Merton, Donne, Digital Despair, and Jon Brooks' No One Travels Alone - Paul Pynkoski

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.