Book review: Adorning the Dark by Andrew Peterson

Christianity and creativity can have a fairly complex and conflicted relationship. On the one hand there is the sheer volume of creative output offered by contemporary Christian media, ranging across genres and often myopically commercial and now-centred. On the other side of the story is a meaningful non-mainstream community of artists and poets, songwriters and sign writers, dramatists and musicians, the quality of whose work is often belied by their absence of exposure and audible voice.

Andrew Peterson, along with his brother Pete and a host of other friends, has been in the vanguard of valuing and championing Christian art which speaks with its own accent; which is honest and contoured by the harder edges of lived experience; which refuses the easy formula or the given template. A book by Andrew on the theme of creativity is then, by consequence of these things and a host of others, a major event.

Adorning the Dark describes itself as a ‘barrage of thoughts and anecdotes’. This it is, but it is also so much more. With its blend of reflection on the author’s own experiences (positive and negative), interrogation of what creativity is, and its insistence on a Christ-preoccupied, humanly authentic approach to making, it serves as a quietly spoken manifesto for how Christian creativity ought to be pursued and realised. Peterson is self- effacing and disarmingly honest, but he also profoundly understands what he is writing about. His love for the Lord, for song, for words, for community, for the universal creativity manifested by all of us as God’s image bearers, carries both the narrative and didactic sections of the text, showing the need for discernment and quality alongside a well-tempered humility.

The prose is relaxed, but without a single redundancy, and beautiful without anything florid – exemplifying the kind of earthed and earnest style which commends creativity without showboating or clamour. Some of the descriptions of music making took me back to the rhythms and idiom of Mezz Mezrow’s Really the Blues, where the cadence of the writing almost gives voice to the music of the song described. That’s a rare and wonderful thing.

As a poet, I found myself deeply moved by this book. It is all to easy to undervalue the sheer theology of creative work, and its capacity to ‘call forth praise from lonesome travellers long after your name is forgotten’. I found myself reduced to tears a few times (once or twice on public transport in London!) by the weight of glory that undergirds giving back what God has granted by way of gift, to our Saviour and our neighbour. I found myself rebuked for ever feeling tempted, in those seasons of self doubt and uncertainty that plague us all, to abandon the calling of writing and reflecting poetically.

Christian creativity is work, it is worship, it is warfare. Andrew Peterson has served his Saviour, the church, and the wider world well by declaring his hand and opening his heart about how we can make for the glory of the Saviour, and the good of our neighbour.

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