Offering a guest room to an artist-musician leads to an awakening of life, beauty and wonder.
Now that we are empty-nesters, my husband Steve and I have two bedrooms in the house that lay quietly waiting for the next guest. This year with all of the restrictions on traveling, these two rooms have been especially silent. So, when we heard that our friend and fellow musician and songwriter Matthew Clark was not able to schedule his normal gig of an annual tour of concerts and instead planned to settle in somewhere and work on writing a new album, we volunteered one of our rooms to him. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.
Before you think that we had some kind of difficult confrontation, or that I’m about to complain about being stretched to the limits of my hospitality, I should be clear that what we had no idea about was the kind of rich feast this invitation would turn out to be for us. Somehow in the course of the six weeks that Matthew spent in our home we were changed. I’m not even sure how it happened. Was it the delight of hearing soft notes from his guitar wafting from the basement as he worked on the next song? Was it the mornings begun in the kitchen with a steaming mug of coffee, making our own version of an English breakfast of fried mushrooms and tomatoes, eggs, toast, and homemade apple butter? Maybe it was the long talks after dinner, Steve putting another log on the fire while Matthew shared some deep insight gained from the book he had read that day. Possibly it was standing beside Matthew in the kitchen learning to cook his favorite recipe for Indian curry. Or perhaps it was the time we were driving through a mountain pass and heard Aslan (or rather the voice of Patrick Stewart on Audible) say, “Further up, and further in!”
We had never spent more than a day with him before this experience. Steve and I had decided at one of his house concerts about a year ago that we wanted to join his team of patrons. These are the folks who send a small contribution each month to keep him going, and it was our first time to do this for anyone. The whole experience of welcoming someone into our home and our lives was new to us and it prompted us to ask questions of ourselves.
What does it mean to be a patron of an artist? How can we understand the process enough to offer any real encouragement? Don’t we need to just let artists keep to themselves so they have space to be brilliant and inventive?
What I do know is that in these six weeks at our home Matthew composed 17 new songs and has rewritten, tweaked, and polished enough others to create not one album, but a trilogy of three albums. He now has a total of 33 songs centred around the theme of encountering Jesus face to face. Steve and I don’t write music (at least not yet) and to think that this kind of creativity was going on in our basement was incredible and a wonder to behold. Our composer-in-residence gave us a few sneak peeks as he worked, and he even let me collaborate with finding just the right chords for one song when he felt stuck in the process. Once we were inspired to decorate the backyard with twinkly lights and set out a table of wine and cheese to accompany a small outdoor concert for friends. We did this again on his last night with us as we hosted a small audience to hear him play through his first album in our living room. What a joy it was for us to hear in the space of one evening the stories behind his creations and to share it with friends. And what a wonder to realize that the inception of these came from within the very walls we were now enjoying it in. It was like watching a newborn child coming into the world for the first time.
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship… For as one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” Romans 12:1, 4, ESV
The word patron comes from the Latin patronus meaning “one who protects, supports, or encourages.” This really doesn’t have to be a difficult or grand thing. Perhaps it is the very time when we feel that we have little to offer another person that we come face to face with the fact that the only real thing we have to give is ourselves. Love in its simplest form is honestly, the most beautiful gift we can give another. A smile and a pat on the back. Saying “goodnight” before heading to bed and “good morning” at the beginning of the next day. Listening carefully while someone tries to explain an idea that is just taking shape in their mind. All of these things can be a cool glass of water to a weary and thirsty soul, a touch of the breath of the Holy Spirit, the voice of the Father calling one of us His very own beloved. It is in the face of another person that we see who we really are, and it’s then that we can see the face of God looking back at us. (I learned this from Matthew!) Even the great teacher Saint Paul, who produced books full of encouragement, wrote a letter to a friend to say that he longed to see him, “that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you — that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” (Romans 1:11-12, ESV) Our smallest gift may be what is most needed, simply that of our presence. This has been a challenging thing for me to learn, having grown up in a culture where acceptance is earned by performance, where doing is valued before being. But this became clear to me in my daily interaction with Matthew — he’s got a way of being the hands and feet of the Holy Spirit just by standing in the room with you. The awareness of this simple gift is perhaps what has really changed me and is giving me a sense of the wondrous possibilities that our empty-nesting stage of life might offer.
Haydn, Brahms and Tchaikovsky would never have written symphonies without the patronage of their supporters, some of whom were anonymous. J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion would not exist today had not the church commissioned his work and paid the musicians who performed it. How many great works of beautiful art adorn the walls of churches, from small chapels to great cathedrals, because there was a person who decided to “protect, support, or encourage” some artist to create the actual work of art? The process that Matthew will go through to produce his trilogy of albums will take thousands of hours of recording, editing, mixing, and producing the music, all requiring tens of thousands of dollars to achieve the final product. We were privileged to give a small offering to help him along the way and we know that the end result will be a beautiful, enduring work that will build up the body of Christ. What an honor! And besides, I learned how to cook Indian Curry.
I believe that Matthew Clark, like so many artists, has been given a mandate by God to create. He is like the voice of one crying in the wilderness. He and his fellow artists are saying, “Make a straight highway for our God! The Lord wants to get the attention of the people of this generation, there are truths that He wants them to hear.” (John 1:23, paraphrased.) We have the opportunity, and the great blessing, to sweep the pavement of the highway just a little bit, to move a few rocks out of the way, and to offer a cup of cool water to these creative, gifted workmen. Our offering, though small to us, can make all the difference to someone. What I did not know was how much of a difference it would make to me here in my humble home in the middle of a pandemic. The day Matthew drove away in his van headed back to his home we prayed, and we cried. We will surely miss his presence, his face, and can say with Paul, “I long to see you….that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” And what a wonder that is.
All of the images here are courtesy of Steve Moon and used with his generous permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project.
Terri Moon is a musician and a lover of Jesus. She delights in playing the music of Bach, growing English roses, baking up a good batch of scones, and all kinds of good, true, and beautiful things that point to Him. As a classically trained violinist, she has performed and taught students of all ages for over 40 years. She serves on the leadership team of the Anselm Society, and is still pursuing her lifelong passion of the intersection of music, worship, and spiritual formation. Terri’s dream is to bring to life the beauty of the Church’s heritage in the arts and is currently leading a church choir and attempting to learn to play the piano. She lives in Colorado Springs with her husband Steve and their dog, Chesterton.