Music for the Dark Night

A Reflection on the album “Baptized Imagination” by King’s Kaleidoscope

 

An Introduction

I’ve never written anything like this, but I’ve had a lot of firsts lately, so I’ll give this a shot too.

 

For the past few months I’ve been through the darkest and hardest season of my life, made all the worse because I’ve struggled to find the words to express what I was going through. The words of the world didn’t apply to me in this season: I wasn’t depressed or sad or melancholy, I was… something else.

 

Being unable to describe that “something else” is a lonely feeling, and when someone comes along and gives you the words that you’ve been searching for, there is a feeling of life and freedom that’s truly precious.

 

Fast forward to Friday, October 28th, when King’s Kaleidoscope released their newest album “Baptized Imagination.” I’ve been a fan for a long time, and this album release was on my radar. So that night I made sure to be seated on my couch with a cup of tea so I could sit and focus when I streamed it for the first time.

 

Then, for the next 30 or so minutes, I listened to an album that seemed to put words to large parts of my own spiritual journey for the past few months. So this isn’t a review of the album; I’m not qualified enough for that, nor do I really understand what it takes to make music.

 

Instead, these are my reflections (and perhaps interpretation) of a record I think the Church needs to hear, but not many in the Church may truly understand. I’ll look at each song on the album in order, relaying my understanding of the track and revealing bits and pieces of my own journey to help bridge the gap for those whose own journey with Jesus may not have crossed this desert yet.

 

It should be noted that I’m not affiliated with Kings Kaleidoscope or Chad Gardner (who is the producer, singer, and songwriter). My analysis may not be at all what the artist meant, though I pray I do their work justice and draw attention to the way they are serving the Body of Christ.

 

For what it’s worth, here I go.

 

Deeper

 

The opening track is an instrumental that sets the tone, literally. By the end of the 53 seconds we know we’re going down somewhere low and dark. It’s not depressing--not exactly. Instead it’s heavy, weighty… almost oppressive.

 

Wasn’t I Worth It?

 

We flow from the heaviness of “Deeper” into a piano melody that sounds lighter, but isn’t. Here, the writer immediately begins addressing the Lord with perhaps the most raw questions a Christian can ask. The very first words of the album are:

 

Wasn’t I worth it?

Wasn’t I workin’?

Gave it all I got

Gave it all I got

 

It’s important to note that, unlike most of King’s Kaleidoscope’s prior albums, God doesn’t respond here. There is no dialogue. There’s just words into a void--unanswered.

 

The writer continues to wrestle with the idea of holding on to a God he can’t feel.

 

Holdin' on is all I need

Dyin' tryna hold onto my dream (Holdin' on)

Holdin' on is all I need

Holdin' on to hope, you hold me (Hold me, holdin', holdin' on)

 

I’ve followed the Lord for more than a decade and I have always regularly heard from Him. When Jesus said “my sheep know my voice,” I believed Him very literally and I’ve enjoyed the close communion with God.

 

Then, a bit over a month ago, there began a silence. Not just a lack of God’s voice, but a lack of the feeling of His presence. It was suffocating.

 

Walk Away

 

This next track sounds upbeat, but “Walk Away” is by far the darkest song on the album. Here, the writer looks at the darkness, the silence of the Lord, and first begins to curse and fight. Like a child, they wrestle with leaving, turning their back on God entirely.

 

The chorus echoes this, singing,

 

Watch me walk away

Watch me walk away, calm down

Watch me walk away

Watch me walk away, calm down

 

The claim “watch me walk away” has the counterbalance of the mature inner voice saying, “calm down.”

 

Although I’ve never thought to “walk away” from the Lord, the end of this song paints well the picture of my recent nights. I’ve gone out to the beach where I’ve talked to the Lord so many times, stared out at the midnight horizon, and felt nothing, not even the joy and awe of the ocean.

