Adorning the Dark: An Artist’s Benediction

By

Note: I read this last night at a February performance of Behold the Lamb of God at a conference for creative-types here in Nashville called Re:Create. It’s from the conclusion of a four-part series I wrote last year called “Money, Part 4: Little Things Matter“.

Art, if it can be ascribed value, is most valuable when its beauty (and the beauty of the truth it tells) bewilders, confounds, defies evil itself; it does so by making what has been unmade; it subverts the spirit of the age; it mends the heart by whispering mysteries the mind alone can’t fathom; it fulfills its highest calling when into all the clamor of Hell it tells the unbearable, beautiful, truth that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again. None of these songs and stories matter if the beauty they’re adding to isn’t the kind of beauty that redeems and reclaims.

That doesn’t mean every song and every story has to be a sermon. Not at all! But the very existence of great stories and stirring music and good art is a sermon itself. That anyone at all in the world would set their sad heart and tired hands to working beauty out of chaos is a monument to Grace. It reminds us of light and high beauty, and it laments the world’s great sorrow. It gives the heart language to rejoice and language to mourn.

Creation groans like a woman in labor? Even so. And we know every birth is a tight-wound cord of fear and joy, pain and pleasure, striving and surcease. Let those who can, tell that story. Let those in Christ whose hands paint worlds, whose tongues limn loveliness, whose ears hear astral strains–let them make, and make, and make. And let the made things adorn the dark and proclaim the coming Kingdom till the King himself is come.

As a singer-songwriter and recording artist, Andrew has released more than ten records over the past fifteen years. His music has earned him a reputation for writing songs that connect with his listeners in ways equally powerful, poetic, and intimate. He has also followed his gifts into the realm of publishing. His books include the four volumes of the award-winning Wingfeather Saga.


29 Comments

  1. Jess

    FT, I have to disagree. “Wreaking beauty out of chaos” is my favorite line in this post. It took my breath away. Wreak is the exact word we want. We’re destroying the darkness with beauty, in a way. Hallelujah! 🙂

  2. ljjasper

    Beautifully said. Trying to figure out the intended word “whose tongues LIMN loveliness” and just can’t get there. Can you clarify?

  3. Andrew Peterson

    @andrew

    Ljjasper,

    limn [verb] to depict or describe in painting or words.
    • suffuse or highlight (something) with a bright color or light : a crescent moon limned each shred with white gold.

    AP

  4. Fellow Traveler

    Also, if anyone needs clarification on the “astral strains,” that is (I think) a reference to the fact that in olden days, people actually believed the stars could sing. You can see this concept in literature again and again, from Shakespeare to C. S. Lewis, who picks up on it when he has the stars sing in Magician’s Nephew. It even comes up in the hymn “This is My Father’s World.” “All nature sings and round me rings/The music of the spheres.”

  5. Jaclyn

    Thank you so much for adorning the dark, Andrew.

    So many times I’ve watnd to give up on crafting and creating. My feeble tries felt so insignificant, unnecessary, even wasteful. Better to use my time practicing more practical disciplines.

    What else could be more necesasary than reflecting the coming majesty of Jesus’ return? What better way to illustrate His supremacy and grace than offering my frailty as an example of God’s redeeming work?

    This reminds me of a message my pastor gave about Mary anointing Jesus before He died, “The Joyful Extravagance of Worship” (it’s great, http://bit.ly/hyfq5r). In light of the way God loves to be worhsipped, I don’t know how we came to divide from each other “practical” and “extravagant” worship. Mary was practical– if practical means what the dictionary says it does, “Likely to succeed or be effective in real circumstances.” She really did break open what was likely her alabaster-encased dowry, or life savings and pour it all over Jesus. What extravagance (“Lacking restraint in spending money or using resources” Can you tell I love definitions? =]). She didn’t hold back a thing, not even to save face in front of the disciples.

    Best of all, Jesus really was loved and uplifted, and so Mary’s worship “succeeded.”

