Brian Doerksen "Life's Unexpected Challenges" | Episode Transcript
Karen Pascal: Hello, I’m Karen Pascal. I’m the Executive Director of the Henri Nouwen Society. Welcome to a new episode of Henri Nouwen: Now and Then. Our goal at the Henri Nouwen Society is to extend the rich, spiritual legacy of Henri Nouwen to audiences around the world. Each week, we endeavor to bring you an interview with someone who’s been deeply influenced by the writings of Henri, or perhaps even a recording of Henri Nouwen, himself. We invite you to share the daily meditations and these podcasts with your friends and family. Through them, we can continue to introduce new audiences to the writings and teachings of Henri Nouwen, and we can remind each listener that they are a beloved child of God.
Now, let me take a moment to introduce today’s guest. Today on this podcast, I have the pleasure of interviewing singer-songwriter, Brian Doerksen. Brian has made an enormous contribution to contemporary Christian music with well-known songs like Refiner’s Fire, Come Now is the Time to Worship, Faithful One, Today, and so many more. Brian, I know there are hundreds of thousands of your albums sold worldwide at this point. Every week, your songs are sung globally in churches and Christian gatherings all over the world. How did this creative journey begin in your life?
Brian Doerksen: Well, I’m delighted to be with you today, Karen. I’m talking to you actually at the home that I was raised in. So, I was four years old when we moved into this little old farmhouse and, I’m literally sitting maybe feet away from where I started having my first profound kind of spiritual God encounters. I would lie on the hillside, right over here and, in the summer, watch the clouds go by, watch the stars come out at night. And I started hearing whispers of love from the Creator. And that was really, I think, the start of it for me, because the religion that I encountered as a boy in the institutional church, didn’t seem to me focused on love. It seemed focused on belief, having the right belief. We were right; most everybody else was wrong. And I was starting to drift away, you know, drift away from, “Well, maybe Christianity isn’t the answer.” But then I would be alone in nature and I would hear the whispers of love. And that’s how the journey began. And that’s, I think for me, been the thread through all of the songs that I’ve tried to write and how I’ve tried to live, is that thread of unconditional love.
Karen: That moves me deeply, more deeply than you can imagine, because from my own faith journey, I kind of completely walked away. I was raised in a Christian home, walked away, sealed the door, never going back. And that’s the word I have sometimes described: whispers. At a certain point, as I began to go, “Is this all? Is this all there is to life?” I remember seeing beautiful scenes and feeling like there was this whisper of, “I made that,” and it was like the first moment that I could open up at all to a God being out there. So, I hear you on that. That’s beautiful. How did songs get into this equation of a faith journey?
Brian: Well, I think what’s interesting is. . . so, just a moment, if you go forward, maybe few years later after these first whispers started to make themselves known to me, I started getting involved in music and I’d been spiritually awakened. And the music that I found around me in the church, in institutional religion, felt like it was boisterous, it was loud, it was all about God’s greatness and power. And I felt like, “I don’t fit here. I’m not that interested in shouting and being loud. I actually want to whisper.” Because it’s interesting, because it was a whisper that first awakened my heart. And it’s almost like I wanted to whisper back.
And at that point I remember feeling really, “Where do I fit? Where do I fit?” And I felt a whisper from God that said, “I want you to lead worship with a whisper. And I want you to sing over the suffering. Don’t focus on the triumphant. Don’t focus on everybody who’s all shiny. And try and sing over the hidden ones, the ones who don’t feel like they belong, who don’t connect with the loud and the proud.”
I was wrestling with this because, you know, as Christian music was growing and things were happening around the world, there was a lot of energy in some of these settings. And there was a lot of momentum towards the more extroverted, aggressive, triumphalistic expressions. And I kept on feeling this deep connection to the whisper, both how I was inspired and then how I was to respond. And so, often I feel like even throughout my 30-plus-year journey of doing this kind of like outside-the-camp, that expression, because the big hits and the big everything are much more often about certainty and greatness and power. And I’ve always been drawn to the more gentle, quiet, tender expressions, because that’s how I connected with God in the first place.
Karen: I loved at some point, as I was reading a bit about you, how you talked about, in a sense, the beginning of writing your own songs was the “secret” songs. Maybe tell us just a little bit about that. I think we’re very close to that in terms of what you’re talking about.
