From silence to powerful voice: a conversation with Audrey Assad (VIDEO)

Our exclusive interview with Christian music artist Audrey Assad was just as inspiring as her stunning music.

Singer Audrey Assad. Photo courtesy of Audrey Assad

I was on an extended trip to Washington D.C. in 2011, doing volunteer work and visiting loved ones, when I first heard the sound of Audrey Assad’s voice. A good friend recommended her music to me, so I downloaded the album The House You’re Building, stepped onto a city bus, sat down, and pressed play.

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As I sat there contemplating the state of my life, the final track called Show Me came on, touching my soul on such a deep, personal level—perfectly expressing what I was going through—that I suddenly burst into tears in the middle of that crowded bus. So embarrassing! Later the same day, I may have ever-so-slightly rebuked my friend for not warning me that a first listen to this artist should not be attempted while riding on public transportation, but I was grateful for the introduction nonetheless. Audrey Assad has been a regular voice in the soundtrack of my faith journey ever since.

For those outside of Christian music circles, 33-year-old Assad’s debut album (the one I had been listening to on the bus) won the iTunes Christian Breakthrough Album of the Year award in 2010; she is also the daughter of a Syrian refugee, a wife, and a young mother.

She experienced years of repressed emotions, and a string of unhealthy, dysfunctional relationships with men.

All these years later, I finally got to see her in concert—at my home parish, of all places! I was even able to sit down with her before her set, and talk about a theme in her life that so many women can identify with: overcoming powerlessness, and finding our true voice.

If you met Audrey today, you might never guess that at one time in her life, she felt she had no power or voice. She is confident, and freely expresses herself now, but getting to this place has been a long process.

“I was raised in a tradition that viewed womanhood in a very specific way,” she explained of her upbringing in a Plymouth Brethren community in New Jersey, a strict and separatist denomination of the Christian church that has many rules and restrictions on women. “We were brought up to believe that women had no place in spiritual discussion, either at church or in any setting with men. Women couldn’t contribute, or ask questions, or talk, or pray out loud.”

Along with that came the stipulation that Audrey Assad was not permitted to sing in front of the congregation, either.

“Powerlessness is acting in ways where you don’t feel you have any options. But meekness is from a position of power, done with a full assent of the will.”

However, this environment wouldn’t silence her forever. She eventually left that community behind, joined the Catholic Church, and began pursuing a career as a musician. Still, even after she had moved on with her life, her strict upbringing affected her in many ways as a young adult. She experienced years of repressed emotions, and a string of unhealthy, dysfunctional relationships with men. “Even when I sensed that things were not okay, especially if it related to how I was being treated … I could never get the courage together to stand up for myself,” she said.

A similar pattern also unfolded early in her career as a musician. She felt intimidated by men, especially business men in suits. So even if she did not agree with the professional decisions they wanted her to make, she would cave, not finding enough courage to advocate for her own needs and ideas. She was terrified of being the one in charge.

Audrey Assad performing on stage. Photo courtesy of Audrey Assad

Eventually, a good friend noticed a theme in Audrey’s life. This friend pointed out that Audrey was constantly having her voice choked out, and asked if she had ever prayed about this issue.

Audrey replied, “What are you talking about? I’m singing professionally, obviously!”

Her friend clarified by saying, ‘Yes, but I’m talking about the voice under the voice. I just see you wilt and fold in situations where you need to be standing up for yourself.”

This sent Audrey on the emotional path of healing that she is continuing on to this day. So far, she says that one of the most important things she’s learned is what the Christian concept of meekness truly means.

The level of self-care she recommends goes beyond having simple “me time” into a deeper, spiritual self-care that can come in the form of spiritual and emotional nourishment, such as counseling and retreats.

“The teachings of Jesus that talk about ‘turning the other cheek’ are often conflated with powerlessness, when they really refer to meekness—which is not the same thing!” Audrey explained. “Meekness is from a position of power, done with a full assent of the will. Powerlessness is acting in ways where you don’t feel you have any options.”

For Audrey, finding authentic power comes from knowing our options, recognizing our own dignity as ones created in God’s image, and making decisions from that powerful awareness. Whatever life may require of us, whether it is taking a back seat or taking a front seat, whether others recognize what we’re doing or not, we practice living the way Christ showed us, in the power He gives us. “That can look a lot like backing down and being meek, or it can look a lot like challenging the norms,” she said.

Audrey also emphasized how important it is for women to practice self-care, pointing out that many times we lose our power simply by wearing ourselves out, attending to others’ needs and not our own, or simply giving more of ourselves than we invest in ourselves. The level of self-care she recommends goes beyond having simple “me time” into a deeper, spiritual self-care that can come in the form of spiritual and emotional nourishment, such as counseling and retreats, which she often benefits from herself.

She invited the audience to sing and harmonize along with her. She would take the front seat by leading. Then, she would take the back seat as the audience’s voices filled the sanctuary.

By learning the true meaning of meekness, and practicing self-care, Audrey has become an increasingly active agent in the fate of her career and personal relationships. She now produces her own albums on the label Fortunate Fall Records, which she co-owns with her husband. She describes her interior life as one that’s grown from tumultuous and fearful to one of increasing balance and peacefulness as she continues to grow. And I am so grateful, because I can’t imagine my own faith journey without her music along the way.

At the concert that evening, I reveled in her familiar voice as it rang out over the co-ed crowd, amazed at how far she has come from her days of silence in the presence of men. She invited the audience to sing and harmonize along with her. She would take the front seat by leading. Then, she would take the back seat as the audience’s voices filled the sanctuary. And when it was over, she exited the stage as everyone else sang one last a cappella chorus of “Lord, I Need Thee.” There was no big applause from the audience at this point, because it might have seemed like we were applauding ourselves. And with that, she left us with a clear image of what an authentically powerful woman looks like. She is one who knows her own god-given voice, and uses it to help others find theirs.

 

Christina Kleehammer
Christina Kleehammer
Christina Kleehammer is a wife, mother, former television news writer, and author of 'Catholics on Spotlight.'

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