She was twenty when I first saw her, old enough to look up to but not so old I couldn’t relate. I walked into the youth room of Highland Park Baptist Church late that night so the program had already started. Michigan winters didn’t lend themselves to much inspiration, so when I saw her sitting up front leaning against a stool, her deep-set, mysterious eyes holding more stories than she ought to know at so young an age, I knew something was about to happen. Her generosity was palpable. She picked up her guitar, her small frame nearly disappearing behind it.

And she began to sing.

Her lyrics dripped heavy with questions and faith and love and longing. She didn’t just sing notes, she sang story.

I came undone.

Listening to Sarah Masen sing that night, the winter before I turned eighteen, I thought it was her voice and her talent that touched me so deeply. I was aware of a mysterious movement within me, but I was unable to define it.

And so, I did what most people do. I believed it was her skill that moved me. That night I wished more than anything to have a talent like hers. I grieved the fact that my singing voice was average, my painting skills didn’t exist, and my dancing was limited to jerky, stiff cheerleading moves.

I had heard talented musicians before. But this time was different. She offered herself honestly and beautifully, sharing something from within her laced with courage and hope. She showed me beauty and woke up a longing in me to take part in it. The beauty she shared was, quite simply, herself. And in sharing herself, she showed me a glimpse of the glory of God.

Decades later, I’m circling around  that winter night in Michigan, realizing what was stirred up in me and knowing it matters. Technicians don’t move us. Artists do. Skill may be impressive and even necessary, but skill alone doesn’t touch the soul. The profound gift Sarah gave me was the recognition that it wasn’t her skill that moved me, it was her art.

Sarah introduced me to a shadow of my true self, touched something in me that was there but sleeping. That’s what artists do. They pull back the covering on our inner life, allowing us to see things beneath the surface, things that, without their compassion, creativity, and generosity, we may have missed.

The song lyric.

The exchange between actors on the screen. The image of Paris in the snow.

The tuning of the strings before the show.

Art coming from honest hands shows us beauty, stirs up longing, and touches us deeply.

But what about this:

The extra care the cashier takes with your order, the way she looks you in the eye, asks how you are, if you need help or a price check, as if her work is important  and she knows it.

The teacher who makes history come alive, telling stories filled with facts and truth and background,  while students learn without even realizing it.

How many times have we been rushing through the day, weary from the world, grieving a loss we didn’t even know we were grieving, and all it takes is for a stranger to offer to carry our bags from the baggage carousel to the curb and we break down as if they offered to buy us a house or bring our loved ones back from the dead?

Cashiers and cellists are capable of making art because they both have the power to influence, to be fully awake to their Maker, and fully aware of his making of them.

I can’t imagine anything more dangerous to the enemy of our hearts than people who know who they are.

Maybe you have in your mind a moment in time when you have been moved by the heart of an artist—you remember a second grade teacher who woke up in you a love for reading, a best friend who supported you in the midst of college drama, a musician who offered himself so fully to his audience that you couldn’t shake the feeling for days after the concert.