andrew’s hopeful prayer for his own son “You’ll Find Your Way”, in which he sings “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 wanna go with you, but I can’t follow”. And we hear it again in the emotionally charged “Carry The Fire”, a song about keeping hope and faith even in the midst of struggle.
But that yearning for a renewed innocence finds its most direct expression in the song “Day by Day”, inspired by a London stroll Andrew and his wife Jamie took through Kensington Gardens where J.M. Barrie wrote Peter Pan.
“Neverland Park was erected there and we were excited to see it,” Andrew says. “We arrived and saw over the wall the mast of a pirate ship and heard the sounds of children playing inside. But at the gate there was a sign that said grownups couldn’t go in without their children. I stood outside the wall with this sense of sadness. I was barred from the great joy of childhood, and wanted nothing more than to be a kid again so I could run through and laugh with the rest of them. It was a perfect metaphor for the loss of Eden. As I wrote these songs I was hoping they might be little lights along the way for anyone who’s looking and longing for a renewed innocence, for the fulfillment of the Kingdom.”
Though the songs on Light for the Lost Boy don’t shy away from heartaches and hard questions, the project as a whole is anything but dark. As the patriarch Job found his deepest questions ultimately overwhelmed by the presence of his Creator, Andrew too finds himself repeatedly comforted and silenced in the place of divine presence.
“The last song, ‘Don’t You Want To Thank Someone’, is the thought I most want to leave people with,” Andrew explains. “It was partially inspired by an old poem of Gerard Manley Hopkins called ‘God’s Grandeur’ which closes with the line: ‘But the Holy Ghost over the bent world broods / with warm breath and—ah!—bright wings.’ God is present; his Kingdom is all around us just as sure as it’s coming in its fullness.”
Andrew’s willingness to acknowledge the realities of life without ever loosening his grip on eternal hope has won him loyal and highly relational fans worldwide, as their ongoing involvement in his online forum (www.RabbitRoom.com) demonstrates. His journey as an artist, author (of “The Wingfeather Saga”) and disciple is one that he’s long attempted to make openly and in community, using his songs and stories as an invitation to others walking the same road. Light for the Lost Boy artfully and stirringly documents the last couple years of that journey, and in so doing, should give thousands of new listeners a point of connection with his music.
“When I think of my youth,” Andrew says, “I remember carrying around this secret loneliness. Coming to know Jesus, being rescued by him from that loneliness is at the heart of why I write songs. C.S. Lewis said ‘We read to know we’re not alone.’ One of the reasons I write is to tell people the same thing. My hope is that some fifteen-year-old kid out there—or some fifty-year-old kid—will hear Light for the Lost Boy and find some comfort, some assurance that he or she is known and loved by the great love of the universe.”