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Welcome to the Pop Song Professor! My name's Clifford, and I explain song lyrics so that you can know what your artists are saying and can enjoy your music more. 

What does "Where the Light Shines Through" by Switchfoot mean?

What does "Where the Light Shines Through" by Switchfoot mean?

SONG MEANING: "Where the Light Shines Through" by Switchfoot is about pain and healing. The band explains that good things can come from bad things.

Breaking down the Lyrics of "Where the Light Shines Through"

Switchfoot just released this song a few hours ago, so there's literally no one else on the Internet explaining it at the moment. That means I'll be explaining this song without any help except for what is in the song and what I can find on Switchfoot's website (not much).

That being said, I really like the music in "Where the Light Shines Through" and think that the song is a good mix of a positive message and interesting music born of a mix of several styles. I appreciated this song, and I think you will too, but it also raises several questions that I think hurt its integrity and listen-worthiness.

Verse 1

In an inviting, lilting melody, Foreman sings, "When you're feeling like an astronaut / Stuck on a planet even time forgot, and / You're a version of yourself, but you're not the same." He's empathizing with his audience and asking anyone who has felt that way to continue listening to what he has to say next.

He then explains that these people "try to keep the wound camouflaged . . ." But even though the "stitches heal," "the years are lost, and / Another bottle on the shelf can't numb the pain." Foreman is saying that, yes, we might have experienced pain at some point but that many of us are walking around without those wounds completely forgotten. He's explaining that we still have scars that bother us, and he specifically explains that alcohol (or attempting to numb the pain in general) will not fix it for us.

Pre-chorus

In the pre-chorus, Foreman and Switchfoot confront their conflict-avoidant listener and ask, "Why're you running from yourself now? / You can't run away." This issue must be dealt with, and we must come to peace with our wounds.

Chorus

In the chorus, Switchfoot tries to show us a redeemed perspective on wounds and scars. Foreman sings, "'Cause your scars shine like dark stars." Usually, we say that something shines like a star if it's a particularly good thing. The fact that he calls these "dark stars" suggest they're good things that are hard to recognize.

He explains his point when he sings, "Yeah, your wounds are where the light shines through." Wounds are emotional baggage that people carry; they are points at which we are still vulnerable. To say that light can shine through the wounds suggests that they're still open, and the implied goodness of said light (as well as Switchfoot's Christian background) suggests that the light is some sort of spiritual healing, possibly even an encounter with God.

Thus, Foreman's saying that when people are wounded, they are more likely to have an encounter with God because their defenses have been punctured and they are more likely to need God or to be open to Him revealing Himself to them at those times.

Foreman goes on to say, "So let's go there, to that place where / We sing these broken prayers where the light shines through." He's describing people who feel hopeless and thus pray while emotionally distraught, hoping that God will help them from their difficult situations.

Verse 2

In the second verse of "Where the Light Shines Through," Switchfoot asks, "Ain't we all just Abraham's sons?" The band is suggesting that we are all equal together. They suggest that "[s]aint and sinner with the song and drum . . ." have "fallen on our knees . . ." and "we all bleed the same." Foreman is suggesting that there's really no human spiritual hierarchy and that all people should admit their pain and weakness together.

He continues, "And the only tattoos I have are scars," to further suggest the permanence of his wounds. However, they are no longer wounds--they are now scars--and thus he must have had an encounter with "the light" and been able to heal somewhat. He continues to sing that he has "your name written on my heart" though he doesn't clarify if this is God's name or the name of the person he's singing to.

He finishes the verse by singing, "And the story that brought us here ain't the thing that changed, no," suggesting that after this encounter with "the light," the person he is singing to will be different.

Bridge

The bridge is Foreman asking his mother three questions that help to better define how a wound can be a good thing. He asks, "Mama, ain't the blood just proof I'm human?" suggesting that all humans bleed and are going to experience pain. He then asks, "Mama, ain't the wound just retribution?" seeming to suggest that we bring our pain upon ourselves. And finally he asks, "Well, Mama, ain't the scar like a vision of grace?" Once the wound is healed, he can look back at his scar and remember his encounter with God who helped him even though God was not obligated to do so.

My questions for the song meaning community:

  • Did you like "Where the Light Shines Through"?
  • Do you think "Where the Light Shines Through" oversimplifies the process of healing from emotional wounds?
  • The big question: Do you think this song romanticizes emotional pain or makes it seem like a good thing?

Deeper thoughts...and questions about Christian music...

Like I said earlier, I really do like "Where the Light Shines Through," particularly the music.

But I feel weird about enjoying the lyrics. I've been listening to a lot of really deep, non-preachy music recently (Twenty One Pilots in particular), and "Where the Light Shines Through" feels a little bit more pushy than what I've become used to.

Switchfoot makes it clear that wounds can become  a good thing, and that we should accept them as helpful. But there's no empathy that shows he understands his listeners' pains (just some weird lines about being a lonely astronaut), and all he gives us is a pat solution full of Christian cliches and mysticism (light, grace, and broken prayers).

My problems with this are twofold:

  1. After listening to this song, I don't know if Switchfoot knows what emotional pain really is because there's none actually described or shown in this song.
  2. I don't feel like I've been given a useful solution to the problem he presents. It feels more like cliches and truisms to me that I've tried before and just gotten frustrated with.

Even the metaphor is weird. Light shining through wounds is a good thing? The only mental pictures I'm getting out of this are gory and involve my internal organs being purified by holy light.

I'm not trying to be mean, and I really do respect Switchfoot (I've listened to them for a while), but "Where the Light Shines Through" reminds me of stereotypical contemporary Christian songwriting (SCCS).

SCCS never gets into deep problems, keeps the solutions abstract, and always makes the solutions or resolution better than they are.

Why does it do this? I think it's because if we don't keep life (particularly the Christian life) simple and full of solutions, we risk coming face-to-face with situations where God may seem to have failed us or done something wrong or may even seem not to exist. In those situations, we need faith, but frankly living through those situations suck and preaching to people that the only true way to live will (at times) suck is no easy way to convince people to become Christians.

As a Christian myself, I think one day all problems will be solved, and the world will be wonderful, but there's nothing perfect about this current world, and I don't believe there're perfect solutions or perfect healing to anything while we live here. And I wish SCCS would stop trying to convince me that they have perfect solutions to problems that they don't really seem to understand and tend to romanticize. Trust me, you don't romanticize things that are actually terrible, and feelings, doubts, and questions I've had have actually been terrible (I'm human after all, right?).

Let's all try to be honest and vulnerable, admit the bad things about life, and keep working together towards truth and closeness to God, the last point being something that Switchfoot and I do agree on: "Ain't we all just Abraham's son? / Saint and sinner with the song drum, and / We're fallen on our knees, we all bleed the same."

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