by Gordon Nary
Gordon: You recently launched Windswept Missions. What inspired you to initiate this organization?
Shaun: Windswept is a new missionary outreach that has unfolded and come to light over the past year of discernment and prayer. I think one of the key questions for each of us as baptized believers is that of stewardship: “How am I offering my gifts and myself for the glory of God and the good of others?”
I have been in ministry my whole adult life, for the past 17 years. My experience has been in multiple fields, such as parish youth ministry, music ministry, and campus outreach. Additionally, I had the great opportunity to work at the national office for FOCUS – the Fellowship of Catholic University Students – where I was involved not only in leading and planning music for large events like SEEK, but also event planning, liturgy, marketing and branding, etc. What can sometimes seem like random aspects of our lives God loves to utilize. He is infinitely creative with the unique details of each of our lives. This is some of the background that has prepared me for where I am now, being launched into a new expression of mission.
Gordon: You previously served as Music and Worship Specialist at The Fellowship of Catholic University Students where you worked on A Beauty Initiative Within FOCUS. Please provide an overview of this project?
Shaun: The Beauty Initiative within FOCUS started as somewhat of an abstract “movement” that came out of a conviction that BEAUTY has a powerful way of reaching modern people. There is an arresting and alluring aspect of art – of music, poetry, painting and all the visual arts. It can move a person deeply, no matter their professed belief. Dr. Peter Kreeft says that there’s a sort of “watchman” that stands at the door of our mind; if a message starts to get too preachy that watchman shuts the message out. But beauty is different. It’s often times morally ambiguous and abstract. Think of a beautiful painting. It can move you, “speak” to you, even though there are no words. In a world that is self-consciously sensitive about affirming every individual’s “right” to their own “truth” (i.e., relativism), beauty pierces hearts in inexplicable, profound ways. Beauty is an aspect of God Himself, for whom the human heart was made. The beauty we experience in the world is a foreshadowing of the beatific vision of God in heaven. Pope Francis, in The Joy of the Gospel, says that parishes ought to include beauty in the ways that they evangelize.
So that’s a lot, but I am deeply convinced that beauty has an important place in the lives of Christians, and of every living person.
Gordon: How does music interplay with our spiritual lives?
Shaun: The Church documents on liturgy say that music accomplishes something that mere words cannot. Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa wrote that music has a unique ability to be a channel of the Holy Spirit like nothing else. Peter Kreeft says that “music is perhaps the most powerfully impressive force in the world.”
We see how intensely most people are drawn to music – whether the music is objectively good or not. Music impacts our human emotions in huge ways. A driving dance rhythm will naturally move people – even little children – to start swaying or dancing. Music is powerful! Whether we realize it or not, music is influencing us.
Gordon: You are also a composer. What inspired you to write All Shall Be Well?
Shaun: I wrote the song All Shall Be Well as a number of themes in my life were surfacing. I am a desperately broken person, and I struggle with various insecurities. One of the most dangerous temptations for me is comparison – the urge to look at others and compare myself to them in light of what they’re doing or accomplishing. But I am more and more convinced that every single one of us is struggling, that each of us is unspeakably broken…which is why we need a Savior. There’s a quote attributed to Plato that says: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” I think that is true. None of us really knows what’s happening in the heart of the person right next to us.
Continuing from that is the theme of weakness. St. Paul hears from the Lord: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) There is a great mystery here where God’s power, His ability to accomplish things, is somehow elevated in the midst of my weakness, my lack of power.
The chorus of the song comes from a vision of Julian of Norwich. She lamented that, had there been no sin in the world, that all should be well. And Jesus appears to her and says: “It was necessary that there should be sin. But all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
The song is kind of my wrestling with the weakness and imperfection of the current state of things along with a firm hope and belief that all will be made well in the end.
Gordon: What are your family’s favorite songs that that you have written?
Shaun: I think the song “God Alone” is one of my family’s favorites. It’s really upbeat, and the kids clap and sing along when we’re driving. We were at a family celebration a while back, and I looked out to see my daughters and my niece dancing together and singing my song, “There Is Life.” It’s pretty special, and humbling, to see the ways your music can impact others. To see someone halfway across the globe listening to your songs and posting something like: “Starting my day out right with @shaungarrison33”. To hear that someone listens to the song “Consuming Fire” every time before going into adoration. It’s amazing.
Gordon: When your served as a Youth Minister, what were your insights into some of the reasons why some young people leave the church or fail to practice their faith?
Shaun: As a youth minister, it’s interesting. You spend a lot of time, energy, and love invested in these young people. And you get hints – however subtle or overt – as to how receptive they are to this message about Jesus. But you don’t really know what’s happening inside of them. Then years go by, and some people are still really into their Catholic Faith as a foundational thing, and others have drifted away entirely.
Why people leave the Church is a complex question, and there is a different story for each individual. But as a broad overview, here are some of my observations from over the years. I think it’s REALLY important for people to have an encounter with God – a moment of meeting the Living God who loves us. I had a transformative experience on a retreat as a teenager where I encountered Jesus in the Eucharist. And in spite of all my selfishness and all the bad things I’d done, I had a deep sense of knowing that Jesus loved me. A deep sense of love that changed everything for me. That’s my own unique circumstance of coming alive in my Catholic Faith, but there needs to be a personal dimension to our faith lives. Christianity is not a “club”. It’s not merely a moral code or set of rules to follow. It’s about a God who loves YOU and ME, a God who has come looking for us. And this loving God offers us everything – the fulfillment of our deepest desires and longings, a peace that surpasses what this world can give, a radiant joy, an immense freedom, and a profound sense of purpose.
But if we don’t encounter the Living Lord, our religious observance can spiral into empty ritual. It can become commitment to “moral living,” but God seems hopelessly distant.
People also leave the Church because the pull of the world is just too strong. People who are faithful to Jesus Christ and His Church are in the minority – probably in pretty much every society. Even in historically Christian areas, there is an effect where the full intensity of the faith gets watered down over time. In the Northeastern United States, there is a rich history of Catholic immigrants who came into the country. There is a deep-seated culture of being Catholic – “I’m Italian, of course I’m Catholic!” – but the practice and living out of the Faith has declined immensely.
Another reason young people leave the Church is because of the values of the millennial generation. In past generations, you may not understand or agree with the Church, but there was a strong, felt obligation to go to Mass. Millennials do not have that same guilt, that felt obligation.
Thank you, Gordon, for taking time to talk. These are key issues at play in our world today, in this present segment of time that is part of salvation history. May the Lord fill us to overflowing with His life-giving Spirit, and make us radiant witnesses in the world, “to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:11)
For more information on Shaun’s music, please visit shaungarrison.com, or look him up on iTunes, Apple Music, Amazon, and follow him on Spotify. For more information on Windswept Missions or to book Shaun for an event, visit windswept.co.
Gordon: Thank you for an insightful interview.