Live with uncertainty and sing about the beauty on the way
From the Catholic Digest archives: A conversation with Audrey Assad
by Susie Lloyd
Audrey Assad is more than a vocalist; she is a voice. Her music expresses a search for God that is at once inspiring and confounding. One moment ethereal and delicate as a butterfly born aloft on a gentle wind, and the next blown about by rushing winds as it struggles to continue on its journey. This is her appeal — an angel’s voice embodied in a fallen nature. An open brokenness. In 2018 Audrey released Evergreen. She spoke to Catholic Digest about her spiritual and artistic journey.
Q You once said, “You don’t have to wait until you are perfectly healed to bless other people.” How does that express you as a worship artist?
A It’s just the truth of everybody who is in ministry. You still need help. You still need growth. You still need healing. I think a lot of scandals come from people not being upfront about their brokenness from the beginning. I’ve never encountered a situation in my whole life where hiding that fact led to anything good. I’m just a big believer in being upfront about the reality of our brokenness. I think it creates health, and healthy people spread health.
You still need help. You still need growth.
Q What is the inspiration for the song “Wounded Healer”?
A The Wounded Healer is the title of a book by Henri J.M. Nouwen. It’s about ministry, actually. I borrowed that concept from him, thinking about why Jesus kept the wounds when he was risen. I think it’s because he wants us to remember that he took on human nature and is fully human and fully God. That is very important in our journey for accepting the love of God. “Wounded Healer” is a song about how he laid down his divine rights to power to model for us what the love of God has always been like. We think Jesus came and showed us a different side of God, but I believe with my whole heart that he came to show us who God has always been.
Q The song has perplexed some people.
A I knew it would. Why were the wounds preserved? We do not want to think about Jesus being wounded, but he just is. He did it on purpose, so let’s think about it. We have this tendency to want to think about God as pristine and not incarnate. It reveals the difficulty we have with ourselves. When Jesus comes to be with us as a man, a person, it reveals the depths to which we actually hate ourselves, our bodies, our flesh, our minds, our emotions. He came and put those on, and we can’t deal with that. We want God to be out there, up there somewhere, and Jesus wasn’t that. He was peeing and breastfeeding as a baby and doing all the things we do. I think there is something in our psyche that makes it very difficult to accept.
Q What else is on your new album?
A I have a new song on my record called “Teresa” that’s inspired by Mother Teresa’s dark night of the soul. I relate so much to her experience of losing all sense of God’s presence as her journals told us later. I’m not like Mother Teresa in many ways, but one of the ways I am like her is that I’m always searching for God and I’m not always finding what feels like God. So she’s been quite a companion on the road for me, and her writings are an inspiration because it can feel very hopeless at times.
Q Do people come up to you at your concerts and confide in you?
A It used to happen more, but I found I couldn’t really bear the weight of that. I’m an introvert. It would wear on my mental health. It was too many people and too many confessions. It activated a kind of social anxiety, partly because I couldn’t do much for them. So I’ve kind of developed a habit of disappearing after I play. I love people, and I actually like those conversations; it’s that I can’t take the volume. What I love most is when I get to connect with one or two people who are working at the event and there’s some calm.
Q Do you think it’s just that people are craving Jesus and you make them feel connected to him?
A I get that. I also struggle not to see it as disordered sometimes when people, including myself, develop a spiritual sense that we can’t have what we are looking for without some person giving us their secrets or whatever. I learn a lot from it, though, and I hope I have compassion for people who come imperfectly to me with their stories, just like I’ve done to other people.
Q Do you set the writings of the saints to music?
A I do sometimes set original texts, but not exactly. There is some arranging involved. I love to set those things to music because hearing them that way makes hearts more receptive to those ideas. There’s so much goodness out there that’s been written by so many people who have been through so many things. I don’t want them to get lost in the current culture.
Q What made you become a Catholic?
A As I look back 10 years later, I realize that it was very imperfect. I was certainly drawn toward the sacraments, the Eucharist in particular. But I
also had a fair amount of legalism — rule-keeping tendencies due to my upbringing in the Plymouth Brethren community but also to an undiagnosed case of OCD [obsessive-compulsive disorder]. I thought the Church was going to tell me exactly what to believe and I [wouldn’t] need to do all this work obsessing over what’s right and wrong.
So while we have a very robust tradition of thought and teaching, and yes, I am able to clarify my viewpoints on a lot of things, the Catholic Church also is not like a code you crack and you are just in and there is no more thinking left to do. It’s not a brainwashing. So I came in with a mixed bag of good and bad motivations. But what was drawing my heart was the sacraments.
Thank goodness, because I was so disillusioned by the humanity of the Church and that there are a lot of things the Church leaves gray. I’m glad now. I really needed to go through that, where I couldn’t know everything, where I couldn’t have certitude about every little detail. The Church facilitated that, and it was great but very uncomfortable.
Q Tell me about your pop band, LEVV. Would you say your pop side is a kind of ministry, too?
A LEVV is a different spelling of the name Leo in Russian. We were very inspired by Leo Tolstoy at one point, and we named the band after him. To be honest, I think it’s kind of a ministry to myself. I’ll be real with you; I needed an outlet. When you’re doing praise and worship, I think you should steer away from it being too much about catharsis. It can get non-pastoral really quickly if you’re just venting your emotions all the time; I try to have a more pastoral mindset because praise music is not just about me. Whereas when I’m making pop music, I can just vent. So it’s more a ministry for myself where I get to have a journal and put it to music.
Q Were you surprised when the television show Timeless picked up your cover of the Pink Floyd song “Wish You Were Here?” I have to admit, that one’s my favorite.
A Yes, that was a surprise because I had recorded it several years ago. I found out it was going to be on the show the afternoon before it happened. I didn’t make any money off it because my old label owns it, but it was a cool moment in my career. I loved making the song. It was such a heartfelt moment for me musically. I love that song.
Q Finally, why the title Evergreen?
A It’s a musical experience of finding signs of life in a place that was very dead for me for quite some years. People are always surprised to find that out because I’ve written worship music all this time and it’s been very sincere and genuine, but it’s been a search. Evergreen is a story of finding little seedlings sprouting up in the forest floor in my heart. Also the title references the tree of life — a sycamore fig tree according to Jewish tradition, which is an evergreen tree. It’s so appropriate because it never loses its leaves. It never dies.