 

For the singer, that inner voice wins out, and by the end of the track the tempo has dropped and the writer has moved from “cursing” at the silence, to simply staring out quietly and talking to God.

 

Staring back at the void

"Quiet" I whisper

"Can you hear me now?"

"Can you hear me now?"

And still, God does not answer.

 

Water Wasted

 

Despite the silence, the writer continues asking questions of God, and this fourth tack has a lot going on. Perhaps more than any other song on the album, it feels scattered and frantic.

 

Picking up where “Walk Away” leaves off, the writer suddenly realizes that life is still happening while he waits upon God, comparing it to “waking up” and realizing he needs to “take control.” The rush of life and chasing his dreams is in full force, comparing the rush of life to “red lining” and “fast track, black out” (or literally blacking out from the speed).

 

More essentially though, the writer is wrestling with losing the feeling of God, literally asking/singing, “Oh my God, are you gone?

 

Absent the feeling of God’s presence, the writer tries to find other ways to have peace, but they clearly fail, and he wonders if the silence is because of him “misbehaving.” He wonders if God has lost patience with him and if that’s why the Lord is silent.

 

This culminates in a question that summarizes it all when the writer asks, “Tell me, is the water wasted?” The reference to baptism is clear, and can be drawn out to be, “God, has this all been for nothing?”

 

Look. At. Me.

 

This song begins and ends with samples of a chorus performing the hymn “Ride on King Jesus,” which is a simple hymn about both the supremacy of Christ and the hope of eternal life with him. The simplicity and the focus of the hymn matters, because this song is a turning point of the album.

 

The writer, still not having heard from God, sings

 

Heart pains, hard times

Long waits, no signs

And

Lord I'm begging for something

Prayed for peace and get nothing

Are you fixing the paradigm?

Willing me out of mine?

 

Those last two lines are vital, both to understand the song and to understand our journey with God.

 

The writer is asking if God is fixing his (the writer’s) perspective, or paradigm. And then the second question, asking if God is trying to move the writer out of the paradigm he’s living in.

 

Living your life in close communion with God, feeling His presence, creates the belief and perspective that God is something like a feeling. You believe because, in a sense, you see or feel God. But that creates a God out of your feelings, and in love God removes that feeling of His presence and then you choose what to do.

 

Here, the writer chooses to trust, singing

 

I feel gutted

You've healed nothing

Just say something

I'll try trusting

 

And in the end, beyond trust, the writer chooses submission, asking God to tell him what he should want.

 

(Make me a believer) Looking up to go on

(Make me a believer) Tell me what I really want

 

The outro pulls it all together, bringing us back to the hymn “Ride on King Jesus.”

 

Here, the writer chooses to trust, singing

 

I want King Jesus

Bride of the conquering King (oh)

Tell me what I really want

 

I remember one night recently in which I went to the beach, expecting (hoping) to hear from God again, just like I always had. As I stared at the ocean, a silence returning all my one-sided conversations with the Lord, I eventually shrugged and walked away. I wasn’t angry or “fed up” with trying, I was just resolved to go do the things I knew Jesus had called me to, such as ministering and loving those in my church community.

 

In the absence of the feeling of closeness, I still loved Jesus enough to do what he’d asked me to do. I didn’t know it then, but that was perhaps one of the greatest steps I’d take on my spiritual journey.

 

 

body image

DOWN

 

For me, I can’t seem to be satisfied until I’m living my “true calling.” Despite all the amazing things God is using me for in His kingdom, I want to do and be so much more. I pastor a beautiful church in my home, yet my mind wanders to all the ministry left to be done. I teach for a living, yet I long to teach on a different platform. I publish blogs that have helped dozens of people, yet not until I’ve published a book do I think I’ll say, “and now I am satisfied.”

 

The track “DOWN” perpetuates a similar sentiment, with the writer singing in the chorus

 

What have I gained in the long run? (Gone)

When will I be more than I want?

Why am I down on the way up? (Gone)

I got You, but if I got You, then why don't I still have enough?

[...]

Maybe that's the question I don't ask enough

[...]

If I got You, then why don't I still have enough?

 

I think it’s important to note here that there is something about the silence of God that brings us children of His into deep introspection. If we’ve walked with Him long enough then we already know how to go about the process of searching our hearts and finding the things there that are not consistent with Jesus. And yet, for some reason, it isn’t until we don’t feel Him that we begin to say, “wait, I believe this needs to change.”

 

I found myself almost quoting this song before I’d ever heard this album. For me, it sounded something like, “oh God, why aren’t you enough for me? Please, please make you enough for me.”

 

Every Death

 

Picking up where “DOWN” left off, the writer sings

 

When it's a lifetime of "not enough"

And every death is approaching

Maybe a cross is the bitter love

I'm waitin' on

I'm waitin' on

 

The writer finds himself looking back to the cross. There, he thinks, is the “bitter love” he’s waiting for.

 

When the silence of God has come, the cross is where the maturing believer looks. Always to the cross our eyes turn, and with the writer’s eyes fixed on the cross he sings that he will wait and hope that maybe the sweeter life is one where there is truth not simply feeling.

 

So I will wait for the morning light

With every breath, death and rising

Maybe the truth is the sweeter life

I'm hopin' so

I'm hopin' so

 

I remember lying in bed recently, face in my pillow, just praying and hoping that I wasn’t crazy, hoping that my whole life before this wasn’t built on a lie. My conclusion was this: to take a deep breath and to trust in Jesus. Hope, not that this season would end but that He was using this season for some purpose kept me going.

 

Someday

 

The eighth track of “Baptized Imagination” begins slow and it stays that way. The writer has chosen hope and faith. He sings just a few simple and hopeful lyrics.

 

Someday, we'll talk

Under the stars

Someday, someday

 

Nostalgia’s Violence

 

The memory of what was, brought on by the hope of “Someday” brings on a burst of nostalgia that hurts. Like the memory of the best times of your life that you know will never come back, there is joy and pain that swirls around inside you.

 

The writer calls the Lord his “summer wind” and a “breath of knowingness” that is now “gone like a ghost.”

 

In the end, nearly all the instruments stop, and the writer narrows down what it is he really, truly, wants:

 

All I really want is

Someone asking questions

Someone really focused

Someone truly honest

Someone to depend on again

 

Loneliness, I think, marks the believer during these times of silence from the Lord. I’m blessed, I know, that during my own season I’ve had close friends who’ve simply been there and listened even as I made little sense.

 

Summer Wind

 

This is a beautiful instrumental, the title of which comes from the first line of “Nostalgia's Violence” in which the writer says of the Lord, “You were my summer wind.” It’s a reprieve from the heavy wrestling and acts as a sort of signal that something new is on the horizon.

 

Say No More

 

For perhaps the first time, the Lord speaks to the writer! His words are gentle and so utterly simple. He says simply, “say no more” and the writer says back “I need you.”.

 

It’s a beautiful thing I’m unsure many people can truly grasp--the grace God poured out like air given to a drowning man. 

 

In my own time of darkness, of silence, the Lord gave me reprieve that changed my prayer life. By “chance” I happened upon a sermon in which the pastor clearly laid out what St. John of the Cross called “The Dark Night of the Soul.” It was words put in my mouth, water on my parched tongue, and as if the Lord was affirming “I understand, you don’t need to say anything else.”

 

And this reprieve, given by God at just the right moment, defines a new relationship with Him.

 

You & I Again

 

The writer asks the Lord, who has finally spoken back (if only a little) and repents, singing,

 

Could you carry all my shame

Since I never seem to change?

Could ya?

 

And despite the writer's own failings of being unchanging and “caught in a circle” of his own actions, the focus is turned to God who looks at the mess he is and is moved to love. He sings, “Maybe the mess of me only grips at your heart,” which is a far cry from the questioning whether or not God has abandoned him for his “misbehaving” back in “Water Wasted.”

 

What’s crucial here is that even though the writer questions himself, even wondering who he really is, he is committed to not hiding from God, but instead embracing there is now a “You and I, again.” This is a choice of communion, made in the somber season in which there are no intense feelings.

 

JOY

The writer has chosen something new, to embrace the fact that he is weak and God is gracious. The writer is giving up, no longer wanting the world he used to live in, but surrendering to the grace God pours out on him.

 

He still struggles with faith, with belief, but he has seen something wonderful.

 

You're the only magic living in my memories

Majesty, imagine what I see to worship You now

Rising in the rush, You pick me up and hold me

Hallelujah, hallelujah, holy moments with You

 

And it is those memories that the writer draws upon, not the feelings he has right now, but the history he has with the Lord. The chorus echoes this:

 

Every moment I playback, You live in it (Joy, joy, joy, joy)

I can feel every way that You've been in it (Joy, joy, joy, joy)

And searching those memories he sees the truths of the Lord.

You're the voice of the mystery, I'm listening (Joy, joy, joy, joy)

You're the face of forgiveness, I'm taken in (Joy, joy, joy, joy)

You're the eyes of commitment, I'm giving in (Joy, joy, joy, joy)

You're the joy, oh, the joy that I'm living in (Joy, joy, joy, joy)

 

And that choice to listen when he doesn’t understand, to take in the forgiveness of God, to trust in the commitment of the Lord, all leads to the joy of living with Jesus. It’s a joy that sinks down deep into the heart, and doesn’t move or shake.

 

Past, Present, Future

 

The last song on this album is my favorite as it is when God chooses to truly show Himself again. For the second time, we see the writer and the Lord speaking. The writer, still rejoicing, sings,

 

Lord, restore me in Your faithfulness

Spirit, lead me into the water

Keep me closely in this wilderness

Bring me back into You, Father

And the Lord is not silent, but sings back,

May I be Your purpose and Your pleasure

Hold me in Your heartache

Past, present, future

Imagine what I see

Past, present, future

 

And as the album winds down there is hope and light, but not because the writer feels any different than how things began. And that’s such a crucial thing to stop and ponder. The very last verse is “Destined for life / Will you heal me now?”

 

The writer’s love for Jesus, his trust for Jesus, his belief in life eternal, is not dependent on the feeling of closeness with God.

 

And there, the album concludes.

 

Final Thoughts

In his work Surprised By Joy, C.S. Lewis tells of reading the works of George MacDonald and feeling as if his “imagination was, in a certain sense, baptized.” Prior to his mind coming to faith and his body being baptized literally, Lewis felt that MacDonald’s stories had begun the process of putting his earthly imagination to death, resurrecting it in Christ.

 

In some ways, I think the Lord has been doing this work in me as well.

 

I’m a dreamer, a man who lives in my mind and imagines all the Lord will do. On the plane of my imagination the Lord has spoken and communed with me, filled me with His presence, and often purged me of the sin that lingers in my heart. But I’ve known for a long time that there have been parts of me not submitted to God. Parts of me that wanted his gifts more than Him, wanted His plans for me more than I wanted Him. And so, for a season, the Lord withdrew not His presence (for I believe that will never leave) but the feelings of His presence.

 

During this “Dark Night of the Soul” as St. John of the Cross would call it, I believe many people do walk away from Jesus. But for me, my roots are just too deep, and I’ve fallen too far in love with Him. Although, at the time of writing this, I believe my night will get even darker, I look forward to someday when He and I will talk again, when He will sing to me “imagine what I see” and I will breathe deeply in His presence.

 

Whether or not this is a season you can relate to, I recommend listening to Baptized Imagination by King’s Kaleidoscope and, if nothing else, allow yourself to step into the shoes of other believers.

 

In the meantime, drop in the comments some albums that have influenced you and let us know whether you’d like more content like this.

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