Brian: Yeah. The story is actually pretty simple, but for me, it’s still very profound. We, Joyce and I, were married young. We were 23 when we had our first baby daughter. And it was just around the time I was starting to get involved in ministry and music at my church. And one day, I had this profound experience with Rachel; she was three or four months old. She was propped up on a pillow on the floor. And she raised her arms towards me, like, “Daddy, pick me up and hold me,” of course, without words. And as I pick her up and as I hold her, and I’m just slowly turning around, I’m just overwhelmed with love, with affection, with, “I’ll do anything for this human being to support them, to protect them, to empower them.”
And all of a sudden, I’m weeping, because I realized that this love that I have for my baby daughter and this intimate, safe, loving exchange is what I’d always longed to have with my heavenly father. But my earthly father, a very good, German Mennonite man, good, faithful man, was taught that showing emotion and tenderness is weakness. And so, I didn’t have that kind of exchange with my earthly father.
And so, I thought, “Well, I’d like to have it with God, my heavenly father.” And in that moment, this little thought, this little whisper came to me: “Why don’t you sing this experience?”
And I went, “I’m not a songwriter. I can play basics of music, but I’m not a songwriter. I’m not that guy.”
And the whisper keeps insisting, “Why don’t you sing this?”
And then it’s almost like God saying to me, “Why don’t you sing this back to me?”
And so, I pick up my guitar and I start singing this very simple “Father, I want you to hold me. I want to rest in your arms today.” And I start singing this simple song expressing this moment. So, what happens is I finish the song and it’s my secret song for months and months when I’m alone, when I’m going for a walk. Most of all, when I’m walking, holding my baby daughter, I’m singing the song and I’m communing with my daughter and I’m communing with my heavenly father at the same time. And then what happens, and why we’re literally having this conversation today, is because of what happens next. Let’s say six, nine months later, I’m in a home group, a home Bible study for our church, and there’s an evening. We were looking at, I think, John 14, the “father heart” of God, the “father wound” in culture, and the evening ends.
And I’m not the music guy in the group, right? At all. I’m just sitting there. I’m just a participant. And the leader looks over at me and he gets an impression. He says, “Brian, I have an impression that you have a song that you should sing right now. And it would minister to us.”
And I don’t know if you’ve ever watched the Muppet Show, but Beaker, you know, is shy, you know? And I’m kind of like that inside. I’m like Beaker, you know? But I know that, of course, I have this secret song that’s all about the theme that we’d just been talking about. So eventually he coaxes it out of me, and I sing it, and people just start weeping and resonating and connecting. So that’s 15 people. Amazing. I’ve never had this experience before.
But what happens a year later after that, is why we’re literally having this conversation. Because a year later, I’m at a conference; now there’s 5,000 people in attendance. I’m the bass guitar player in the band, the worship team for this conference. And they do a session on the father wound in culture. And the guy who was leading the Bible study, Andy Park is his name, who wrote In the Secret, and many other wonderful songs, is the worship leader for this conference.
And they end the father session and say, “Andy, would you come on up? We’re going to start praying for people about their father wound. Come up and just sing while we pray for people.” And Andy looks over at me and points me to the stage and says, “You go sing that father song.”
And I’m like Beaker inside, you know? And I have to walk up onto the stage in front of 5,000 people. I’m the kid, I’m like 24 years old. I’m the bass player. And the leaders are all looking at me, like, “What is this guy walking on the stage for?” They’re looking back at Andy, like, “Why is he up here? You get up here.”
And Andy’s giving them a thumbs-up: “No, it’s okay. You’ll like it.”
And I sing the song, Father, I Want You to Hold Me. People start weeping all over the auditorium. And John Wimber, head of the Vineyard movement, is there and comes up to me after the session. And as he approaches me, I’m like, “Oh, I hope I’m not in trouble.”
And he looks at me and he says, “My father was an alcoholic. He left when I was four. I’ve been waiting for a song like that, that really sums up what I need to say to my father in heaven. Could we publish that song?”
And I’m like, “What’s ‘publish,’” you know? I have no idea.
And then he asks me, he says, “Do you have any other songs?”
And I say, “Well, actually, I just finished one other one. It’s called Faithful One.”
