A Million Holy Lamps

By

One night last summer Philip and I were driving back from Birmingham in our little roadster, Happiness Runs. We had been visiting dear friends and a gorgeous sunset was already simmering in the west by the time we managed to tear ourselves away. It had been a weekend of work and wonderful food and iron-sharpening fellowship, and we were feeling so brimful of God’s goodness we both just wanted to sit in silence and enjoy it, like the quiet satisfaction after an exquisite meal. We had the top down as it was such a fine night, and I slid Andrew Peterson’s Counting Stars into the CD player, nestling back in my seat to look at the real stars overhead as we sped eastward towards home.

About the time we reached the dark stretch on I-20 that is the Talladega National Forest we started to notice a few splatters on the windshield, and I looked up to see that the starlit sky was now racing and tearing with ragged clouds. The cool thing about a convertible is that if you are going fast enough (ahem, well within the speed limit, of course!) you can drive through a reasonable amount of rain and not get wet. I know there’s some fancy scientific principle at play here, but what this means to me is just an added spice of drama to an already fun ride. (It can also mean a lot of laughter if we fail to gauge our storm and end up getting soaked.)

Just as the rain began to fall in earnest and the storm-black clouds swallowed the last star over our heads, the opening guitar notes of The Reckoning warbled out of the speakers. I grinned across at Philip in delight and reached over to turn up the volume. There’s just nothing like the appropriateness of a perfect song matched to a perfect occasion. And as our little car hurtled through the darkness of that long road home, the heavens literally whirled and thundered and exploded in bursts of light over our heads, like some wild-eyed hints of a glory too great to be told. I watched, breathtaken, as the silver tongues of lightning split the sullen clouds, baring for a moment a rose-colored sky, and as the trees by the wayside twisted and bowed in this great dance with the wind. I felt as if, in the splendor of all that tempest and song, we might just drive straight up into heaven itself. It was magnificent, a moment of pure, painful delight. A foretaste of the satisfied longings the music had put a voice to.

And the beauty is that it was another person’s gift that had conspired with the very heavenlies to usher me into this suffocating explosion of joy, and, afterward, the deep, rumbling quiet of the knowledge of God’s love. I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty incredible to me: that the Maker of the universe would create all these creators in his own image, and then go on revealing bits of himself through the medium of their art. The mighty weather that night, unfolded like a tapestry of omnipotence, made me long for heaven. But Andrew’s music stabbed me with the joy that perhaps heaven was longing for me.

I thought about that night and what it meant to me when Andrew closed his album release show in Nashville during Hutchmoot with that same song. It seemed such a fitting image of the ‘Moot itself, and all that The Rabbit Room stands for. All of these wildly talented people, I kept thinking, lifting up their gifts for the love of God and the love of people. What could be more beautiful?

Earlier that day, Sarah Clarkson and I had spoken on the art of subtext, the way that the best authors underpin their stories with ideals and graces that literally woo the reader, rather than preaching and proselytizing. Sarah brought up the point that the spiritually-minded writer is actually making a refuge with her work, creating a sacred space within which another soul can encounter God. Like a builder, the artist goes on making these places, filling the rooms with rare and beautiful treasures. And then with a holy self-forgetfulness, they pull the door to on the deep magic between God and another soul and tiptoe quietly away.

I saw this very thing in action all weekend long at Hutchmoot. This essential humility coupled with a childlike joy in creation. It graced the meals at our tables; it spiced and seasoned our conversations. It was the noble spirit of the kingdom and the courtly dignity of broken people beautified by an unfathomable love.

It was the reason Phil Vischer could stand up before a room packed with starry-eyed artists during the keynote speech and tell them they needed to basically crucify their own dreams—and get a standing ovation.

