Dwelling in God’s mystery with Jon Guerra

No matter who you talk to, 2020 was a year of difficult surprises. Normal life was put on hold, political and religious divisions were exposed, economies faltered, hundreds of millions around the world lost their jobs and social ties were often strained to breaking point. In America, it seemed like all the supports that were propping up society were knocked out simultaneously, only to reveal that most of the foundation was built on sand in the first place. Even churches, theoretically functioning as havens for many to go for solace in times of deep distress and angst, were  shaken to their core. To this day, most congregations could tell several stories about the horror and lasting reverberations from the turmoil that ushered in the new decade. 

In the midst of all the noise, another surprise came in the form of an album by musician Jon Guerra called “Keeper of Days”. It may have come with little fanfare, but “Keeper of Days” met a lot of people at the perfect time. For many, the superficial happy noises being peddled on the airwaves rang hollow in the midst of such religious fractiousness, and Guerra rose to the occasion. Over the course of 14 tracks, he embodies the spirit of the Psalms he immersed himself in, offering up heavy doses of praise, prayer, petition and lament, all the while sounding like a combination of Rich Mullins and Sigur Ros. Many of these songs have all of these qualities in equal measure, such as the moving opener, “Kingdom of God”, where he pairs the core message of the Beatitudes with the first few verses of Psalm 23. Or, take this verse from his song “Citizens” as an example of why this album can hit like a truckload of bricks: 

Is there a way to love always? 

Living in enemy hallways

Don’t know my friends from my family and 

Don’t know my friends anymore

Power has several prizes 

Handcuffs can come in all sizes

Love has a million disguises 

But winning is simply not one.

(Guerra, 2020)

The Psalms also loom large in his follow-up album, “Ordinary Ways”, released in 2023. Choosing to take a more bare-bones approach to most of the production, he lets his listeners ruminate in his words and take in the profound biblical truths and attitudes placed front and center. Many songs have extended refrains of one statement that grow more powerful and meaningful the longer they are repeated, such as the transcendent “One Thing I Have Asked” or the soothing “Blueprint”. Elsewhere, he offers up prayers of hope and praise, with “The Lord Will Provide’’ being a wonderful meditation on the goodness and mysteriousness of God, declaring that, “In some way or another, the Lord will provide/ It may not be my way/ It may not be your way, but He will.” 

There is also the breathtaking lead single, “Let a Little Light In”, a song that he wrote as a musical representation of light being shone upon him in the midst of severe, literal and metaphorical darkness. The verses and chorus see Guerra lamenting the gloom and despair he sees in the world and himself, almost screaming, “Let a little light in/ My heart is in a panic!” The tension and gloom builds for two and a half minutes before an orchestra euphorically roars to life amidst the defiantly triumphant declaration “Surely I will dwell/ In the house of the Lord forever/ And the glory of the Lord will find me.” David Zahl of “Mockingbird Magazine” put it best when he wrote in his 2023 year-end review, “If a more transcendent 90 seconds of music was released this year than the second half of ‘Let a Little Light In,’ I haven’t heard it.”

Now, Guerra says he has recently found tremendous musical inspiration that is leading him in a slightly different direction. He had this to say about what is in store with his upcoming work: “I’m writing songs that I could not be more excited about. They are all interacting with the words of Jesus: the words, what’s behind His words and the energy, fire and divinity within them. Jesus said some wild things, and I think just looking at the things he said, rather than dwelling on things about him or making him a figurehead for something, is what I am aiming for. ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is not a word but a seed.’ ‘I have not come to bring peace but a sword.’ ‘If the eye is full of light, the whole body will be healthy.’ So many of these things are so simple but so rich, so luminous. Trying to bring that into song is really exciting!” 

This truly is exciting news. If his last two albums are anything to go by, the next album that Guerra releases is going to be beautiful, challenging and full of the kind of wisdom that only comes with countless hours spent in meditation on The Word. Keep an eye out, and give him a listen if you haven’t already. Will you find a lot of songs to add to various worship playlists? Perhaps. Will you come away from his music quietly dwelling on the glory and mystery of God amidst the heartache and ugliness of life? Absolutely. 

(Featured image: The cover of “Ordinary Ways” by Jon Guerra via Bandcamp)

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