He goes (he didn’t even hear it), “We’ll publish that one, too.”
Karen: Oh my, oh my goodness!
Brian: That’s how the journey started for me, really.
Karen: I love the fact that you didn’t see it coming, but you also heard those whispers. It seems to me like you’ve had a lifetime of whispers, where God’s telling you, “I’m here, I’m here, I’m in this, I’m in this moment.” It’s very moving. It’s very moving.
I mentioned to you that you have sung me through many life adventures, through ups and downs. Some of the songs have ministered so much to me. As I was reading a bit about your story, I realized that there was a lot of overlap. I mean, you talk about being buried and reborn in London, but what touched my heart very much was true, creative force. You had a vision, you went after it, you ended up losing your house over it. And I went, “Been there, done that.” I understand what that is, to be that creative. And you go, “I think I’ve heard from God. This is what I’m supposed to do.” And then, oh my goodness, the bottom drops out. Tell us a little bit about that, because this hasn’t been just straight uphill and to the right all the way along.
Brian: I’m glad you brought that up, because that, in a sense, is a continuation of this, “trying to sing into the father” theme, this deep longing we all have for that parental, unconditional love that we were, I think, meant to experience and don’t ever fully experience from humans. So, you fast-forward a few years, and my first batch of songs just kind of goes out into the world and church – Refiner’s Fire, Faithful One, I Lift My Eyes Up – and they just kind of get taken up by the church at large. And unexpectedly, all of a sudden, though, this is what I’m doing. And about four or five years into that, I hear another whispered invitation, not just to write a song about the Father heart, but to write a whole musical and story about the father wound, and about God’s heart of unconditional love for all of his daughters and sons.
And so, we dive into this. The project becomes, it’s called Father’s House. We record an album. The album becomes a best seller, even before the stage show launches. The stage show launches. We sell out all of our first batch of performances locally here at the community theater. And a fellow shows up, and he basically says, “Man, you’ve got something really special here, but if you really want to impact the world, you have to basically take this professional. You have to like, you know, really go for it.”
And so, we start this dialogue. We end up partnering with some new people and we take the musical professional. We invest over a million dollars. People stand with us, whatever, and we start prepping for . . . this is now, let’s see now. We are now coming into the end of 1996, and we decide to launch the musical pre-Christmas in Vancouver and then take it on a North American tour.
By this point, we have 70 people on the payroll. So, this vision has gone from just me and a few creative people to 70 actors, managers, stage hands, set designers, like, the whole thing. And we are burning through cash. But I’m not a business guy. And so, I tell my business partner, “Look, you know, we start feeling like we’re on the edge, we’re on the edge.” And I say, “Okay, when it’s time, if this was a risk that didn’t make it, pull the plug.”
And anyway, we get to that point. And he says, “I think it’s time to pull the plug.”
And what I didn’t realize is that we had gone hundreds of thousands of dollars past the brink, so to speak. Meanwhile, I sell my house and put all of the equity into it to try and keep it afloat. And it’s the last ditch to try and keep the business of this musical running. It’s not enough, and it collapses. We lose it all.
And at this point, we have five young children and, you know, what’s so interesting is that the whispered invitation to do this was just as clear as other whispered invitations, like the first song that led to success, right? There’s absolutely no difference between the two, you see. And sometimes I think we equate these whispers with, you know, “They’re going to result in X or Y.” But that’s not what the whisper means, right? The whisper is simply the invitation to take the step to, to journey, to risk, and there’s no guarantees in this life, you know?
And I think there are a lot of people who believe that you can’t have faith, you can’t be a Christian, because to have faith and be a Christian means you’re accepting this kind of pseudo-truth, that there’s guarantees for everything. Right? And I go, “Boy, you haven’t walked the spiritual journey very long, if that’s what you actually think this is about.” But for all of us, we have to walk that ourselves. We have to experience the losses and the successes and all of everything in between ourselves, so we fully understand, we get the real deep, “Aha. This is how it works.”
