For the past year, I’ve become deeply compelled by the words desolation and consolation. Neither are words we use a whole lot. But they each carry layers of subtle meaning, and I get the sense that they’ve got a lot to teach us.
Desolation is linked with sheer absence. I see this word used most often in reference to a landscape—a desolate ghost town, for instance. And this makes sense, because its verb form, “to desolate,” is nearly synonymous with “to abandon.” A ghost town that has suffered desolation used to be full, but is now empty. The lives that once filled its streets have fled. The body remains, but the spirit is gone.
While many negative emotions accompany a word like desolation, the most haunting part to me is that the word itself is indifferent to them. It doesn’t mean “sad,” “lonely” or “despairing”—it simply means empty. Nothing. Absence.
Just as desolation implies a past presence that has now fled, consolation implies a prior absence, now filled with palpable presence. And like desolation, it also stems from a verb: “to console.” Those who have never known loss or grief have no need to be consoled. It’s only from a previous emptiness that we hunger and thirst to be filled.
Suffice it to say that desolation and consolation are far from opposites. They have much in common: both are always unsolicited. Both leave us different than they found us. And extraordinarily, both provoke song. Psalms 22 and 23 stand side by side for a reason.
I realized somewhere along the way that all the songs I’d been writing were either desolation or consolation songs. And once I realized it, I wrote a couple more of each on purpose, and it felt like giving the right name to something that was already happening.
And that is how it came to be that I made my first solo record, comprised of two parts: Desolation & Consolation. With my friends Evan Redwine and Lucas Morton, I recorded it at the Art House in three days last January.
I learned a lot over the course of writing, wrestling with, and recording these songs, and it’s my hope that some of what I’ve learned will travel through them and into your ears. Because in today’s world, there are innumerable, devastating iterations of desolation that daily bear us down. If we’re paying attention, the experience of utter emptiness will not fail to find us.
Equally true, if we are lucky to escape cynicism, consolation finds us as well, with a quieter and fiercer relentlessness. “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.” There’s always some measure of defiance in our hope—defiance towards the lie that our end destination is desolation.
We must honor both, because in each we receive the liberating truth of our need. We’re taught to hunger so that we may feast. Grief and joy alike stem from an encounter with the gift of being alive and the possibility—the promise—of resurrection. And while the hope of resurrection compels me to affirm that in the end, every tear will be wiped from every eye, it also bids me honor these present tears with the understanding that “those who sow with tears reap songs of joy.”
I began sharing this album on September 6th with the first song from Desolation, “Into the Darkness.” By December, we’ll be entering into Consolation just in time to celebrate Advent. I invite you to walk through these songs with me, paying attention to the questions they stir in you. Thanks for taking the time to listen.