    So if I hold back even the smallest thing–the patience to let another finish her sentence before I interject my idea, the time to scribble scraps of a poem and the discipline to revise it later–I must not believe that God is both a generous giver and receiver, who gives me all that I need to give back to Him.

    What a refreshment to my soul. Thank you again for sharing with us!

  6. Loren

    Good stuff, again. It’s so funny that so many comments have honed in on the use of “limn” ’cause when I read it, I thought, “Limn! He used ‘limn’! One of my favorite words!” I just like saying it. And speaking of astral strains, isn’t there a John Donne poem that speaks of the “music of the spheres”? I’m pulling straws at the moment, but something is tugging at my memory….

  7. Sarah Russo

    It’s tempting to simply create art that is pleasing or profitable.
    But truth naturally exposes imitation, so it seems like it would be easy to use art to peel back those subtle deceptions, the ones which like a thin veil can alter our perception so slightly that we don’t notice them. But why is it so difficult to tell the truth?

  8. Kirsten

    So brilliant! My husband’s an artist, and he was very encouraged by these words today. Also, this exactly reflects our philosophies regarding art & creativity, and the reasons for creating. Thanks so much for sharing! We are constantly inspired by your works and words.

  9. Brad

    Regarding astral strains, I believe there is a Biblical reference. I also know that creation scientists theorize that in the pre-flood creation, the wavelengths of the light coming from the stars would have been transformed to the audible range when passing through the ice canopy. This would have produced natural harmonies. Amazing creation indeed. Let’s join with it in praising the Maker.

  10. Eleanor Riddle

    Brad, are you perhaps referring to Job 38:7 (“When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy”)? And I’ve never heard the ice canopy theory–what a fascinating idea. Do you have any references?

  11. Joy C

    Pete: Cute, very cute.

    Andrew: A pleasure as always… to my “sad heart and tired hands” that have life rebreathed into them almost every time I visit the RR. Thank you for your efforts. I think they go a long way in God’s Hands.

  12. Greg Sykes

    Absolutely amazing. Felt like I was reading some wise proverb that has been passed down through the ages. this WILL be passed down now for years and years to come. This has deeply inspired me to be creative, with confidence.

  13. Maranda Rickard

    Just wanted to say a quick thank you to AP. I’ve been a fan for years and as a painter your words and thoughts bring inspiration and motivation. I turn to you often for the power to push forward–and a reason for doing so. Your art form and your words on art help refocus and give purpose to why I do what I do. So, thank you.

  14. Mike

    If everything was beautiful, if the world was perfect, would there be any need for art? True art is the hearts cry for what will be. Thanks for the reminder AP.

  15. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Part of the purpose of the dark is to give a background for God to show forth what really is. After Thanksgiving dinner, we have no interest in food, but when we are truly hungry, food tastes amazing. When we’ve had enough water, we have no interest in it, but when we’re thirsty, it’s hard to believe how good water feels going down when we drink it.

    A work of art that shines forth God’s heart shines all the brighter in a dark world. Remember Samwise spoke similar words to Frodo. At the end of all things, the climactic point of history when all is remade and the present world system is over, the joy will be beyond anything we can imagine.

    Good art gives out a little of that joy now.

    One thing I love about APs art is that it speaks of both the human and the divine; my human soul/body (flesh) and also my spirit in a union with Christ’s Spirit within me. There are reminders in his music of the struggle, but then also the recognition of power. His music uses the dark as a background to show forth the light – I don’t mean he has that in mind, but that is its effect on me.

    So it is true that as Mike said, “True art is the heart’s cry for what will be.” But at the same moment it is also the heart’s cry for what already is, just beyond our ability to see with our eyes.

  16. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Mike, not a correction, just another side to what you already said. It is a truth that true art is the heart’s cry for what will be. We will be redeemed. The earth will be redeemed. I just wanted to add that we have been redeemed, and that we are continually being redeemed, as well as the truth that there exists a “what will be.”