Driving home through the green Tennessee hills after Hutchmoot, Philip and I asked each other: “What was your favorite part, the best moment that seemed to epitomize the whole weekend?” The car was quiet for a while as we both stewed on this question, raising in our minds doubtless a dozen possible answers. But in the end, it was the same thing, the same moment of grace: Saturday afternoon, sitting out under the tent, listening to Eric Peters give an impromptu, unplugged concert.

The sessions were over, as was the gift of one of Evie’s legendary meals. I was feeling tired, my introverted self a little drained, and I had told Philip after lunch I thought I’d go find a quiet place to rest for a while and just not talk. But the moment Eric started to play, I sat down again and neither one of us moved a muscle—except only to draw our chairs out into the sunshine and throw back our heads to its warmth. I’m a huge fan of Eric’s music; I told him that Birds of Relocation was basically the soundtrack of my life for 2012. He gives himself in his songs without stint, and that is the very reason why they give such a resonant image of grace and the human heart. But there was something so kind, so generous, in that informal afternoon concert of his—when I knew that he was as tired as all the rest of us, and yet he stood there with his guitar taking requests for over an hour and pouring out living water by the pitcher-full. I felt my springs filling up as I sat there in the warm blessing of the sun, my heart renewed as no amount of ‘down time’ could ever hope to accomplish. It was something akin to prayer; a lovely blend of corporate and private worship. It was the Body of Christ, nourishing and being nourished.

But most meaningful to me was the way that Eric would talk about his songs, about his own journey and the broken places out of which the music was born. In the most genuine way he told us we were not alone by telling us how God had met him in pain and darkness, not in spite of it. I tend to always be tripping over the idea that God is waiting for me to get my act together so we can get on with this Christian life. Eric reminded me, yet again, and in a way that I will not forget, that my brokenness is all I have to give to the world—that and the beauty of Christ’s redemptive, re-creative love, which is the very song the world is longing to hear.

God doesn’t write novels or paint pictures or compose symphonies—but He makes men and women that do. Human beings have this amazing potential to tell each other the truth; to gather the glimpses of God entrusted to them individually and give them back to the world in flashes of story and color and song. All these reflections of Him cast into the world like the million tiny stars thrown from the heart of a sun-shot diamond. A million, million holy lamps burning within the sanctuaries of our art.

I remember praying as I was getting ready for my sessions, feeling more than a little overwhelmed at the idea of speaking to a roomful of people who were all smarter and better educated and more articulate than I am.

“Lord,” I said, “I am just so afraid that I’m going to give myself away.”

I could almost feel the chortle of celestial laughter in the room. It warmed me to my bones.

“Why, yes, my dear,” he chuckled back at my heart, “that is exactly what you are going to do. What else?”

That was the essence of Hutchmoot for me this year. Strength in weakness; beauty for ashes. Men and women beloved of God—oh, so beloved of God—giving themselves away for each other.

Broken bread and poured out wine and a Feast of which we’ve had only the least glimpse.

But oh, what a glimpse it was.

Photo by: NASA, Hubble Telescope.

Profile photo of Lanier Ivester

Lanier Ivester is a “Southern Lady” in the best and most classical sense and a gifted writer in the most articulate and literal sense. She hand-binds books and lives on a farm with peacocks, bees, sheep, and the governor of Ohio’s leg. She loves old books and sells them from her website, LaniersBooks.com, and she’s currently putting the final touches on her first novel, as well as studying literature at Oxford.


13 Comments

  1. Jonny

    “The mighty weather that night, unfolded like a tapestry of omnipotence, made me long for heaven. But Andrew’s music stabbed me with the joy that perhaps heaven was longing for me.”

    Truth. Let’s never forget this.

  2. Judy

    From far away I observe that you have a special and blessed community. This post has beautiful way of drawing others in for a peek. Thank you.

  3. Jess

    Goosebumps. Especially through that third paragraph. Could I ever express my thanks enough for reminding me? I was forgetting why I put up with the pain of writing and “giving myself away,” and now I remember again. Thank you thank you thank you.

