Poets may have more to say to us today than theologians and economists. The poet can offer an
imaginative way of engaging the issues of our time, a way that speaks to the whole person.
“There is no revolution without poets who are seers. There is no revolution without prophetic
songs,” offered Thomas Merton. We might ask, then, what contemporary voices can assist
people of faith who pursue a vision that transcends the economic and technological mythologies
of our culture?
Jon Brooks is one of those voices. Brooks is one of Canada’s most literate and insightful
songwriters. His 2018 album, No One Travels Alone, delves into our current cultural conflicts.
Brooks weaves the theme of pilgrimage throughout the album and uses a poetic structure that
takes inspiration from John Donne’s La Corona sonnets, where the last line of one poem
becomes the first line of the next. The gravel in Jon’s voice, his percussive guitar work, and Alec
Fraser’s bass and backing vocals anchor the musical landscape and drive lyrics that stick in your
head, refusing to let go.
He examines the impact of digital culture in 0 1, lamenting We’re done with wonder – in a
click,/We can Wikipedia it. All Life’s Meaning suggests that that simple, imperfect love/Is all
life’s meaning…and could it be on such a weightless thing/Together we are leaning? He asks, in
Proxima B, were we to leave this dying earth behind for another planet, what would we take
with us? Baby, pack light, is the admonition, but his list grows to include the music of Leonard
Cohen, Michelangelo’s Pieta, lashings of Australian wine, and the smell of orange peels. He
insists We’re done with all that’s failed before. Jon asks if we have eyes to see, or ears to hear
the beauty hidden in plain sight – the wind off the lake, the touch of a lover’s hand, and the seeds
of flowers that teach us to love.
Todos Caminamos Por Este Caminito has all of nature crying out in song, drawing us into its
chorus of joy. The ending words, we all walk over this little trail, bring us to a specifically
human pilgrimage in Standing at the Gates. Here a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew and a Buddhist
end their pilgrimage at the (pearly) gates, and find themselves looking in. They ask, Will we be
saved or will we be lost, but Brooks redirects, insisting, Wrong question, dear./Will we take care
of each other? And in the response of the whispering wind we hear, All is hunger, all is
Love./Brothers! Sisters! Sing! The final song offers the monastic wisdom of St. Silouan, Keep
your mind in hell and despair not.
This commentary on culture, relationships, and planet never deviates from the deeply personal.
There is a consistent hint of a “you” close to Jon’s side. Digital despair is contrasted with my
love for you; he is standing at the gates with you, my love; in the midst of cultural confusion and
global warming, if we can go for a walk/If we can tell a friend/We can come back from most
Jon offers us a vision that can look straight into the darkness and brokenness of our times. But it
is a vision that can see still see beauty and love, tapping into our deepest longings to find hope:
Let us pause of ourselves and count another’s tears,/Let us share the cup of suffering more
evenly this year/Sing us something we can’t say, sing us the unspeakable!/Like, “it feels like
we’re a seed dying for a new fruit to grow…”
Highly recommended for tired activists. jonbrooks.ca