I’ve been nominally aware of Kacey Musgraves thanks to her catchy pop-infused country tunes, perceptive lyrics, and more than a handful of memorable duets with the likes of Leon Bridges and Willie Nelson. Her latest album, 2024’s Deeper Well, is a response to personal heartache; musically speaking, the album’s found her in a ruminative space again. Since we all go through difficulties in life, the personal nature of its fourteen songs is universal and holds pertinence for all of us.

After hearing “The Architect,” though, I was immediately struck by the conceit wrapped up within the gentle ballad. Consider the first and second stanzas:

Even something as small as an apple
It’s simple and somehow complex
Sweet and divine, the perfect design
Can I speak to the architect?
And there’s a canyon that cuts through the desert
Did it get there because of a flood?
Was it devised, or were you surprised
When you saw how grand it was?

The first stanza’s implications are difficult to ignore. The apple imagery conjures up the forbidden fruit on the tree of knowledge of good and evil in Genesis. And yet, fruit is something luscious and tactile that’s cultivated and gives us sustenance. It’s a marvel of growth, a synthesis of sun, water, soil, and human toil.

Musgraves then moves from something small enough to fit in the human hand to the vast grandeur of the canyons. Although her lyrics lightly touch on antediluvian times and the world’s formation, she ultimately speaks to the architect out of wonder. This is Musgraves’ primary posture: she starts with awe rather than skepticism.

Later in the song, Musgraves’ lyrics progress from the beauty of natural creation to considering human appearance: 

Sometimes I look in the mirror
And wish I could make a request
Could I pray it away? Am I shapeable clay?
Or is this as good as it gets?

This is Musgraves’ primary posture: she starts with awe rather than skepticism.

These lines read as a counterpoint to the theology of the imago dei. That is, if we are made in the image of a loving God, then that can radically shape how we view ourselves (and others) despite our imperfections. Even so, internal monologues of self-loathing and personal criticism can still quickly latch onto our perceived flaws.

In his book Digital Liturgies, Samuel James discusses a “theology of embodiment” closely tied to the imago dei. We are not accidents or mistakes. And yet in the contemporary world, we’re often obsessed with achieving a body that itself is shaped after an ever-unattainable ideal self. Shame can then push us to try and distance ourselves from our physical shortcomings. James makes the connection that this undercurrent of shame has run through the history of humanity since Adam and Eve’s fall when they were disrobed and grew ashamed of their nakedness. Their sin made them abhor their true selves.

“The Architect”’s final moments feature a series of rhetorical questions:

Does it happen by chance? Is it all happenstance?
Do we have any say in this mess?
Is it too late to make some more space?
Can I speak to the architect?
This life that we make, is it random or fate?
Can I speak to the architect?
Is there an architect?

Sometimes we ask such questions with doubt even though we already think we know the answer. These questions can even be accusatory. Other times, there’s an honest curiosity bubbling up; we genuinely want to know the answers. Musgraves’ questions find her moving through moments of confusion in the face of trials and then inching toward an inkling of doubt. The subtle shift in the final line is just enough and such a pointed way to end the song with the underlying question posed to the listener.

Doing a charitable analysis, “The Architect” is not an out-and-out rejection, but it does live in the dissonance between a beautiful world and one still fraught with pain and ambiguity. Musgraves doesn’t answer her questions, but sometimes, the best works of art ask more questions than they answer. They become a jumping-off point for deeper consideration.

To An Unknown God

Listening to “The Architect” reminds me of the Apostle Paul in the book of Acts when he speaks to the Greeks about their altar to the unknown god. Like Musgraves, these people know something’s there, but they’re still searching and perhaps waiting to receive the answer to their questions. Paul says:

Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: “To the unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.

Paul observes this void in their lives and proceeds to give them good news. And he reaches back, not to the apple and the fall in Genesis 3 or even the flood, but rather, to God’s covenant with Adam, the one man who was in perfect communion with the creator God. And in his rich love for us, he gave us the beauty of his creation and common grace to all people so we might seek after him.

In a culture that might deem itself spiritual but not religious, there’s still a yearning for meaning and understanding like the ancients felt.

In a culture that might deem itself spiritual but not religious, there’s still a yearning for meaning and understanding like the ancients felt. To paraphrase Augustine, we are restless until we find our rest in him. This hasn’t changed. And in an increasingly pluralistic society, where they get disenchanted with public institutions and organized religion, people need to be reintroduced to a God who is the architect of everything around them. 

Whether we realize it or not, we’re all looking for that personal relationship. We all want meaning and purpose that suggest we matter and are deeply loved. Anything else, including cynicism or apathy, feels disingenuous to the existential nature of the human experience. Thus, we often need music and art to beg the question, which is a beginning though we still require something more. Because not only is God not far away from us, he is neither silent nor absent.

As Paul says to the Romans, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). If this is true, then, like Musgraves, we’re all aware of God’s presence implicitly by the sheer breadth and magnitude of his creation. It seems to call for us to respond in some way—to come up with an explanation for these fundamental questions.

The Architect and The Cornerstone

For some, deism is a logical foundational idea because it posits that there is a creator who, like a clockmaker or architect, made this beautiful world with all its intricacies and then stepped away to let us have at it for better or worse. How else does someone explain messy human beings and the tumultuous parts of life if God is supposed to be loving and all-powerful? Deism is a way to go halfway, acknowledging some force on the world while still maintaining a grip on our lives and destinies regardless of how tenuous it winds up being.

However, this cannot be the end. It will not suffice.

Continuing Musgraves’ metaphor, if God is both architect and loving heavenly father, then you have the beginning of something. Because if you do believe that the God of the universe sent his perfect son Jesus to die for us, then you have a possible answer to Musgraves’ question that’s far more comforting. It involves God coming down in the form of a perfect human being who gave his life on behalf of those who did not deserve it—those ridden with guilt and shame over their very imperfections.

Continuing Musgraves’ metaphor, if God is both architect and loving heavenly father, then you have the beginning of something.

At this point, it’s impossible to get rid of the metaphor that’s integral to the song. Jesus Christ was positioned as the cornerstone of all creation; he was foundational to everything and imperative to structure our lives around. In other words, he’s not just a nice-to-have or vaguely benevolent entity in our lives; he’s vital. Without him, everything we try to build for ourselves will come crashing down and fail us. If we try to engineer our own lives, then we’ll eventually be crushed when the walls come tumbling down. Jesus Christ, however, willfully took that onus upon himself so that we would not have to.

We cannot exist with an architect or deity on the fringes. It sounds nice if we want to run things, and yet history—or even just looking in the mirror—tells us that we are broken. We require a desirous God overflowing in all aspects of our lives, enveloping us with his grace through the power of his Spirit. Because when God looks at our reflection, he doesn’t see ugliness; he sees a beloved person with whom he’s well-pleased, thanks to Christ. We are his creatures and image bearers, and vessels of beauty. 

I have no idea where Musgraves pulled her inspiration from, but so often the arts give rise to many thoughtful and beautiful bits of expression. They put voice, music, and rhyme to the most crucial questions that we grapple with as human beings. I would subsequently encourage her that the answer to her questions is a hearty affirmative. There is an architect, one that is not distant but rather, wants to be in relationship with every one of his creatures.

I therefore pray that she’s drawn to the loving personal creator who sent his only son to be the cornerstone of our lives, not as a passive observer but as an active participant in the human narrative. He is a God who designed everything and holds all things in his hands. He is our architect and he loves us. Let that be the life-giving truth drawing us closer to him.

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