When the most beautiful things are formed

If you enjoy the creative process, or are looking to be inspired, I may have just the vehicle for you. All too often we write about bad media and bemoan what we see as a lack of quality and beauty in the arts. Here’s something to quench your dry, parched throats.

About a year and a half ago I heard and saw the video for White Owl for the first time. It was written and sung by an artist I had never heard of named Josh Garrels. I instantly fell in love with it, and as of today this link to the video shows it has been viewed 119,835 times. I’m pretty sure I’m responsible for over 100 or so of those views. The song led off the new album from Garrels named “Love & War and the Sea In Between.” I then learned that Josh was offering free downloads of the album on iTunes. I snagged a copy of it and put it on my iTouch where I have listened…and listened…and listened. And then a few months ago on his Facebook page I noticed Josh mentioning a video project that would be released in January 2013: “The Sea In Between.” It was released January 29, and two days ago my copy of the project arrived. I’ve spent the last two nights watching and listening and decided I had to share this with you. In light of the preparations for the series on lectio divina I’ve spent much time in quiet contemplation. In my weekly men’s prayer group we’ve been covering the beauty of creation. Shutting off the media and seeking things that are above. Going deep. The beauty of the arts. Harmony.

Let me just say right now that never has $25 (plus whatever shipping and handling was) of my money been so well spent. When I opened the shipping box and removed the protective wrapping I found inside a simple cigar box. They manufactured a limited amount of this version of the set and future editions are now pressed into a simple DVD case with a photo booklet, which is now available for $20.


Inside the box I found the following:

  • 2 DVDs with bonus content
  • Full-color Concert Poster with a Map of Mayne Island on the reverse side
  • 12 Art-quality photo postcards
  • Download ticket to enable you to download a digital version of “The Sea In Between” as well as the Audio Soundtrack


The first DVD is the documentary performance film The Sea In Between and, as the Village Voice called it “an 80-minute testament to the joys of the creative process.” The genesis of the project is revealed in this Billboard review:

If a musician you admired posted his number on his website, would you call him?

This was how one fan, Blayne Johnson, came to contact indie singer Josh Garrels and decided he wanted to take part in his music. What began as an artist retreat at Mayne Island in Vancouver, BC, soon snowballed into “The Sea In Between,” a feature-length documentary from Mason Jar Music giving an inside look into Garrels’ life and music alongside the stunning backdrop of the island.

“I hope with this people see the fun and energy that is in the music,” Garrels says in the film’s trailer. “When someone can present it in a way that is inviting people into their joy that is when the most beautiful things are formed.”

garrels bread and wineMission accomplished Josh. On this DVD we meet Josh, his wife Michelle, and his two young children Heron and Shepherd as they are packing to leave for Mayne Island, British Columbia. We also meet the production team at Mason Jar Music from Brooklyn, New York, as they discuss and plan the project. We then meet the five young Julliard-trained musicians who are asked to make this journey. These are very talented individuals who can flat out play and innovate (a xylophone made out of old wrenches…are you kidding me?) Once on Mayne Island we’ll get to know Mr. Johnson and his family, as well as a few of the characters on the island. My favorite was Punch, a 90-year old farmer whom they approach for permission to use his land for recording one of the songs. And of course we meet Mayne Island, a picturesque and beautiful setting for the project. The production team is to be commended for the various sites they chose for each song as they are perfect. Locations include the inside of an Anglican church, a grove, the top of Mount Parke, Bennett Bay, Mount Parke Forest (for a very cool number filmed under lights powered by a generator after dark), a vineyard, and so on.

I love all the songs and can’t pick one over the other, though I found myself replaying “Sailor’s Waltz” many times. “Bread and Wine” is another: as one of the musicians says while talking about the song afterwards, the lyrics just hit you straight in the heart.

I was wrong, everybody needs someone, to hold on
Take my hand, I’ve been a lonesome man, took a while to understand

There’s some things we can’t live without,
A man’s so prone to doubt,
Faithful are the wounds from friends.
So give it just a little time,
Share some bread and wine
Weave your heart into mine,
My friend

Among my favorites is this sweet, intimate performance of “Little Blue” in Alder Grove in which Josh and his wife perform a song written about the arrival of their daughter Heron. During Michelle’s pregnancy while they lived in Indiana they kept noticing a blue heron that seemed to appear during key moments of the pregnancy.

