Abbey Chapel at Mount Holyoke College, which is providing me a place for silent meditation this week.
Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/haz-caf/4812193152/
Walking with a companion at Glen East back from this evening's showing of slides of his work by the artist Tim Lowly, I heard her say "my cup brims over". We were both awed by what we had seen, and didn't have many words to express it.
I know that in seeing a large body of his work, much of it with his profoundly disabled daughter Temma as subject, we were led to ponder the image of God in ways that are normally hidden from our view. I was left silent, wondering, and thankful after the presentation. He's presented Temma with great respect and awe of his subject, and both his canvases and his comments let us know how she has opened doors of perception for him and for his wife - a Methodist minister - and for a good number of artists who have collaborated with him and a great many viewers who have seen his work.
Temma is the kind of person who attracts attention out in public. Because of her profound disability she is the sort of person who we look at, and then are tempted to look away. Tim told us a great story about a great moment in his life. He got a phone message from the Temma's day care giver, who had taken Temma in her wheelchair to wander. While in a park, suddenly the caregiver heard a very childish voice call out: "Hi Temma!" Suddenly a gaggle of children ran over to Temma's wheelchair to greet her, which involved putting a hand on Temma's arm, since they know she is blind. He said the moment of exultation for him was in realizing that these little children were able to see in Temma another human being, where many would simply see someone who was odd and made them feel uncomfortable. Tim wants us to see all profoundly disabled persons and showing the image of God. Tonight he did that for me, and with luminous and mysterious beauty.
Earlier in the day, I heard Paul Mariani read poems from his new book Epitaphs for the Journey. Hearing a poet read their work out loud is a gift, and hearing Paul Mariani today was a joyful experience for me.
I'm in a community of people for this week who are gathered at the place where art, faith, and mystery meet. I'm with a community of people who set very high standards for art, and for whom faith and doubt coexist in a mutually beneficial relationship. That's why I came to my second Glen conference.
In our film seminar we are being challenged to ask ourselves what stories we would tell about our world, and on film we are seeing characters play out various kinds of stories. Our first film, Wayne Wang's Smoke, proved to be about what happens when people tell stories that create community and the possibility of redemption and growth. Our second film, The Swimmer, taken from a John Cheever story, was a contrast, because the people in it are acting out of a very different narrative of what it means to be an adult in the world. As Gareth put it, these people seem to him to be "uninitiated into adult emotional life." Today we watched Ridley Scott's The Duellist, with two kinds of narratives in tension throughout the film.
Throughout this experience, we are being encouraged to think about the story we believe about our lives, and how that story is shaping our lives in the present, and whether that story is true. Gareth spoke to us of how The Work has helped him work with his own story line, helping him to disengage from the false stories he's believed; stories which impede his ability to love and to receive love, as his Christian profession would indicate is his path.
When I was in the Centering Prayer Immersion, we learned about how Centering Prayer is a method of putting aside for at least 20 minutes the thoughts, emotions, and ideas that we so often mistake for being our true selves, for better or worse. We make ourselves available to increasingly consent to the story that God tells about us; which is that God loves us and will never leave us.
The film seminar and Gareth's emphasis are a nice follow-up to the experience in Snowmass in this regard. In both contexts, I am being encouraged to internalize the best possible story about who I am.
I see how some things are coming together in my understanding during this sabbatical. I began my sabbatical considering how we tell the story of Jesus' death on the cross as being the source of our salvation. However we tell that story, it needs to be a redemptive story for the world; a story that points beyond the kind of hatred and violence that led to his death to a resurrected life for all of us and for the world God created. Our story of Christ's death needs to raise up before our eyes the stories of those who suffer now, with whom Christ identifies even now, and make it less and less probable that this kind of suffering should be inflicted on others in this world.
There are false stories that human beings believe; stories about ourselves and our lives which lead to death and despair. The story of the cross and resurrection needs to point all to a love which transcends it all, and gathers in the despairing and dying.
In Centering Prayer, I strengthened a practice that is meant to lead my own conversion into a bearer of peace and Good news. In this week at the Glen, I'm being addressed by truly great artists in a way that calls upon me to continue making myself available for conversion into the sort of human being who actually believes and acts on God's love for me and everyone else.
I do believe a lot of false stories about myself and the world. Those false stories can isolate; they militate against community and communion with God. They become destructive.
I thought about that as I read with sadness about what transpired at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Oregon yesterday. There are many issues related to school shootings, but one of them has to be this issue: what kind of story are some young men - and school shooters are young men - being lead to believe? Is there anything we can do to change the story line for them? What in our culture is leading many to believe a story that can see no way out for us all but to be armed to the teeth? What kind of story is believed by those who - like Wayne LaPierre, profess to imagine no greater freedom than to be able to have "all the rifles, shotguns, and handguns we want." Tell that to the church-going Mormon parents of the young Mormon man who took an AR15 and a semiautomatic pistol into Reynolds High School yesterday, and will never come home to them again! Tell that to the parents and friends of Emilio Hoffman! On the other hand, never mind. Let's not inflict more suffering on them!
There's one story to be grasped and received and internalized. That's the story of God's love for all; a love that is indefatigable, not to be turned aside. I have to do that work of believing that story and being transformed by it. I'm the only one that can really help myself believe that story and act from it.
The artists with whom I am consorting this week are those who believe that their art should help us all be more truly human; more truly who we are in God's eyes. They do their work with honesty, bluntness, great technical skill and rigor. I'm thankful to be among them.