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.