Songs as Sanctuary: Jonathan Ryan on Matisyahu’s Crossroads

Songs as Sanctuary: Jonathan Ryan on Matisyahu’s Crossroads September 13, 2017


Matisyahu came into my life when I was as a Presbyterian minister at THE Ohio State University. I had just been elected to be the president of the Inter-Faith counsel and through that position, made friends with a woman who was a Jewish rabbi. We attended each other’s student groups and would often discuss various theological viewpoints.

We were talking music one day and she said, “I think you should check out Matisyahu, you’ll dig him.”

I don’t think that she realized that comment would one day save my life.

During my five year descent into darkness and divorce, Matisyahu’s music was the backdrop to my wandering through the valley of the shadow of death. All of my own standbys (U2, etc) didn’t work. But, Matisyahu’s music did. It’s full of his mysterious Jewishness (he often sings in Hebrew), strange wanderings, joy in the midst of severe personal life turmoil and his constant search for G-D and His presence in the world.

He is a true Sick Pilgrim, and its all found in the first cut of the Spark Seeker album, “Crossroads.”


It’s like I’m walking through this kingdom of time
Thus far I’ve done lost my mind
Only to find the other side, Is where the world opens wide
To descend these city streets late at night
I’ve been searching for my bite
They say I inspired, but I’m still looking for my fire
These lies have got me tired
I’m free falling, I’m done stalling…
This is a man who wanders and knows the answers are just beyond his sight and around the next corner. And he knows it while feeling the pressure that often comes when people see one thing about you, but you know the true reality of your own heart, searching for that secret fire, and you know that some of what you do and say is a lie of the moment, and you really don’t feel anything close to faith.  You wish everyone would go away so you could re-center and find the spark again. Not for them, but yourself. And, you finally let yourself fall by stripping off the masks you wore your entire life because you’re too tired to do anything else.

Speak to ghosts
Time to go high
The cross that you walk by
Got my eye into
Magic fly off on the broom
Which way to choose I’m at the crossroads, but I’ll give my soul
It’s already old.

Two lines stick out to me when I play this song: “My heart’s black, but it’s still intact” and “Which way to choose, I’m at the crossroads, but I’ll give my soul, it’s already old.”

My soul, is indeed old and it feels as if it’s lived many life times. Yet, when things are dark, I’m always reminded I’ve not ever given my heart over to the darkness. I had a dream, once, of the Sacred Heart of Christ, beating light and blood in the darkness of my own heart. And I’m reminded of it every time I listen to Matisyahu as he cries out in Hazzan prayer at the beginning of the song. It’s a cry to Adonai, THE LORD.

This cry tells you what the song is about: a lost, sick pilgrim, crying out in power, crying out in weakness.
And it echoes my own when I pray, “Help me, Oh Lord, Help me. Fill me with power to live in the Mystery when I don’t understand You or the world.”
The prayer of my entire life, really.
 Jonathan Ryan is the cofounder of Sick Pilgrim.


Browse Our Archives