  17. Nicole M

    Wonderful. AP, you have said perfectly in three paragraphs what has been on my heart for months. Feelings that have clamored to be stated but have been lost in the translation from my heart to the page. Thank you.

  18. Jon CutFromTheSameCloth Slone

    Where the last of the big words dwell

    I charted a course for The Brobdingnagian Plains, ‘neath the Sisyphean sun, where the last of the big words dwell.

    Starting off, I intrepidly braved the Caveat Jungles in all of their convoluted glory. Nestled-in taut, under a canopy of misanthrope trees, I found a sequestered glade stitched-in on all sides by the ensorcelled, Pennyworth Peaks. Scuttlebutt purports that these Proficuous Peaks are made out of magical and mouth-watering milk chocolate. Whether or not verisimilitude inhabits said gossip is neither here nor there for I scarce had time to respire, much less loan myself over to escarpment-licking bliss!

    At this point, my knackered time-piece read 2:37pm.

    Around the Pullulating Pools, I navigated my enervated person, paying little mind to the scads of Lackadaisical Durplepotts mired in empty repose. Moreover, I never bore witness to any Pontificating Panjandrums, chimerical dorps or disingenuous shoats either.

    And I was so hoping to see a disingenuous shoat!

    I waded through the tempestuous, Fribble Fjords. I canoed every gossamer inch of Lugubrious Loch. I hiked up endless flights of Craggy Apples and I bested many a mangy, Frog and Toad as well!

    To my unbridled delight, near gloaming, after numberless hours of strenuous journeying, I had finally darkened the east entrance of the Brobdingnagian Plains.
    Holey Blue-Jeans!

    For as far as gapes could gander, I saw nothing but endless throngs of cyclopean words! Clustered on a lush page of earth like GooseBump Buffalo!

    My inner word-nerd was a kernel of popcorn in a skinned-up microwave!

    Here at the end of the last of the most precious and promethean words ever, it frightened me to know what lie just ahead. For I could see that there was more!

    Ever at the ready, I quickly slipped between a plump Clishmaclaver and a courteous Comeuppance.

    I think they were expatiating poppycock, though I’m not entirely sure.

    Next, I crawled over an enormous Confabulate that was stacked on top of a bulbous Bumbershoot. I eschewed a histrionic Hornswoggle, a diminutive Appellation and a gloomy Salmagundi.

    Ever and anon I tripped over a Traipsing Tergiversate, stubbed my big toe on a purple Pedagogue and found unexpected respite atop a gracious but crestfallen Cachinnate.

    If I had to wager a guess, I’d say that the last words I ever saw were Pelf, Bedraggled and Verisimilitude.

    In hindsight, I’m really quite taken with the word, Verisimilitude. The way I see it, it just can’t help but being a big ole bit of mouth candy! The actual word means, truth. Yet there it sits, encased in all of that deliciously silly wrapping paper!

    Shortly thereafter my fleshly car framed the Brobdingnagian Plains permanently in its rear-view.

    Minutes later, my hangdog body found it toeing the languid ledge of Feckless Knoll, overlooking the unremitting world of Empty Chasm, the place where words cease to exist.

    And I was speechless.

  19. Peter Br

    Thanks again, AP. I’ve been away from the RR for a time, and found a few moments to check in today. For some reason, this post really hits home after the end of The Book of Sorrows.

    Also, Jaclyn: thank you for that timely reminder. One of my recurring faults is the forgetting of God’s generosity, to the detriment of my own. Thanks be to God.

  20. How to Begin? | Adorning the Dark

    […] think to begin with are the words which inspired the purpose-and the naming–of the blog. In Adorning the Dark: An Artist’s Benediction, Andrew Peterson declares that– Art, if it can be ascribed value, is most valuable when its […]

  21. Witmer

    AP, I have re-visited this post so many times that I have to thank you for polishing this truth until it focuses Light like a lens.

    Thank you for the reminder, and for putting it into words that rush into the bloodstream like a heady draught.

If you have a Rabbit Room account, log in here to comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *