**author's note: parts of this post originally appeared on The Rabbit Room website, in October 2009.
It's been more than fifteen years since I read the novel Speak, but I'll never forget the lesson it taught me. The book tells the story of a teenage girl wrestling with a very specific trauma, and her reluctant journey toward closure and healing. I don’t want to give anything away, but near the end lives a literal example of creating beauty from the ashes of tragedy. I don't think it was a brand new idea to me, but perhaps it was the first time I‘d seen it illustrated so clearly, and I remember thinking to myself: that’s what I want to learn to do. So I picked up my pen and tried to explain it all to my younger brother, as only a big sister can. “What if we could do something with the pain of our past?” I asked him. “What if we could use it to write songs and tell stories that would bless other people.”
As I wrote that letter, I had visions of friends and loved ones reading my stories some day, turning pages and heaving collective sighs, as the weariness of past hurts rolled off their shoulders like water off a duck’s back. I was rather young and idealistic back then, but the notion of healing beauty still romances me, and I think that's a good thing. I mean, it’s one thing to say, "God listens to us when we pray," and quite another to reach a hand toward Him as we speak.
Beauty, just like the one who thought it up, is a powerful healer. And when we allow ourselves to enter the comfort of a well crafted scene, or believe the whispers of truth in a well told story, beauty seeps into old wounds to begin working its magic. If you can feel the hope in a song, or imagine the reality of the skies in your favorite painting, if you open yourself up to it, art can take up where medication and talk therapy leave off. It’s a bit mysterious how it works, but I can 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 many of you have your own list of books, songs, and visual art that's moved you in a spiritual way. Your story may not include counseling or antidepressants—like mine does—but perhaps you've seen how beautiful art often forms a two way street where healing is experienced not only by an audience but by its composer as well. This idea was first crystallized for me several years ago as I sat down to dinner with my daughter, one of my best friends, and Andrew Peterson, just before a solo show he played in Knoxville.
There were two other little girl fans of the author of The Wingfeather Saga, who, along with my Laney, gave up on waiting for sound check to be over and started eating the food provided by the church ladies in the Fellowship Hall. My friend 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 brought a half-gasp to my throat and a full smile to my lips. Three little words, “and to me.”
Now that I've released a book of my own poetry, and will soon be publishing my first memoir, I can honestly say that while I've often prayed for my words to bless whoever who reads them, the biggest blessings come to me, as I do the work of writing them. What a happy surprise this has been to discover, especially when the work grows hard, and the risk of sharing it increases. Still, I can’t help thinking this is how God means the gift of creation to work, as a full circle where art interprets life, and life is reinterpreted by art, and the result is healing beauty.