Karen: Yeah. That underneath are the everlasting arms. Underneath there is something that endures, there is peace that endures. I was very touched by that, because I think it even helps me to hear you say that the whispers were the same. That’s right. You’re risking. And you’re walking out, in a way, on water, and suddenly the waves are getting very high. And in your case, they overwhelmed you. But I love the fact that that’s part of your journey. I really do. I love the honesty of that. In the midst of that, you’re in London, you’ve lost your house. You’ve moved, you’re basically teaching people how to lead worship. And on the streets of London, you get another whisper. Tell us a little bit about that, because I’ve found that fantastic when I heard this.
Brian: Well, you’re describing the season where the musical collapsed, we have nothing, we’re homeless. We have five young children, and we’re offered a job in London, England to train songwriters and worship leaders, of which I’ve got experience in both. But a little bit of a challenge is that, in some ways, I’m really wrestling with my faith in God, right now. Like, some parts of me feel like I’m barely holding on, right? Like it’s a major shaking is going on in my life, but this is the door that opens. And I had an impression as the musical was collapsing, we were going to end up in England. And so, there we were.
And one morning, a couple of months in, I’m walking the streets of London. Often what I would do first thing in the morning, before I had to get all the kids out the door to their various programs and schools and head over to work, I would go for a walk. I would try and clear my head. I would exercise. And I’m walking the streets of London and all of a sudden, the first thing that happens, this time wasn’t so much a whisper, but energy. Like electrical current crackling. All I can describe is I was like enveloped in this energy, and it was just moving with me. And then all of a sudden, I heard it; out of that emerges Come, Now is the Time to Worship. And I’m looking up and looking around me, “Now? I’ve started to even wonder if you actually exist. Now?” And “come now is . . .” which is, I say, one of the reasons why I wrote the lines, “Come, just as you are” into that song, is because I was a broken mess.
I was very fragile. We had found out that our son had Fragile X Syndrome and would require care for the rest of his life. The musical had collapsed. We had lost all of our financial resources. And, at that time, when the musical collapsed, there were some fairly negative articles about me in the media. And I was at a pretty low point. And this song comes along, and it’s like a seed that’s going to lead to a type of rebirth for me. A truly new season began. And, it sparked a whole bunch of other things, but that was the genesis, right there on the streets of London.
Karen: Some of you might not be familiar with that song, but it is a wonderful, wonderful song. And I promise you that in our show notes, you’re going to get links to all the things we talk about today, because you’re going to want to be familiar with Brian’s music, if you’re not already. It’s the kind of music that lifts your heart and takes you through tough times, but also takes you into the presence of God to worship. That one song: Come, Now is the Time to Worship, I think it was a breaking point for me. It was really quite a wonderful pronouncement of the greatness of God.
Now would you tell us a little bit about your children? You and I share something in common. I have two grandchildren who have developmental and intellectual disabilities. Tell me a bit about your sons, because obviously you have a total of six children. Tell us about the girls and the boys.
Brian: So, we have four daughters and two sons. Rachel is our oldest. And I already told you the story about her as a baby. That kind of started my journey into song writing. And then, Esther is our second. She is now 31 years old. Rachel is 32. Esther is pursuing her master’s in theological studies and pastoral work. Rachel is a preschool teacher, very much walking in the footsteps of my mom, Agnes Unger Doerksen, who was a kindergarten teacher. And then we had our son Benjamin. Benjamin is 29 and has Fragile X Syndrome, and has had an excruciatingly difficult pandemic season, because he has some speech, but it’s limited. And he lives for outings and it was all taken away for most of the first year. And he did not understand why, which caused quite a bit of issues with him and the other people that help care for him.
And then we have twin girls, Mercy and Joy, who just turned 26. And one of them, Joy, has just finished her bachelor’s degree, and is a first-time youth pastor in a little church up in Fort St. John, B.C. And Mercy, her twin, works in the clothing department at a large grocery store in town, and has some Fragile X challenges of her own, but is quite an amazing, overcoming person.
And Isaiah, our youngest, is 21 years old. He has three words, “me,” “no” and “mama.” And Isaiah gets everything he needs with those three words. And he’s our giver and receiver of affectionate love. He starts every day by seeking people out and giving them bear hugs. He squeezes you till you beg for mercy. And Joyce is away right now, returning later today, and I know what’s going to happen when she walks in the door: Isaiah’s going to find her, and he’s going to hug her, then he’s going to guide her to me and he will ensure, he will supervise that we do enough hugging to acknowledge that we are back together again, and then we will do a group hug, and then he will run off and play. So, there are some very, very intense challenges with, as you know, with serving and helping those with intellectual disabilities and conditions like Fragile X Syndrome. And there are immense gifts, immense. It changes the whole rhythm of your life. It changes the perspective of your life. It changes your inner world, because you recognize how much of our culture is driven towards external performance. And when you’re in a situation where you can’t do that, your inner world has to start adjusting, or you’re going to go crazy.
