There is a thing that happens, after a good sermon (“good” meaning you managed to get out of God’s way): people come up to you and tell you something that they heard or felt that you have no idea you said, and that you are quite sure you had very little to do with.
I am having that feeling now, after “leading” the Pilgrim UCC women’s retreat. (“Leading” meaning I managed to get out of God’s way.) We spoke with and heard each other … prayed and listened for God’s voice … laughed and cried and danced and made art out of the very fabric of our lives.
Mary Oliver has a phrase I love: “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”
We were all paying attention: to the small voices speaking in our hearts, to each other, to the world around us, to the lives we left at home, to our dreams, to God. I am sure I was not the only one who was full of astonishment at the depth and range and creativity and passion among us. We told each other about it.
And that’s enough; what was said there needs to stay there.
* * *
What I can say is what is mine to say. That it was a joy to be of use. That it was an amazing grace to see a paper outline turn into a weekend of exploration, companionship, incarnate prayer. That the Artist God I try to follow is not through with me.
In the last couple of weeks of preparation, I was accompanied by an entry in Daily Afflictions, a book I am reading slowly. I was tempted (inspired?), but chose not to include it in the retreat. You might like it, though. I do.
LIVING AS A WORK OF ART
The stupid believe that to be truthful is easy; only the artist, the great artist, knows how difficult it is. — Willa Cather
Many of us imagine living as a work of art, but few consider the difficulties. First, you must dig down deep to where your inner artist lies trapped in a spirit-crushing day job. Having unearthed your unruly visions, you must then be willing to suffer for them. You must consent to be a rough draft much of the time. You must be prepared to destroy yourself in order to create yourself anew. You must revel in the hardness of your hammer, showing no pity to the forsaken shards littering the drop-cloth of your life. Finally, having offered yourself up as the willing clay of your own imagination, you must note with some chagrin, that your inner artist is a drunken, moody son-of-a-bitch.
I am a difficult canvas.
* * *
As part of our weekend, we created representations of how we are experiencing God right now. I was mostly being present to other people in that time of creation; but I did take some time to go walkabout outside, with my camera rather than my usual pen and paper.
I’d love to show you the little movie I made about how I am experiencing God; alas, technical difficulties rear their ugly heads. I will tell you the happy ending, though.
It came toward the end of my walk; after sitting on the windy point, watching the waves rolling and tumbling in, I turned back toward Lantana Lodge and the women gathered there. And then a fluttering white flag in the grass caught my eye. A wispy feather … bringing Hildegard von Bingen’s words to mind: “I am a feather on the breath of God.”
My experience of God is something that takes both of us to create. There is the earth … and there is the little feather of me clinging to it, and the breath of God blowing on me, setting me a-tremble, sometimes gently, sometimes turbulently, always relentlessly.
As I worked on my little movie, and reflected on the weekend from the perspective of Monday’s morning pages, a simple realization crystallized. It’s not only pastoring, preaching, teaching and ministry that I miss: it’s the way those works deepen my reliance on and connection with God.
The restlessness, tension, longing … all these are simply the way it feels to live simultaneously tethered to God’s earth, tugged aloft by God’s wind. I know no other way.