  4. Anissa

    “God doesn’t write novels or paint pictures or compose symphonies—but He makes men and women that do. Human beings have this amazing potential to tell each other the truth; to gather the glimpses of God entrusted to them individually and give them back to the world in flashes of story and color and song. All these reflections of Him cast into the world like the million tiny stars thrown from the heart of a sun-shot diamond. A million, million holy lamps burning within the sanctuaries of our art.”

    Thanks so much for this reminder! I tend to forget how amazing it is that God would choose to use broken vessels to shine the light of His truth and the story of His love.

  5. Loren Warnemuende

    My mind is now a swirl of lovely images, snatches of songs that rattle my soul, and glimpses of more of God’s truth. Thank you!

    And Lanier, you were definitely a part of the beauty of Hutchmoot for me. Thank you for letting God use you.

  6. Brenda Branson

    Lanier, you’ve captured some of my fondest memories of Hutchmoot in beautiful words that will remind me of our time together. What a blessing to share that tent experience with all of you, catching a glimpse into Eric’s soul that gave us all freedom to be real and broken and loved, to weep and hope for something more!

    I know how much I’m longing for heaven, but I’ve never contemplated that heaven could be longing for me. What an amazing thought! It makes me wistful and curious as I listen again to The Reckoning . . . “How long, how long?”

  7. Jim Crotty

    Mutual artistic inspiration, all in one faith. Being moved this way to create is why I do what I do and to connect with other artists on this level is a true gift. Thank you.

  8. Amber Leffel

    Lanier,

    Oh, I must thank you. Your writing has always done for/to me what art always should. Thank you.

    I came on this morning to the Rabbit Room because I am feeling the ugly grudge of the mundane–and very badly these days. Classes and fear and homework and duties and friends and loneliness within romance and suffering family back home — I am overwhelmed, but not in a breathless sort of way; more of in a surrendered (or succumbed) kind of way. I have surrendered to the blistery grayness of what Satan would like to tell me my circumstances have conjured up — but really it must be my heart-vision that is blinded here.

    A few weekends ago I left my Illinois university to visit the man I love at his school in Ohio. On Sunday morning we were driving to his church in my car, just after the sun’s dawn — and I can’t describe it, but your heart must know what it was like. We were driving all through hills and turns and you-just-don’t-know-what’s-coming-around-the-next-bend and the trees kept surprising me with all of their autumn glory. I was nearly breathless this time. Andrew Peterson’s acoustic Light for the Lost Boy album was on, 4 of my favorites from the album being the first 4 the iPod played on shuffle — and I was so panged by desire. Such longing which I knew would not be soon satisfied. Beauty does that to us.

    It was such sadness — “Will this desire ever come? Will we ever love each other selflessly? Will God treasure the ways that I’ve grown even when I move to another very different chapter of my life with this man in a few years? Will the Lord, and will this gentleman, honor who I am?” — and such loneliness. But don’t you know it – there was such hope in the pain. That He brought up a reminder of Desire in my heart assured me that it would be realized – “ask for anything in My Name, and it will be given to you.” But He’s the very one who is doing the asking in my heart! — asking all the Good Things from the Father for me before I even know what they are. Even if I never know what they are.

    And that is why I put on a Michael W. Smith Christmas album and came here to the Rabbit Room in my pajamas on this Thursday morning, though I have much ‘else’ to do. This busy, poor college student can’t ever make it to Hutchmoot (though I sure hope to one day); but for as close as I could get to Hutchmoot, here I came. I wanted to be reminded of the Beauty and the Goodness and the Truth, the Hope, that the Lord has given — and He has reminded me by way of your post, Lanier. Thank God forever for His kindness to us. And thank you, thank you, for “giving yourself away.”

  9. Laura Peterson

    “I tend to always be tripping over the idea that God is waiting for me to get my act together so we can get on with this Christian life.”

    ME TOO.

    Thanks, Lanier. (And Eric.)

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