Love I never knew
Filled my heart
When I held you

My lover calls
In fall and spring
She says
Keep your eyes on heron’s wings
She’s coming soon
Let’s dance and sing
For the joy that her life brings

The second DVD contains a “visual LP”, that is, the individual song performances themselves without the interviews and scenes of rehearsals. It includes one or two songs that are not on the first DVD and I like it. I plan on watching it with my 9-year old this weekend as he and I are both learning how to play the guitar together and I know he’ll enjoy it. DVD #2 also includes solo performances by all five of the guest musicians and allows them to really showcase their talent (the drummer’s use of whatever old coffee cans and such he finds in a barn is very cool). Near the end of the film on the first DVD several of the musicians talked about how the week-long experience had changed them and revealed to them a new freedom in creativity that they hadn’t known before. A memorable scene occurs at the very end of the film and is described in this review on the American Songwriter website:

There’s a scene at the very end of “The Sea In Between” where the members of Mason Jar Music shuffle through an airport lobby with their instruments in tow. They pass by an upright piano. The guys stop, and one of them sits down at the bench to play a few chords. The drummer puts his snare onto the floor and joins in. The violinist starts playing, too. Before long, there’s a crowd of people watching the show, everyone forgetting about their missed connections for one perfect moment.

To you, my sweetest friend
I betrayed you, I walked away again
Now all that’s left, is what might have been
Please forgive me, before we reach the end

In an excellent review of the film By Way of Beauty wrote:

Some might be surprised to learn that Garrels is a passionate Christian – which says a lot about the lackluster “Christian music” circuit (or maybe even about certain trends in modern Christianity). Unlike most “Christian artists,” he’s unafraid to go to ambiguous or even dark places in his lyrics, places that speak to the universality of pain, joy, and desire. The songs are clearly not vehicles to proselytize, but honest expressions of, and invitations to, the very human experiences at play in a life oriented by faith.

Josh Garrels. Photo by Sasha Arutyunova

Josh Garrels. Photo by Sasha Arutyunova

This is what I appreciate about artists such as Josh Garrels, musician Rich Mullins and author Flannery O’Connor: Christians who are not afraid to go deep into the dark recesses of the human condition to find grace. No sugar-coating; life in all its manifestations.

Josh Garrels has written and recorded several albums, available for download here. While his last album was named the #1 Christian album for 2012, I almost hesitate to mention it because that alone will scare some people away. It should not. Blayne Johnson in the film says that in inviting Josh to the island to stay with his family for a week he didn’t do it because they shared views about God, because they do not. He said he invited him because he and his family loved the honesty, joy and integrity they all felt in Josh’s music, something he described as “humanity at its best.” And it is definitely there. While Josh’s voice and his musical style is not for everyone, it is nothing if not steeped in beauty, honesty and integrity.

Those qualities shine forth brilliantly in this wonderful little film and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Even if you do not appreciate the musical style, you will be inspired to join in the creative process in your own life or vocation. This is a film that makes you want to open your wallet after watching it and give Josh whatever money you happen to have inside. And to say, as you hand it to him, “Here. Take this. And do more of this. Make more music. Because I need it.”

Because the world needs it.


2 thoughts on “When the most beautiful things are formed

  1. really cool! I’ve heard a few of Josh’s tunes, and I’ve really like them. glad you covered this project that he did–i hadn’t heard of it. I’m actually hoping to do projects like these myself in the future. I think music is much more than just hitting the studio and posting a file for sale on iTunes! with this in mind i just started a video blog discussing the evolution of arts culture/ the creative process from my perspective as a singer/songwriter. such a fascinating subject! I’d love to engage and inspire people the way that josh is. my parents have always told me that music is a gift to be shared—regardless of whether you are making money from it or not. thanks!


  2. Thanks for stopping by! I agree with your beliefs about music and those of your parents. I can’t imagine what life would be like without it, and am thankful that my parents allowed me to learn and appreciate it while younger. It’s late and I don’t have time to listen/watch your blog right now, but am definitely going to be checking it out! Keep sharing your gifts!


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