Sometimes, we just have to “discuss” a book instead of merely write a review of it. Come eavesdrop as Betsy and Megan discuss Adorning the Dark by Andrew Peterson. See below the post for publication information and where you can purchase it (if our discussion convinces you!).
Adorning the Dark: A Summary
Betsy: Megan, you and I have loved talking books, creativity, our calling as Christians, and life in general for more than 20 years now. Adorning the Dark seems to sum up many of those conversations into one book! I see echoes throughout of countless conversations with you.
Can you sum up this book into one paragraph for our readers (since they, sadly, don’t have the benefit of having listened in on 20 years’ worth of conversation)?
Megan: Andrew Peterson offers transparency in reflecting on his years of experience trying to being creative, often falling short of his aspirations, and yet being surprised by the grace of God accomplishing greater things than Peterson could ever have imagined. Realizing and really believing that he is loved by God is the satisfaction he continually reaches for, which helps him through the fear of failure and struggling through the work. His honesty and humility is so refreshing! He admits that while he loves making something beautiful, sometimes he tries too hard and the result isn’t clear. He emphasizes loving the listener (or reader or recipient of the artist’s work) above showing off. His admission that it is so much easier to get excited about a new idea rather than fulfill a commitment to an older project is so true in my experience.
Betsy: I really appreciated Peterson’s point about loving the listener. It reminded me of Jonathan Rogers’s frequent reminders to love your reader (in his Grammar for Writers class). The same idea crops up in Echoes of Eden as one of the characteristics Christians should use when they’re evaluating art. In fact, over and over in Adorning the Dark, Peterson reminds us that our creativity is in service to the Lord and his calling on our lives, not what we might get out of it, the money we might make, or the fame we might enjoy.
Adorning the Dark: On Fairy Tales and the Imagination
Megan: We both marked the passage on fairy tales, I think. Part of the experience of being a creative human being is longing for someone to share Truth and Beauty with. I think that’s a big part of what he is writing about. That’s why so many readers are saying, “Yes! YES!!”
Betsy: Ooh, yes. The imagery in this statement is profound, a way to describe what I’ve been fumbling over for years:
“The reintroduction of fairy tales to my redeemed imagination helped me to see the Maker, his Work, and the abounding human (but sometimes Spirit-commandeered) tales as interconnected. It was like holding the intricate crystal of Scripture up to the light, seeing it lovely and complete, then discovering on the sidewalk a spray of refracted colors. The colors aren’t Scripture, nor are they the light behind it. Rather, they’re an expression of the truth, born of the light beyond, framed by the prism of revelation, and given expression on solid ground.” (p. 70)~Andrew Peterson
Adorning the Dark: Christian Community and the Arts
Megan: You and I are so far apart geographically! One aspect of our friendship that I appreciate so much is how you never fail to encourage my creative endeavors. Peterson encourages Christians to find other creative persons who exercise a variety of gifts but reinforce one another. Kindred spirits who will be gentle, honest, and keep you going when you feel like giving up. For that reason I am a member of The Habit, but that marvelous collective is online. Technology is a blessing, but we both know it helps to have local friends who encourage our work, and while I would love to have a local writers’ group, I’ll settle for exercising other creative muscles in knitting with friends.
Betsy: I’m a member of The Habit, too! But you’re right–local, in-person community is essential. Historically, the church functioned more as a venue for the arts in Christian community than it does now. Protestant churches, in particular, seem to have lost that vision of art and community both strengthening the church. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if local churches caught some of the vision for community that Peterson casts in this book: encouraging those within the community to use their creative gifts to serve (“love”) the congregation and surrounding community? (I should note that Peterson doesn’t specifically call on local churches, but it’s an easy leap to make from “groups of Christians” to the local church as well.)
Megan: I’m thrilled that the Lord provided a gifted illustrator in the congregation of our very small church, and it is a pleasure to collaborate on a book with someone who sees his art as an act of worship. When I talk with his sister, whose family is also part of our church, she is amazed by my gift of writing and his gift of art. But you know what? She loves math, which perplexes me, and is taking on raising animals, which is beyond my realm. Aren’t those creative and redemptive gifts worth appreciating as well? I believe that sharing with others who are not like-minded is one of the blessings of meeting with God’s people. Such casual conversations are not as likely to happen virtually!
Right now many of us are busy raising children, which limits our time to develop our creative talents (I have to give up on my watercolor notions), but exercising gifts of creating simple beauty for our families to enjoy and practicing hospitality are excellent ways to make culture, reveal hidden artistic skills, and adorn the dark.
Adorning the Dark and Other Books on Writing
Megan: You have read both of the books he recommends, Walking on Water and Bird by Bird. I have both in my stack, but haven’t finished them. Why do you think he recommends those so strongly?
Betsy: Oh, Megan, it’s been years since I read those! I ditched Bird by Bird when we moved across country a few years ago (gasp! It’s a book *so* many people adore). I still have Walking on Water on my shelf, though. Bird by Bird has some great things to stay about the craft of writing, but Lamott’s tone is a bit more jarring than L’Engle’s. Bird by Bird is first and foremost written to those who consider themselves “writers.” I don’t consider myself a writer so much as someone who is intensely interested in the craft of writing (and analyzing others’ attempts) and the bigger picture of creativity as Christians. L’Engle’s book is far more saturated with an awareness of our calling as Christians, the intersection of faith and creativity for Christians, and the nuance that Christian artists wrestle with in trying to depict the world as it is even if that’s not a super sweet vision of loveliness. I often recommend Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life along with Walking on Water. I like it better than Bird by Bird.
You and I both read Culture Making a few years ago, and we love books like Hidden Art as well. What do you think sets Adorning the Dark apart from other works on reading, creativity, or our calling as Christians? Or do you see it as continuing in the same vein as these others?
Megan: Adorning the Dark reads more like a memoir, less polished, and yet is full of profound observations! In all three books, the authors are inviting the reader to “come along and be creative with me.” There is an assumption that all people, being made in God’s image, are creative. No one can claim “Well, I’m just not a creative person.” Isn’t being creative part of stewardship of creation and redeeming a fallen earth? When my husband enjoys creating a formula that improves his work as an engineer, I believe that satisfaction demonstrates the pleasure of creativity in his labor. That is a blessing from God. We work by the sweat of our brow, but there are opportunities to find joy when we seek to create beauty out of chaos.
Reading this book has encouraged me to keep working at my writing (even when it feels like work instead of bursts of inspiration) and to try new things, like growing a container flower garden. All of these endeavors, as humble offerings, bring glory to God as well as pleasure to my soul and the souls of others.
Final Thoughts on Adorning the Dark
We both think that part of what sets this book apart from other, similar titles is its emphasis on community in relation to the arts. Following our callings as creative people made in the image of God reaches fuller expression when it is in the company of like-minded believers and for the sake of the Lord and his kingdom.
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Want to Buy Your Own Copy of Adorning the Dark and “Join” our Discussion?
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*Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making by Andrew Peterson. B&H Books, 2019.
*indicates a starred review
Purchase from Amazon, from Bookshop, or from Rabbit Room (Silver Key and Golden Key Fellowship members: don’t forget you get a discount at Rabbit Room! Check your membership benefits pages for details. As of this writing, the book is cheaper there, too.)
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