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Artist Interview

Audrey Assad Speaks to the Heart

By Hannah Goodwyn Senior Producer
Converting to Catholicism from Protestantism five years ago, singer/songwriter Audrey Assad has experienced the Church from different angles. Her varied faith background compels her to build bridges between denominations, but it’s her love for God that shines through her music, a fact all too evident on her sophomore album, Heart.

Recently, Audrey Assad spoke with us about her songwriting inspirations, her decision to change churches and what to expect from her new record.

You’ve said that most of your inspiration comes from reading. What were you reading when you were writing Heart?

When I was writing the album, I started reading Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI. I always read C.S. Lewis quite a bit; and so I’m sure I was working through one of his. I repeat-read The Great Divorce several times in the last couple of years; so I’m sure that’s in there.

Why do you read so many C.S. Lewis books?

As a Catholic who used to be Protestant, C.S. Lewis seems to me like a great meeting ground of the two. So when I’m thinking about matters of faith and trying to communicate them from what’s going on in my heart, C.S. Lewis is a go-to for me. He seems to articulate things that I can’t. He says things in a way that both Catholics and Protestants understand. So that’s helpful for me. It’s my two sides; they find their home in C.S. Lewis somehow. So I love him. He’s really great.

What in the Catholic Church appealed to you?

Honestly, the reasons changed over the years. When I was a really young child, it appealed to me from an aesthetic perspective. I always found it really beautiful-looking and sounding and smelling, all the different rituals and aesthetics of the churches and architecture.

Then, as I got older and started reading a lot of theology and exploring the faith of Christianity, I found myself enamored with the oldness more than anything. I just couldn’t believe how the long their history was.

I look at it as I felt I was building on the foundation I had. I didn’t feel like I was rejecting much, more so coming into the fullness of what I had grown up believing. I’ve felt that it just expanded what I already had been given because my church gave me a lot of good gifts, and the gift of loving the Word of God and studying it.

Many of your songs are written in a way that you’re singing to God instead of about Him. Is that intentional?

It’s more natural for me to speak to God than about God. Even just in my normal life, I do talk about God in my normal life, but I don’t feel like I’m a preacher. It’s not my gift. I’ve never been someone who’s ever been very gifted at getting up and talking about God to people. And so I think it’s just natural for me to sing that, like, the way that I talk, which is not in any kind of sermon way.

When I do talk about faith, it’s usually through the context of prayer and turning to God or hearing from Him. But I will say on this new album, I think there are some exceptions to that. So it’s been something I’ve been trying to stretch myself a little bit to be a little bit more diverse in how I write about it. But it’s not my natural tendency.

What are you saying through your new songs?

One of my favorites is "Lament". It starts out by saying, “I’m Mary and I’m Martha all at the same time.” I sit at the feet of God like Mary did. She was being like a disciple of a rabbi. Martha was serving and bustling around and making sure things were arranged. I feel like I am those two things, like I can’t usually find a way to be one or the other. I feel like I’m always both.

It’s like a mild source of frustration, because I have a hard time disconnected from the things that have to be done in service of God or in service of other people in order to just take time to be silent and still just focused on just being with God the way that married people are supposed to do, too. Like sometimes you’ve got to take a break from the job of being married and just be in the sacrament together for a minute and be with each other, and I feel like that’s something I struggle with. So I talk about that in "Lament".

It ends with this big, wild chorus, and I’m singing, “How long until I’m home? I’m so tired of running. How long till you come for me? I look forward to the day when I won’t battle that anymore, and I can just be free of time as long as there’s time.” My best labor, my hardest labor, my best work will be just to be with God. I look forward to that day quite a bit.

The first single, "Sparrow", is a favorite of yours, one you remember watching in the movie, Sister Act 2, correct?

Yeah, I remember watching that with my friends when I was 10, I think, and hearing it and loving it, but also thinking I could probably never sing that song because it’s so hard the way Lauren Hill sings it, that gospel style. I wish, I wish I could do it.

How did you reconfigure it to work for Heart?

