On Drawing in and Pouring Out

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I remember writing a letter several years ago, right after I’d finished reading a novel called Speak. The book tells the story of a young teenage girl wrestling with a very specific trauma, and her reluctant journey toward closure and healing. I don’t want to give too much away, but near the end lives a very literal example of drawing beauty from the ashes of tragedy. Either it was a brand new idea for me, or it was simply the first time I‘d seen it illustrated so clearly, but I thought to myself: that’s what I want to learn to do. So I picked up my pen and tried to explain, as only a big sister would, what I had learned to my younger brother. “What if we could do something with our pain?” I suggested. “Use it to write songs and tell stories that would bless other people.”

Even as I wrote the letter, I had visions of friends and loved ones some day reading my stories, turning pages and heaving collective sighs as the weariness of past hurts rolled off their shoulders like water off a duck’s back. Could I have been any more young and idealistic? I’m not sure, but I’ll go ahead and confess: though my youth may be sneaking out the back door, those optimistic notions still pop their heads up every now and then. (Which is not necessarily a bad thing, right? I mean, it’s one thing to say “God is listening to me when I pray,” and quite another to reach a hand toward Him as I speak.) And the rubber ducky of healing beauty never stays under too long. In fact, the more life I live, the more sadness I experience, that little yellow gal is steadily becoming a fantastic swimmer, proving to me that the idea, blithe as it may sound, is absolutely true.

Beauty can heal you, if you let it. When you allow yourself to enter in to the comfort of a well crafted scene, or believe the whispers of truth in a well told story, beauty seeps into those old wounds. If you can feel the hope in a song, or imagine the reality of the skies in that painting, if you open yourself up to it, art can take up where medication and talk therapy leave off. It’s a little mysterious how it all works, but I could list books upon books and songs upon songs, which have come into my heart and not only taken up residence, but managed to enliven the surroundings.

I’m sure most of you here in the Rabbit Room have your own lists of books, songs and movies. Your story may not include therapy and medication, but perhaps many of you already know something I am just beginning to grasp: How art and beauty are a unique two way street where healing may be felt not only by its audience but its performer as well. This idea was crystallized for me a few weeks ago as I sat down to dinner with my daughter, one of my best friends, and Mr. Andrew Peterson just before a solo show he played here in Knoxville.

There were two other little girl fans of AP who, along with my daughter, Laney, gave up on waiting for sound check to be over and started eating. Susan and I decided to wait a few more minutes until Andrew could join us. We filled our plates with home cooked fare and sat down with the girls. Susan and I, being Baptist girls raised right, kept our hands in our laps and our forks on the table until Andrew, being a southern gentleman, noticed our hesitation and removed his hat to pray.

It was a simple prayer, thanks for the food and the hands that prepared it, followed by grace and goodness, and lastly a request for the concert to be a blessing to all who came to see it. But what Andrew said next caused a half-gasp in my throat as well as a full smile on my lips. Three little words, “and to me.”

Later on, Andrew told how he came to write one of his new songs. It was a story fraught with self-deprecation and just before he began singing he said he’d asked God to give him a song from that experience, which was of course the song he sang next. And I can’t help thinking this is how God meant the gift of creation to work. A full circle where art interprets life as life is reinterpreted by art.


10 Comments

  1. Mike

    I remember hearing Love and Thunder for the first time. I was riding down the road after buying it. Its as if Father said, “Sit back Mike, I’ve had this guy write an album that you should hear.” I still pull out the Silence of God when I have to “listen to the voices of the mob.” So yes beauty does heal, sometimes in the slightest of increments.

  2. jia

    My favourite songs are those that have seen me through the past year. I don’t even know what they do! They stay in my head and don’t get taken off my playlist for weeks. I guess, they are cries or sometimes reminders. That come across even more clearly through the soft sounds of the the guitar or piano. On sparingly few occasions though, songs are messages from friends who don’t know what else to say. I’m not an artist though (unlike all you talented folks) … sooo.

    Oy, I forgot to thank whoever replied to my comment about site navigation. Because after that I figured that I could google search the site with “POSTED BY (name)” Yay 🙂

  3. Shannon Baker

    Good words, Janna. I think that is why scripture comes so alive to me. It’s so real. People in the Bible felt angst just as much, if not more, than I have. What a relief to know that God’s precious people became precious through pressure… the refiner’s fire sparking flames that not only burnt away the raw and redundant, but set aflame the miraculous and beautiful. Sigh!

  4. Peter B

    Thanks, Janna (and AP, and the rest of the RR gang). I caught your “Andys” photo tour on Facebook; thanks for sharing the experience! It occurs to me that the Captains are probably heading toward some sort of record for Total Food Eaten In Church Basements.

    Funny how it takes the wisdom of years (with some hard times thrown in) to begin to appreciate the beauty that God puts all around us.

  5. Susan Smith

    A beautiful take on what we have been studying in “Captivating”. Hadn’t thought about beauty healing, but I think you are right.

  6. Michael Mazzei

    I like the imagery of beauty seeping into old wounds. It reminds me that I should be open to the beauty in life, especially when times are difficult or I am hurting.

  7. Ellen Bright

    Art speaks to the heart so personally; thanks Janna for reminding me of the power it holds not only for me, the consumer, but the author of the work itself.

  8. Drew

    Just to add that I tried to read “Speak” on the recommendation of a cousin who told me it was “hilarious.”

    Halfway through I quit. I found nothing hilarious about it, only something dark getting darker with every chapter. Perhaps I ought to finish, but I found it too dismal to continue.

    Otherwise, I completely grok the idea of God bringing something beautiful out of personal pain, having seen it in my own life.

  9. Janna

    Thanks everyone for your comments. It’s good to know how you connect to these thoughts.
    Drew, your cousin needs his? her? head examined. The movie version is pretty good too. Steve Zahn as an encouraging art teacher and Kristin Stewart when she was still “the girl from Panic Room,” and not “Bella from Twilight.”

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