I've been using this pattern of the liturgy to explain my time at the Retreat for Ministers to Artists. The structure made this feel doable. Maybe that's why I feel passionate about an intentional liturgy in corporate worship, also. It offers a container to hold larger-than-life truths about God and the world and us and the future -- a way to enter in and interact with the ageless epic. Likewise, I needed a container to offer words for this retreat. Even so, I've become paralyzed telling the meat of the story. Life is full of disappointment and struggle and lovelessness and sometimes it just hurts to spend time in hopefulness, you know?
Having structured this in a liturgical framework leaves me unwilling to not finish the tale. It's calling at me every time I turn around. I can't write it perfectly or even recall it perfectly, but here's something, at least.
Luci Shaw shared a talk titled, "Thumb Prints on the Clay". Pretty apt title for this group of artists, I'd say. She is a feisty, intelligent, approachable woman and I pretty much want to be just like her when I grow up. I wouldn't mind the shelf full of books with my name in the author's slot, either. We'll see about that.
I would say that one way Luci (do I reference her by her first name or Mrs. Shaw? Ms. Shaw? Dilemma...) most influences me is that she talks the way she writes. There is a conviction about the wonder of words and ideas that comes through her and makes me trust her as a wise woman. I've been around people in my lifetime who think great thoughts and meditate on beautiful truths, but for some reason, lose nerve when they talk, insisting on the safety of populist lingo and worn-out idioms. Sometimes, I am that person. This is not to say that Mrs. Shaw (I'll just rotate through the options here) doesn't exude a certain kind of tongue-in-cheek, everywoman quality. It's a nuance she handles masterfully -- not unlike the same quality Eugene Peterson displays when he speaks.
For example, one of my favorite statements from the entire weekend was this: (in response to meeting a retreat participant from New Zealand) "I've been to New Zealand and I've bungee jumped." [insert perfectly timed comedic beat] "...and got a senior discount." Luci Shaw is a rock star.
Her talk wove concrete calls to action among pleasantly spoken paragraphs of artistic and theological beauty. Amid poetic descriptions of spirals, circles, fractal patterns and "bubbles of air trapped in a frozen mud puddle" she dropped toward us slanted hints of the discipline of paying attention. The apostle John cries Look! and Behold!; Luci Shaw uses descriptions such as, swirls of smoke rising from a snuffed candle, obedient to invisible drafts of air, to remind us that Christian spirituality demands that we stop and pay attention to the thisness of things.
While telling everyday stories of her friendship with Madeleine L'Engle, Luci taught us her thoughts about the "forensics of discernment." While my mind was still reeling at the sheer genius of that phrase, she was schooling the room of whippersnappers in the importance of discernment groups, doubting faithfully, seeking spiritual direction, joining writer's groups (or medium-specific fellowships), and nurturing creative friendships. All the while confessing her own search for discernment with admissions like: (of her writers' group) "We tear each other's work apart -- it's sort of the slash and burn effect." Forensics, indeed.
Upon conclusion of her talk, David Taylor remarked, "I love that we had to travel with you the whole distance to 'get it'!" And a lovely journey it was. She may have told the truth slant -- and inside out, at times -- but we heard her loud and clear. I can already see where I'm failing the assignments she handed out like a twinkle-eyed school marm. She'll probably never know me by name, but I sure don't want to let this woman down!
After the talk, we broke into small groups to discuss. The combination of both reminded me that I want to leave my mark as an artist and as a mentor to artists. From the words I heard this particular morning at Laity Lodge, the disciplines are much the same: writing as imprint/mentoring as imprint, paying attention by writing/ paying attention by mentoring. So, hold me to it, dear creative tribe! Like my friend, Laurel, recently reminded me when she emailed and gently asked when I might be writing again? After all, I want my thumb print to be unmistakably marked in this world, don't you?
[I'll be back soon with part two of this post, David's talk titled "Mentoring as Naming". Writing it will likely be somewhat akin to scooping out my heart with a butter knife and scraping it across the page, but I'll do it anyway. And, if you don't see it here soon, you have my permission to hold me to it!]