When I landed with my family in the Midwestern United States in September 2018 everything was on the line.
We had enough money to record a few songs, live for a few weeks and a huge amount of hope that our lives were about to change. We needed them to. We were only just emerging from the hardest three years of our lives and we were desperate for change.
This trip from Aotearoa, New Zealand was our leap of faith, and it felt like it had the potential to make or break us.
What do we do in the hardest moments of our lives when God feels far from us and the foundations of our beliefs are shaken? Some say that a cognitive dissonance - a fundamental challenging and restructure of our view of the world - comes for us eventually. If we’re lucky, these spiritual, emotional or physical crises will come splintered in time so we can bear up underneath them.
For me, in the years leading up to this our landing on the tarmac that day, these three crises came all at once.
I first began to become sick in 2013 when we had our first son. Back then I thought it was a temporary thing. Katie and I had just begun traveling the world together playing music. It was a crazy thing actually, I quit my Job the same week we had our first boy and drove home without a secure income or future. I hadn’t even released my first full album yet. We were full of divine courage. Or was it youthful naivety? I’m not sure sometimes.
Either way, God had spoken to us and we responded with somewhat ludicrous trust.
But my illness wasn’t temporary and after years of travel my body broke down. First physically, then emotionally and following that a spiritual crises as I struggled to reconcile the goodness of the God I’d followed into this mess when everything was dying around me.
I lost my voice, I lost my job, I lost my courage and I either had to allow my understanding of who God is to be transformed or I would lose that too.
What followed was a restructuring of my entire being. A coming to peace with the mystery of God even as he became more present to me than ever. I learnt how to change my language, to give up my religious thesaurus styled prayer and open up into conversation with God. I had to be honest, and honesty required a level of vulnerability that I’d never had the strength to brave before.
During those years I began to pray differently. I wrote prayers, I sang them, I held them up within myself as wordless petitions to a God who had to be profoundly more beautiful and broad if he was to survive my anger and cynicism.
The result is Prayer & Vulnerability, a book and record project as vulnerable as my prayers had become.
I knew when I began to emerge from the years of darkness I was experiencing that everything would have to change. That’s why the day I drove into the studio with my friend and co-producer Jon Class I lowered his expectations as far as I could.
I told him I’d probably be unable to sing the first day we began, and we resolved to record whatever was possible and allow my limitations to become the form that gave way to this record. Whatever this album would become, it would a result of exactly what was happening in the moment, in my body, with my voice, through the experience of the day.
Finally, the process had become more important than the product.
I had to change keys, lower registers, sing totally different to balance how my body had changed, but over the next three days I spent the better part of my studio time weeping through some of the most vulnerable psalms I feel I’ve released yet.
You’ll hear that too, I hope.
The fourth track, “Here”, is a single un-edited vocal take from beginning to end. At the close of the song, if you listen close enough, you’ll even hear my deep breaths, holding back the weeping as best I could to get the take. When we stopped recording I sat and cried my way through my story telling Jon how hard it was to revisit the darkness I’d felt when I wrote it.
‘Already Home’ was no different. I’d done a few rounds of that track before taking a moment to remember why I’d written it. The day I sat down over a coffee and a journal and finally admitted to God that if I never got well again, if I could never sing again, then that was ok. Tears flooded back in as I went back into the depression and the panic attacks I’d experienced in the worst of those days and remembered the piercing beauty I found in accepting pain as part of life’s journey.
Something was changing in me too, as I sang through the songs and went back toward that grief - I was becoming free from it.
And so, as I discovered a good-er God and as I leant into the mystery and beauty of love and the reality of suffering, my language changed alongside my heart. My physical voice had been transformed, but I’d also found another voice within and a desire to write outside my usual form of song.
That’s how Prayer Vol.1 fits in.
It’s partially a diary really, of poems, thoughts, longings and psalms written through the years of this albums being formed, written and recorded. They’re little opportunities for you, if you want them, to connect with your own soul and the journey of your life. They’re my opening up my divine communion on the hope of sharing with you where I was, where I am and Whom I love.
It became more and more important to release these two creative works together - my third full length record, Vulnerability, and my first self-published prayer book, Prayer; Vol.01. That’s why they’re inseparable in this Kickstarter/pre-order, they’re each a companion to one another.
‘Prayer & Vulnerability’ is an invitation. It’s my opening up in the hope that you’ll find your own honest language with God. My attempt to share my re-shaping through the language of relational theology and intimacy rather than information and head knowledge. That maybe you may also come to find him closer than you thought possible and even more kind than your most outrageous imaginations.
Prayer & Vulnerability is an invitation to feel again.
To be hopeful enough to want to.
To long again and to explore the width and breadth of love in the face of whatever life looks like for you.
It’s hopeful, it’s gentle, it’s naked. The production, the vocal approach, the honesty have all been preserved as simple and bare as were possible. What you’re hearing really is me sitting in front of a mic with my guitar singing, crying, celebrating, remembering.
You’ll hear stools moving, papers being turned, heavy breaths exhaling and the creaks of others present to the moment. It’s all been left there on purpose. Every nook and cranny a testimony to the realness that we brought into this record.
And so the story, this part of it anyway, concludes. What started out as a tentative hope to record an EP ended up becoming my longest work to date. Our family flew home weeks later somehow having been blessed with enough to pay off the entire thing. This album is the result of twelve very peaceful, very intense and very beautiful days in studio and the hope of a family seeking renewal and freedom.
Life’s not like it was for us anymore. Things are changing all the time.
We’ve just had our third son, Finley, another sign of the rhythms of new life. Summer is about to come to a close and we’re celebrating him in the last of the warmth. My health is better than I could have imagined back then in the thick of 2016 and we’re surrounded by the most beautiful community of people.
Wherever we were, we’re not there now, but we’ll forever have this work I’m sharing with you as a reminder of the magnificent beauty of our dark night, and of the faithfulness of God to all who are brave enough to wrestle with him.
All my love,
Strahan (& the Coleman’s).