Scared and Sacred: An Excerpt from Adorning the Dark

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Being a writer doesn’t just mean writing. It means finishing. I’ve heard it said that a song is never finished, only abandoned. That’s not true for me. To the contrary, I can’t wait to be done with the thing, because only once it’s finished can I raise my hand at the back of the class and say something that will be considered, not ignored, something that might be a blessing to someone. Only then do I begin to take on some flesh and stop haunting the room. Walt Wangerin Jr. said once that art isn’t art until it’s experienced by another.

Praise God, I was reckless enough to try this thing—not because my songs matter all that much, but because I would have possibly gone mad—a madness of self-hatred, self-disdain, self-flagellation. A madness of Self. “Take thy thoughts captive,” I imagine God saying. “Put them to music. Then aim them away from you. Love your neighbor as yourself.” I confess, a mighty fear of irrelevance drove me to this vocation, a pressing anxiety that unless you looked back at me with a smile and a nod and said, “Oh, I see you. You exist. You are real to me and to this world and we’re glad you showed up,” I might just wither away and die. That’s not exactly a noble reason to fling your creations into the world, but it’s a decent place to start. After that, the Lord can redeem your impulse for self-preservation by easing you toward love, which is never about self. But if you’re scared, there’s no rush. First you have to do something. You have to climb out from under the bushel and share your light with those around you. You have to believe that you’re precious to the King of Creation, and not just a waste of space.

You and I are anything but irrelevant. Don’t let the Enemy tell you any different. We holy fools all bear God’s image. We’re walking temples of the Spirit, the bashful bride of Christ, living stones in what is going to be a grand house, as holy and precious as anything else in the universe, if not more so. God is making us into a kingdom, a lovely, peaceful one, lit by his love for us flowing toward one another. That’s the best gift you have to give.

***

A few miles from my house there’s an intersection that used to make me happy. It’s since been developed beyond recognition, and I regret to report that the magic is gone. If you ever want to go there, it’s a four-way stop at the intersection of Old Franklin Road and Cane Ridge Road. It wasn’t terribly interesting. It wasn’t a scenic overlook. The houses weren’t gigantic. But it was, for me, a strangely pleasant place. I don’t know why, but I felt rightness every time I pulled up to that intersection. I’d always look around as if I were on the verge of solving some bright mystery—until the driver behind me honked and I was forced to putter up the hill.

I mentioned it to Jamie and the kids, and they agreed. It was a nice spot. To them, it was probably just that. But I would always wonder what made me feel that way. Was it the lie of the land? Was it the fact that the stop sign forced me to pause for a moment and consider my surroundings? Did it remind me of some lovely childhood drive? I can’t put my finger on it.

Psalm 16:6 says, “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” I know the psalmist wasn’t thinking of country roads when he wrote this, but I always thought of this verse when I sat at that intersection. “This, surely, is a pleasant place,” I would say to myself. And in some ways, a pleasant place is better than a breathtaking one, isn’t it? I love the Grand Canyon and have hiked into it a handful of times over the years, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

Now, I realize of course that if Wendell Berry is right—that there are no unsacred places, only sacred places and desecrated places—then that intersection was just as sacred as the grass on your front lawn. But isn’t it true that some places feel right, just as surely as other places feel wrong?

It isn't that we're fighting a battle in which we must win ground from the forces of evil; the ground is already won.

Andrew Peterson

I have been to desecrated places, and have sensed a brooding darkness without knowing why. I have, at times, had to speak aloud what I believe to be true about God’s presence in and around me in order to silence the voices of fear that clamored in my head—I have, in other words, been spooked. I have whistled in the dark. I don’t know how all this works. I only know that we’ve all probably been in houses that felt dark and disquieting, and by contrast there’s a sense of peace that seeps out of the walls of others. I want my house to be a house of peace. I want people to sense God’s presence when they roll up our gravel driveway.

But how?

It’s a matter of dedicating to God the world within our reach. Jamie and I are blessed with two wonderful neighbors, Tommy and Becky. When they built their home, sweet Becky wrote scripture verses on every 2 x 4 she could find. You can’t see them anymore now that the house is finished, and of course they don’t work as charms or anything weird like that; Bible verses on the studs don’t do anything magical. Still, every sacred word that Becky wrote on every sacred plank of wood was a reminder to her that it was not her house, but God’s.

The Christian’s calling, in part, is to proclaim God’s dominion in every corner of the world—in every corner of our hearts, too. It isn’t that we’re fighting a battle in which we must win ground from the forces of evil; the ground is already won. Satan is just an outlaw. And we have the pleasure of declaring God’s kingdom with love, service, and peace in our homes and communities. When you pray, dedicate your home, your yard, your bonus room and dishwasher and bicycle and garden to the King. As surely as you dedicate your heart to him, dedicate your front porch. Daily pledge every cell of every tool at your disposal to his good pleasure. It’s all sacred anyway if old Wendell is right (and I think he is). I wonder if the Holy Spirit is rambling around in the temple of my heart, scribbling promises on every exposed bit of lumber, declaring my sacred-ness so that I will remember that I belong to him. And maybe when I’m old and I cross paths with some weary traveler, they’ll sense a rightness, a pleasantness of place, and will experience a peace that they cannot understand or explain.

Stop a moment and look around. This is our Father’s world. We are sacred, you and I.

Click here to buy Adorning the Dark at the Rabbit Room Store.

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.


2 Comments

  1. Kara

    @karajanechase

    “Take thy thoughts captive. Put them to music. Fling them away from yourself. Love your neighbor as yourself.”
    I hear God saying to me, “Take your words and your songs. Bury them in the backyard. Ask Me for the impossible.” Like George Matheson said, “O Cross that liftest up my head, I dare not ask to fly from Thee, I lay in dust life’s glory, dead. And from the ground there blossoms red, Life that shall endless be.”- O Love That Will Not Let Me Go (for which song I re-wrote the melody)
    I have suffered from the cancer, like you said, of not working on my songs…for arrogantly thinking they are “done”. You couldn’t have used a more fitting description (nest of roaches) to compel me into being thoroughly disgusted by this habit. I loathe roaches.

  2. Suzanne Tietjen

    @suzishepherd

    Just finished this. So good and so needed. And, yes, I left a review on Amazon, even though I bought my copy here. Thank you, Andrew.
    I wanted to share something about the Linnea flower. You probably already know this, but it is a flower that needs community. It is self-infertile and will not make viable seed without cross-pollination from another species.
    “Unfortunately Linnaea borealis is a self-incompatible species which requires cross-pollination to produce viable seeds; together with the loss of habitat, this has contributed for it to become a species of conservation concern in the UK and in some of its southern limits in the USA” (source: http://botanicallyinclined.org/seeds-shop/linnaea-borealis-ssp-borealis-buy-seeds/)
    I love this this book—it tore me up and put me back together.

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