Karen: Well, it’s interesting that, in a sense, it’s one of those things you don’t count on happening in your life, but when it does, it does change you. And it’s profound. I have the greatest respect for my son Jesse and my daughter-in-law Muriel, and the incredible, loving, powerful way they take care of Zachary and Jacob, because they have special needs and they are demanding needs. But one of the things that you mentioned, and is a great truth, is that the joys of what does get accomplished in life, the smallest of things bring so much joy.
Now, how did all of this and how did you connect to Henri Nouwen, and how has he been an influence in your life? I thought it might’ve been through the Father’s House project, because that was about the return of the prodigal son. But tell me a little bit about how Henri has been an influence to you.
Brian: Well, I’m so glad you asked, because I think Henri was the first author, Christian communicator, that zeroed right in for me on this, the heart of love, the heart of tender acceptance – not just for others, but for our own wounded, inner selves. I’m here in my office and I’ve got multiple, multiple Nouwen books that have been treasures to me: The Inner Voice of Love, The Way of the Heart, In the Name of Jesus, The Return of the Prodigal Son, which of course became one of the most important books in my life, because my music was aiming towards the heart of this story in Luke 15. And how could it be that God could be like the father in that story?
And so, when I would go out and I would be invited to teach, let’s say, a worship workshop, or even a songwriting workshop, which I’ve done over the previous decades, almost always, I would find myself quoting Nouwen at some point. He just had this way of stripping away all of this pretense, this performance, and inviting us to come home, to come home to love. And here’s the other interesting thing: What happened was, of course, he started his journey in more of these kind of intellectual ivory towers. And he’s a very, very smart man. And he ends up, of course, spending all of this time with adults with intellectual disabilities. And of course, I’m in a situation where it’s not what we signed up for, but all of a sudden, we have sons with intellectual disabilities. And I found in Henri a role model, somebody who I knew I could just go, I could pick up something he had written, and it would feed my spirit. It would just strip away all of the noise of this hyper-performance-based culture in which we live, and bring me back to the heart of the matter. So, yeah, I have deep, deep affection for him.
Karen: Well, it’s, even as you have described earlier on about the whispers, it’s like the two of you hear the same whispers. I sense that, you know, the whispers of the gentleness of heart, of the core of God’s love for us, and that comes through in your music. I’m so excited about interviewing you today, because I’m excited about introducing our audience. I think most of them will know your music, but if they don’t, oh my goodness, it’s like giving a good gift to be able to say, “I want you to meet this person and meet him through your music.” They’re in for such a treat. Now I can imagine the pandemic had quite an impact on you, because I know it did on all sorts of performers, but out of it came an album, Everlasting Arms, which you co-wrote with Cindy Rethmeier. And, you wrote in your notes, “my part is labeled non-essential.” Yet songs can play a vital part in our emotional and spiritual health. They help us. It helps us hold onto hope in times of trouble. I’d love to hear a little bit about this album and in a sense, how it became transformed by the pandemic and what does it have to offer to us?
Brian: Well, the funny thing was, 2019 was a really full year for me. I had recorded and released my first Christmas album, The Heart of Christmas. I had put together kind of a legacy album, called Faithful One, where we recorded new versions of some of my most-known earlier songs. So, I spent a lot of 2019 in the recording studio and on the road. And at the end of 2019, I said to myself, “It’s going to be a long time until I go back into the studio,” you know, and of course I had no idea what was just around the corner. And then, COVID arrives and everything shuts down. And about a month in, I think, okay, exactly what you described. We as musicians, all of our concerts are canceled, everything, but what we do is not non-essential, because what we do is we go to people, right where they’re at, maybe they’re all alone, maybe they’re isolated.
And if they have access to some way of listening to music, they could put on a pair of headphones and we can be right there with them, or we can be with them in their car as they’re driving to a medical appointment that’s causing them stress. We can sing over them peace. And so, I have a good friend, Cindy, just outside of Los Angeles and we’ve been friends for 30 years of doing music together. And we started having these conversations about what we were all experiencing. And so, we co-wrote a song called In the Middle (Your Peace), which is the opening track on the Everlasting Arms EP. And it was just our simple expression of what we were experiencing and the pressure, the confusion, and of course in our conversations with people, too, they were encountering this. . . one of the phrases we use in the song, “In the middle of this loss, uninvited suffering – your peace.” This sense that the whole world is going through something uninvited, but it’s here nonetheless.
So, how are we going to walk it out? How are we going to make it through this? And so, I go back to my original calling, lead worship with a whisper, sing over the suffering. And you know, it’s in our little refrain in the song, we say, “I may be feeling crushed and confused, but I’m trusting. You’re here with me. In the middle of this heartbreaking news, you are here. You’ll never leave.” And that is, I think, the core of my faith. And it’s almost all that’s left, you know, after all of the ups and downs and all of the challenges of life and the complications of being a parent of special needs sons and, and all of that. There is a lot of heartbreaking news. There’s a lot of confusion. I just have to trust that God is with us in it, and that he’ll never leave us.
Karen: I love that you write: “We don’t know when the storm is going to break, but underneath all things are the everlasting arms.” That is a profound, deep truth to give. You said you were writing modern spirituals, which I thought was also so beautiful, with a lyrical aim to be truthful. And I think that’s something that I love about your music, but I love about you, too, is the authenticity in all of it. There isn’t anything kind of glossed over in this. Something that brought us together, by the way, out of the blue – but it isn’t really out of the blue – was, at the beginning of June, we heard news here in Canada, the announcement that 215 bodies of [indigenous] children had been identified next to a residential school. And this began – actually, I say it began, but that’s really not truthful. We have known through the Truth and Reconciliation documentation, that we were going to find thousands, thousands, literally, that over the years, a hundred years or more of these residential schools, there was mistreatment, there was disease. There were so many things that happened as children were taken from their families. What kind of connected us again, was I heard a song that you were creating that was a lament. Can you tell me a little bit about this and how that’s going?
Brian: I’d love to, and on the theme of whispers. So, the report came out in late May, and on the 3rd of June at about 5:00 a.m., my wife was away with our daughter for a Fragile X specialist appointment in Edmonton. I was alone. Of course, I was caring for our other son, but it was 5:00 a.m., and I was woken with the number 215. But this time – and I had been a wreck ever since the news came out, because of the complicity between the Christian church and the government in this issue. And I just didn’t know what to do, what to say. And I was in agony over it, honestly. And I was woken that morning. And this time the number was there, but now it was a melody. It was “two hundred and fifteen.” And then again, “two hundred and fifteen.” And I went, “Oh boy, I have my songwriting assignment.”
You know, I need to sing this number over whoever will hear, because these precious children were stripped of their names and given numbers when they entered the schools. But a melody helps put something that can be abstract into our memory, right? When you sing it. And so, I’m good friends with, and have huge respect for one of my heroes in Canada, Steve Bell in Winnipeg. And Steve has worked extensively with indigenous people in difficult situations. And I had a demo of the song and I sent it to him and he was like, “Oh, my. This is so important.” And then he agreed to sing it with me.
So, then I partnered with an indigenous artist, Cheryl Bear, and I went through several drafts of the song and I would bounce it off of her. And then she would give me input and she would suggest a word, “Well, maybe instead of that word, this is more accurate.” And so, I took a couple of weeks writing it that way. And now we have just completed the audio recording, about a dozen artists from different parts of Canada, Christian artists, are singing the song together. There’s a demo of it on my YouTube channel now, but we’ve done a proper recording. And that is coming out, maybe by the time people hear our conversation, maybe it will already be out. Steve Bell sings it with me. Carolyn Arends sings it with me. Marika Siewert sings it with me, a number of artists and friends. And we sing it now as a group confession, you know, that this has happened. It shouldn’t have happened. And we’re owning that it happened.
