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.