On ‘Javelin,’ regret and mourning bend toward holiness

On his latest album, Sufjan Stevens continues to wrestle with Christianity’s full emotional range.
Arts & Culture


Sufjan Stevens (Asthmatic Kitty, 2023)

Sufjan Stevens is the rare songwriter still wrestling with Christianity’s full emotional range. Without leaving secular listeners behind, he captures how faith feels after the praise music stops. Being overwhelmed by Jesus’ love, accepting his mother’s death, reminiscing about his childhood crush on a church camp boy, trembling before God’s glory—Stevens writes about spiritual life with warmth and vulnerability.

On Javelin, his latest album and one of his best, Stevens turns that careful attention to mourning the death of his partner. His loss sounds tinged with regret: Before Stevens disclosed that it was a eulogy, Javelin played like a breakup album. The songs scan as a quiver of “terrible thoughts” tossed like javelins that Stevens “had not meant to throw right at you.” These are the snarled insecurities you regret feeling in any relationship—especially after death prevents any apology. “Will anybody ever love me?” Stevens wonders. “I will always love you,” he finally realizes, “but I cannot live with you.”

Stevens’ music bends these ugly, uncomfortable feelings toward something holy. The songs are saturated in vocal harmonies, fingerpicked guitar, whirling electronics, and crystalline percussion. The maximalist production can sound like it’s fighting against itself—until the song explodes into a thundering coda, harmonized around a repeated phrase. On “Everything that Rises,” Stevens alludes to Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s theory that “everything that rises must converge”—our better natures inexorably draw us toward God and one another. Without offering any cheap resolutions for complicated feelings, Javelin’s songs rise and converge. The album’s 8-minute climax (“Shit Talk”) turns on Stevens choosing reconciliation: “No, I don’t want to fight at all,” he admits. A chorus swells around him and joins his plea: “hold me closely / hold me tightly / lest I fall.”

This article also appears in the January 2024 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 89, No. 1, page 38). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.


Image: Courtesy of Sufjan Stevens

About the author

Nathan Tucker

Nathan Tucker is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. His work examines doctrinal developments in American Christianity through art and popular culture.

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