I was heading down a lonely winter highway on an early frosty morning in March of 2013. It’s a difficult time for me to revisit because, honestly, I was in a pretty dark place. I’ve been candid about the fact that I wrestled with anxiety and depression that, at its worst, had been debilitating. A lot of that was triggered by a sense of hopelessness I had felt about trying to make my living as a musician and songwriter. In early 2013, I had started to work my way out from under it, but there was still a long way to go.
I was on the road to Winnipeg, and had just left my parent’s house by the lake, east of Regina. I had been a cottage kid. I spent my summers snorkelling and spear fishing in the lake, and the rest of the year wandering the woods playing Indiana Jones. Climbing the hills, building forts, and slaying dragons. It’s hard to imagine a more idyllic childhood than the one I was blessed with.
On top of the hill was an old house. Every child had a “Haunted House”, and this was mine. My siblings told stories about how when they were younger our uncles used to take them there. One of them would lead the children through the house while another snuck around back, put on a sheet and made ghostly noises that terrified them. They used to laugh at the recollection, while I, some ten years younger, was petrified! To this day, I have never set foot in that house.
I was driving up the hill that morning, thinking about my music career and wondering whether or not it was time to concede defeat and throw in the towel. More than that, I was wrestling with my faith. I was annoyed at the fact that the decision wasn’t mine alone. As a Christian, I had to consider not only what I wanted to do, but what I believed God might want me to do. And there was the rub. Personally, I felt like it was time to quit, but I couldn’t escape that this was my calling, what I had been created for. To make music, and bear witness to Jesus through song. Yet on that cold morning, it felt like a burden I could no longer bear. I resented the fact I couldn’t just make that decision on my own, that there was someone else’s will to consider.
So in anger I started to rail against my faith itself. To wish for simpler days. Before I came to Christ, there was just me. Just my will. I was autonomous. I did what I wanted. I asked myself, “Why don’t I quit?”. Not music, but faith altogether. “Why do I persist to believe? Why don’t I throw in the towel on this whole faith thing? Everything would be so much simpler! I was so much happier as a Non-Christian! (ha!) “. And just then, as I was asking the question, I drove past the house. And as I glanced at it something inside me said, “Because that’s your soul.”
I am haunted by God. I see His fingerprints everywhere. I hear His voice singing to me through all of creation. I catch His scent on the wind. As much as I try to cast Him out, I can’t. I am haunted by God.
“My heart’s an old house
With a ghost in the halls
There are creaks in my floorboards
Fingerprints on the walls“
So the first verse, chorus and the melody line all came that morning on the drive to Winnipeg.
I don’t remember when I wrote the verse about the Captain, or the bridge, but the rest of the song materialized slowly over the following year.
The song was finished on another drive the next January on my way to Regina, to play a concert at St. Paul’s Anglican Cathedral where I performed it for the first time that night.
I’ve loved the song since I finished it. I don’t think I’ve written anything better. It’s connected with audiences in a very strong way every night I’ve performed it. In fact, the whole reason I started to entertain the idea of making “Orbits” was because audiences have been asking for a recording of the song. The title of the album comes from the last verse.
I’m happy to say that nearly 4 years later, I’m in a much better space than I was when I began the song. Partly because I’ve made a lot of healthy changes, but partly because something shifted that morning. The morning that song came, the clouds seemed to break.
Now the eerie thing about the song, is that there were clearly other hands at work. The song is indeed “haunted”. Not by a ghost, but by the God whom the song is about. Months after I wrote the song, I realized that despite any conscious intention on my part, the song is Trinitarian. Christians understand God to be Triune in nature. One God existing simultaneously in Three Persons Father, Son and Spirit. In the first verse of the song, God is portrayed as a Spirit. In the second He is a self-sacrificing human. In the third, He is the bright centre around which everything orbits and which holds everything together. I remember the hair on the back of my neck standing up, when I realized that.
Despite our fickleness. Despite our wanting to throw in towel at every small adversity, we are pursued relentlessly by a God who just won’t give up on us. “You don’t know when to quit!” And Thank God for that!