There’s a reason why photographers always want to schedule outdoor sessions in the late afternoon. At a certain time before sunset, the light slants just right and everything takes on a golden hue. But as quickly as it’s here, it’s gone. They call it the golden hour. On her new album, Golden Hour, country artist Kacey Musgraves perfectly captures that moment when life teeters magically between day and night.
The album opens with a laid-back rhythm guitar supported by the earnesty of a Sufjan Stevens-style banjo lick. Lush reverb sighs under Musgraves’ crystal clear vocals like leaves rustling beneath a Smoky Mountain sunset. As track after track bleeds together in a vibrant collage across the evening sky, the artist wonders aloud, in “Happy and Sad,” “Is there a word for the way that I’m feeling tonight?”
Human experience is complex. My life is rarely all good or all bad—all day or all night. Most of life is somewhere in between, in the golden hour. It’s the time where day isn’t quite finished and night hasn’t quite begun. Things are coming to an end, and things are beginning. It’s the place where I feel, as Musgraves sings, “happy and sad at the same time.”
At times, the shine of the golden hour brings overwhelming joy. On “Oh, What a World,” Musgraves is like a child gathering fireflies in the orange glow of a summer night: “Oh, what a world, don't wanna leave / All kinds of magic all around us, it's hard to believe / Thank God it's not too good to be true!” Amidst the bouncy pop of “Velvet Elvis,” she struts with confidence and flare: “I wanna show you off every evening / Go out with you in powder blue and tease my hair up high.” In these seasons of life, the golden hour makes us feel invincible, like day will never give way to the night. Or, as she sings on “Butterflies,” “Now I remember what it feels like to fly!”
At other times, we tend to dread the coming night. On the pensive “Mother,” Musgraves can’t escape the lengthening shadows: “Wish we didn’t live so far from each other / I'm just sitting here thinking ’bout the time that’s slipping / And missing my mother, mother.” The most heartbreaking line of the album floats through “Space Cowboy,” riding a mournful pedal steel: “After the gold rush, there ain’t no reason to stay.” When the rich luster fades from a relationship, she can only fight the loneliness with platitudes: “Well, sunsets fade, and love does too.” The last burst of light can be a season of immense sadness as day fades and the uncertain night closes in.
Most of life is somewhere in between day and night, in the golden hour.
One certainty of the golden hour is change. I remember as a kid wishing the lazy summer sun would quit setting so fast because it meant bedtime. As a man, I think I still have a complicated relationship with the golden hours of life. Sometimes I resent the changes. Sometimes things aren’t changing fast enough. What’s the word for the way that I’m always feeling? I’m stuck in a perpetual golden hour.
As I listened to Musgraves’ album, a thought began to bloom. Maybe the answer is not to pine for more daylight, as though things could always stay the same. It’s not to wish for the day’s end, impatiently waiting for the next stage of life, either. The key is learning to savor the slow burn. As Musgraves sings on the opening track, “I'm alright with a slow burn / Taking my time, let the world turn.”
Parenting is a slow burn. Marriage is a slow burn. Work is a slow burn. Sanctification is a slow burn. I’m the kind of guy who is obsessed with results—with being. But Golden Hour calls us to treasure becoming. There is joy in slow change, in moving from one degree of glory to another like the radiant splendor of a setting sun. Often this joy is unexpectedly found in the midst of suffering. In those times, God says, “My grace is sufficient for you.” Christians ought to be people who thrive in the golden hour. We are the people of the already, but not yet.
When I resent the slow burn, I’m missing the golden hour. As my mind is constantly meditating on tasks, checklists, and responsibilities, I’m missing the love of God that is “Running like a river trying to find the ocean / Flowers in the concrete / Climbing over fences, blooming in the shadows / Places that you can't see.” (“Love Is a Wild Thing.”) He is the kind of God who makes breakfast on the beach for his disciples. He’s the kind of God who enjoys candlelit dinners with tax collectors and sinners that last long into the night. He savors the slow burn.
In the album’s title track, Musgraves touches on a profound truth: “You’re my golden hour, the color of my sky / You’ve set my world on fire...” The ability to savor the slow burn of life comes to us through our relationships with others. The children. The neighbors. The co-workers. The church members. The husbands and wives. These are the people we are meant to enjoy, to love, to cherish in the midst of life’s joys and sorrows, light and darkness, happy and sad. These are the people who will love us through life’s changes. As we see the evidence of God’s grace through them in our lives, we realize the golden hour is happening right before our eyes. “You make the world look beautiful,” Musgraves sings on “Golden Hour.” “I love the light that I’ve found in you.”