Adorning the Dark
Thoughts on Community, Calling, and
the Mystery of Making
Author: Andrew Peterson
Publisher: B&H Publishing Group, Nashville, 2019
Length: 200 pages
Paperback: $22.95Cdn | Kindle: $9.34Cdn
Subject: creative writing | creation (literary, artistic, etc.) | spiritual gifts
"Making something beautiful in a broken world
can be harrowing work. And it can't be done alone."
From the first glance, I knew it was going to be a treat to read Adorning the Dark by Andrew Peterson. That quote above, found on the back cover, resonated and pulled me in. The author, also a singer-songwriter, was new to me but the book promised a rich spiritual and literary experience. And that’s how it turned out to be upon reading it.
Part memoir and part handbook, the author delved into his own personal experiences and struggles starting out as a songwriter. In exploring the process and mystery of creativity, he assured readers the book was not just for musicians, but for people everywhere who have that inward calling, the deep desire to create beauty in a broken world. He also believes for that to happen, artists need a community that will help to 'nourish good and lasting work'. He talked about artists needing ‘resonators’, an idea Andrew gleaned from Diana Pavlac Glyer in her book Bandersnatch—a resonator being that person "who gets what you’re trying to do, who is moved by your work and will encourage you to keep fighting when the battle is long".
One area that artists often struggle with is the feeling of being unqualified to follow their deep desire to create. Andrew dedicated a chapter to the lesson he learned from J.S. Bach. When Bach began a new musical work, he would write ‘Jesu Juva’ at the top of his manuscripts. In Latin the words mean ‘Jesus, help!’ Peterson reminded his readers they’d be fools not to ask for aid. He considered there’s no better prayer for an artist to pray than "Jesus, you're the source of beauty, help us make something beautiful."
Andrew tells the story of how he used to hope one day to nail down the 'secret formula' to writing a great song, to make his future writing easier, less painful. One day after coming through a hard session with success, he thought he had it. But, according to his tale, the supposed formula so clear one minute faded away the next. Amnesia set in, as he discovered the next time he picked up his guitar or opened the notebook, he did so with fear and trembling, unsure how to proceed. He felt he was starting from ground zero. He mused, ‘It’s a wonder anything ever gets done.’ Ha, as a writer, I’m relieved I'm not the only one; it seems to be part of the mystery of creating.
Adorning the Dark is a joy to read. His writing flows like music—sometimes words sing off the page. I do like how Andrew shares what he’s learned from other well-known creatives, some who also resonate with me—not only J.S. Bach, but Dorothy Sayers, Madeleine L'Engle, Seamus Heaney, Rich Mullins, Mary Oliver, Frederick Buechner, to name a few. Andrew makes it clear that no one can make something beautiful for this broken world, alone. Artists need the community of others.
Not only is Andrew Peterson a successful Nashville singer/songwriter and fantasy novelist, he is the founder of The Rabbit Room, a ministry that ‘fosters Christ-centered community and spiritual formation through music, story, and art’. You’ll learn more on his website here: andrew-peterson.com/rabbit-room.