Seeking God in Creativity and Writing with Andrew Peterson

My hope is that the principles I cover in “Adorning the Dark” can be helpful no matter what field you’re in.

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One of my soapboxes in the book is that everyone’s creative. Everyone. And my hope is that the principles I cover in “Adorning the Dark” can be helpful no matter what field you’re in.

B&H Publishing spoke with singer/songwriter Andrew Peterson about his book Adorning the Dark! Here is what Andrew had to say about his book and creativity:

What prompted you to write Adorning the Dark?

In the beginning, it was a writing discipline. I was in the thick of a new album at the time, and wondered if it might be helpful to journal about the process, in real-time, to get the juices flowing. It wasn’t long before I wondered if other people might find it helpful, too. One thing led to another, and I realized I had a book’s worth of thoughts and opinions. (This will come as no surprise to those who know me and have suffered my rants.)

For whom did you write this book? Can those who don’t work in the arts and may not consider themselves a creative person use this?

This isn’t a technical “this is how you write a song” kind of book. There are plenty of those, and I don’t happen to think they do much good. I wanted to write something that would be helpful to all manner of disciplines: songwriters, novelists, poets, painters and pastors—but also parents and teachers and accountants and carpenters. One of my soapboxes in the book is that everyone’s creative. Everyone. And my hope is that the principles I cover in Adorning the Dark can be helpful no matter what field you’re in.

What is the one thing you have learned about creativity and the Christian life in your 20 years as a singer/songwriter that you wish you could go back and tell your younger self?

The first thing I’d say is this: “Success (or failure) isn’t going to change anything about who you are in Christ. Relax. Be led by the Spirit, not your ambition.” The second thing I’d say is this: “Don’t be so hard on yourself.” (These two things are closely related.)

How does our calling as Christians intersect and inform the “great mystery of creativity”? 

When we take seriously the fact that as humans, we’re bearers of God’s image, and as Christians, we’re also bearers of the Holy Spirit, we remember that we’re well-equipped to speak beauty into ugliness, order into chaos, light into darkness, love into lovelessness. That’s true no matter what our specific calling is. As we move through time, we’re contributing to the story of creation whether we like it or not. It just happens, no matter who you are. But Christ’s love enables us and calls us to do more than just create. It enables us, by his power, to redeem. We’re invited into partnership with the Great Redeemer to tell a better story, to take the broken bits and fashion them into something better, truer, more beautiful—and by doing so, to bring healing to the world and glory to God. 

You’ve written fiction novels before, but this is your first non-fiction book. How was this writing process and journey different for you?  

With fiction, of course, there’s a beginning, a middle and an end. Figuring out how to give direction to all these thoughts about the process, along with memoir-type parts, my story was more difficult to get my head around. I hope it worked. (If it didn’t, please send a notarized letter to my editor.) But even if just one chapter is helpful to someone, I’ll be happy. That’s the main thing. I want this book to be useful. Fiction isn’t useful, strictly speaking, which is part of why I love it so much. 

What do you hope readers glean from reading Adorning the Dark?

I hope they’re encouraged, literally. I hope it gives them courage to make the song, poem, painting, sermon or story—whatever—that the Enemy doesn’t want them to make. I want them to fight back at the darkness by filling it with stars.


The following is excerpted from Adorning the Dark by Andrew Peterson. Copyright 2019, B&H Publishing Group.

I recently had a good, long phone conversation with a singer-songwriter about that grand old subject, Getting Started in the Music Business. He’s recorded an album but hasn’t yet taken the leap into full-time music and was asking me for some advice on the matter.

The problem is, I don’t know what kind of practical career advice to give, because what worked in my case might not (and probably won’t) work for you. I loved a pretty girl in college. I also loved to make music. I was freaking out because I thought I had to choose between her and the songs, until late one night my old friend Adam said, “If God wants you to play music, dummy, you’ll play music whether you’re married or not.” So I married the girl.

You don’t need a record contract to serve God with your gifts. You don’t need to move to Nashville. You just need to stay where you are, play wherever you can, and keep your eyes peeled. You never know what might happen. One of the most fortuitous meetings in my life (my old buddy Gabe Scott) happened because I said yes to a 3:00 a.m., $40 gig at a junior high all-nighter. Gabe and I have been making music together now for more than twenty years.

But in the end, what did I do? I moved to Nashville. I got a record contract. It wasn’t because I was some wildly successful indie bard, but because one guy heard my songs and believed in them enough to let me open for his band. What on earth do I know? The doors open. Walk through them.

Set fire to your expectations, your rights, and even your dreams. When all that is gone, it will be clear that the only thing you ever really had was this wild and Holy Spirit that whirls about inside you, urging you to follow where his wind blows.

Andrew Peterson in Adorning the Dark

The best thing you can do is to keep your nose to the grindstone, to remember that it takes a lot of work to hone your gift into something useful and that you have to learn to enjoy the work—especially the parts you don’t enjoy. Maybe that’s the answer to a successful career. But I know far too many hard-working, gifted singer-songwriters or authors who work their fingers to the bone and still have to moonlight at a restaurant to make ends meet. Every waiter in Nashville has a demo in their back pocket, just in case. Me, I waited tables at the Olive Garden for three months before suddenly finding myself on a tour bus wondering how in the world that happened.

So do you wait tables? Sure. Do you make the demo CD? Maybe, but don’t bother carrying it around. Do you work hard at your craft? Definitely. Do you move? Quit your day job? Marry the girl? Borrow start-up funds? Sign the deal?

Here’s what I know in a nutshell: Seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness and all these things will be added unto you. Early on, I didn’t always seek God’s kingdom first, and Lord knows his righteousness was only on my mind for a minute or two a day max (I think I’m up to three, maybe four minutes now). That simple Scripture draws into sharp focus the only thing that will satisfy us in our desperate seeking for what it is that we think we want. We may want something harmless, but if it’s out of place, if it comes before the right thing, then what’s benign becomes malignant. We want the wrong thing.

So boil it all down. Chop off the fat. Get rid of the pet lizard, because you can’t afford to feed it anyway. Wrench your heart away from all the things you think you need for your supposed financial security, your social status. Set fire to your expectations, your rights, and even your dreams. When all that is gone, it will be clear that the only thing you ever really had was this wild and Holy Spirit that whirls about inside you, urging you to follow where his wind blows.

Andrew Peterson is an award-winning singer-songwriter and author. His albums include Ressurection Letters, Vol. 1, The Burning Edge of Dawn, and Behold the Lamb of God.

In 2008, driven by a desire to cultivate a strong Christian arts community, Andrew founded a ministry called The Rabbit Room, which led to a yearly conference, countless concerts and symposiums, and Rabbit Room Press, which has published thirty books to date.

He’s been married for 24 years to his wife Jamie and has three children. His eldest is an animation student at Lipscomb University, his second son is a touring drummer and record producer, and his daughter recently released her first album. In his spare time, Andrew keeps bees, builds dry stack stone walls, gardens, draws, and sleeps.

While there are many books about writing, none deal first-hand with the intersection of songwriting, storytelling, and vocation, along with nuts-and-bolts exploration of the great mystery of creativity. In Adorning the Dark, Andrew Peterson describes six principles for the writing life.

This book is both a memoir of Andrew’s journey and a handbook for artists, written in the hope that his story will provide encouragement to others stumbling along in pursuit of a calling to adorn the dark with the light of Christ.