Writing with someone named Kyle Lee, and we had never met until that day; but I had the idea earlier that morning. Well, I didn’t really want to rewrite the lyrics. I think they just need to be rearranged, to shift to fit a new melody. I tried to write something where the melody moved quite a bit, and like a bird, if you will, up and down. I was sort of like trying to write something with a lot of emotion that just felt like really charming and sweet; and I feel like we did. I was immediately charmed by the song when we wrote it, and I’ve been singing it ever since at every show.

"Blessed are the Ones" is a new song you wrote with singer Derek Webb and his wife, Sandra, about marriage. What’s the story behind that one?

I was engaged to my husband at the time. And I wanted to write with Derek and Sandra; and I’ve always loved the work they’ve done together on their little EPs that they put out. I felt like I wanted to write a song about what I thought about was coming with marriage. I felt like writing it with a married couple would be a really good idea because they’ve actually been through some of that. They have kids, and they’ve got a few years under their belt. I think they’ve been married for like seven or eight years now. So we just started talking about what my ideas were about the seasons of marriage that I was predicting and then hearing their experience and just going from there.

You’ve said there is “joy and suffering in marriage, but they’re balanced against each other as an optimism and a realism.” What do you mean?

I guess we both come from broken families, my husband and I. So there’s no shortage of realism in my heart about what I know can happen because I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it disintegrate in front of my face.

But I wouldn’t have gotten married if I didn’t believe it could be done, and, honestly. So I feel like of in a dual sense of knowing and expecting challenges, really anticipating really hard things coming our way, and also believing that there is a way. I believe that way through trusting God and letting God work. It’s not as simple as that, but that’s ultimately what will get you through to the end. We want to do that. We have our eyes set on the prize of “marriage until we die.” So we’re optimistic and hopeful in the Lord, and also we are realistic about the trials that we could encounter.

News of your husband’s health came to light last year. How is doing?

Very well at the moment. He’s still undergoing chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. But it’s been working really well, and he’ll be done in four months. Then there’ll just be yearly scans after that. But, yeah, he’s been doing chemo for four months, I guess. Bu he’s doing really well; hanging in there.

You mentioned your conversion to Catholicism earlier. Do you see shattering misconceptions about Catholics as part of your ministry?

It could be phrased that way. The way I look at it is that I absolutely believe part of my mission in life, whether it’s as a musician or not. I feel that bridge-building is my mission. Some people are evangelists, and some people are preachers, and some people are other things. I’ve been built and called to build bridges between all branches of the church, but particularly the ones that I’ve been part of, which is Protestant and Catholic; and that is really mostly done through relationships.

It’s a really amazing thing because my parent’s generation saw a very different reality when it comes to relations between Protestants and Catholics.

Your start in Christian music is connected to CCM singer Matt Maher. How did that happen?

He was always the one who best quote, unquote, “discovered me” in some ways. We met [when] I was a full-time nanny. I had just made a little EP, but I’d never toured or anything really. I’d played some shows with some friends in other bands, but I’d never really gone on the road. We met because a friend of ours was a mutual friend was, like, “Hey, you’re Catholic; she’s Catholic. You guys should talk.” And we did; and he took me on the road in 2008 for nine months and broke me into the road lifestyle. So I’ve learned a lot. He is exceptional, an exceptional human being.

You’ve said that Pope Benedict “will not water down the message of Christ for the sake of seeker friendliness.” What are you seeing in the church that you’re apprehensive about?

When I said that about Pope Benedict, I was really talking about how he addresses church issues.

I try to be hospitable in my language to people who don’t believe what I do, because that’s how I talk. Again, it’s how I relate in real life to people who don’t believe what I do. I am definitely not your street corner preacher who shouts Christian things at people. I don’t want to do that. But I do think it’s good to be honest and to be really transparent and to be really who I am. I don’t like to hide anything like that.

I think there’s a time for seeker friendliness; it’s usually not when you’re directing issues of theology or deep things like the Trinity. You can’t talk about that in a way that isn’t strange. It is strange, the idea of a three-person God. So I look at Pope Benedict’s job and my job a little differently. But at the same time I try to be really transparent and honest about what I believe.

Hannah GoodwynHannah Goodwyn serves as the Family and Entertainment producer for For more articles, visit Hannah's bio page.

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