Karen: All the names you’ve named are dear friends to the Henri Nouwen Society: Steve Bell, Carolyn Arends, Cheryl Bear. I need to interject one thing. And that is our audience is more American, probably, than Canadian. So, for some of you you’ll be going, “Oh, this just happened in Canada.” The reality is this is a truth that has no border on it.
Karen: And you will be facing this as well. And in fact, if you’re in Australia, if you’re in New Zealand, there are various parts of the world where our actions towards indigenous people, in the process of colonization, is tragic. It’s part of a tragic history. I feel for myself growing up here in Canada, the responsibility to say, “How can I be part of doing better than I have done?” I feel responsible for that. I’m so glad you’ve written the song. I do hope people will follow up and go to our website and take an opportunity to listen to this. It’s very, very important. It starts with truth. We have to be truthful. We have to be authentic about what’s happened. And then we have to be part of lamenting, weeping and being part of the change. That must be, that must happen.
Brian: Amen to that.
Karen: It’s been a privilege for me to chat with you, by the way. I am so thrilled that we have this time together, and excited about what you have to share. I’m just going to throw in one last little tidbit, a delicious tidbit, because I happened to listen to it last night. You did a special album and a video about hymns. It’s not very long. It’s, I think it’s five or six, I’m not sure, but I really enjoyed it. And I enjoyed, through it, meeting your father. Do you want to say just a little bit about that hymn album? Because, I think it’s something that maybe people will enjoy having a look at, and there’s so many good favorites in it.
Brian: So, after I completed the Everlasting Arms EP album, right in the thick of the beginning of the pandemic, I was reflecting, “Okay, well, what do I do next? How do I pivot? How do I serve? I can’t go out on tour. I can’t do those things.” And I had this just impression, maybe what we need a lot of right now isn’t a whole bunch of new songs. Maybe we need some old, maybe we need to rediscover some old songs of comfort and love and peace. And my dad, you know, is 85 and he’s still singing strong, but having some health struggles. And I’m thinking, this may be my last opportunity to do a project with him.
So, we did a project, a full album, called Hymns for Life. My dad sings on a number of these songs with me. He helped me choose some of the songs, but then we re-envisioned them and rearranged them in kind of my style. So, I added a few new refrains to some of the hymns, and we released it now, in ’21. And then recently we filmed a special, Hymns for Life: Live at the Shining Rose, which is the creative space here at my place. And my dad came over and my good friend, Philip, producer of the full album, which has a whole orchestra and band and stuff.
But the special is simpler. It’s just him on an acoustic grand piano, my dad and me in conversation and a few guest singers. And we just sing our way and talk our way through some of the hymns and the stories behind the hymns. And my hope and prayer is that as people continue to go through challenging times, that they draw the comfort that’s there in some of these beautiful, tender songs of faith from previous generations, and that by singing the song of previous generations, we are acknowledging that we’re not alone, right? That we’re on this faith journey together, multiple generations, multiple different circumstances. You know, when we sing a song like Be Still My Soul, “the Lord is on your side.” Those words brought comfort to people for generations, and they can bring comfort to us as well.
Karen: It’s interesting, because when it comes to often the moment of celebrating, memorializing someone’s life, we go to those hymns. And you’re right. It’s their history that connects us to this long history of people that have gone before us and will go after us. I’m particularly pleased that in this year, this is the 25th anniversary since Henri Nouwen died. And Henri grasped that our lives might be more of a gift in our death than in our life. I thought that was an amazing kind of understanding. And our lives are fruitful. Those hymns continue to bear fruit. Your music will continue to bear fruit. I’m so glad to talk with you at this point, because I think in so many ways, I want to point our audience to the things you’ve written, Brian, because I know that they will comfort and they will encourage and they will, in a sense, refocus them on a God who has everlasting arms underneath them and will not let them go. Thank you so much for being with me today. It’s really a privilege to talk with you.
Brian: Yes. Thank you so much, Karen, for having me, and love and peace to all who are listening.
Karen: Thank you, Brian.
Thank you for listening to today’s podcast. What an honor for me to spend time with Brian Doerksen. For decades, Brian has been singing songs that lift our spirits and call us to worship the living God. For more resources related to today’s podcast, click on the links on the podcast page of our website. You’ll find links to anything, including songs mentioned in our talk today with Brian Doerksen. And as well you’ll find book suggestions from Henri Nouwen’s writings.
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