This past weekend was a game-changer.
At the end of a pretty bumpy road just outside of Cle Elum sits a place called Chalet Talley, and there I spent a couple of days in the company of dear friends I’d never met before. It began with a ninety minute ride from Seattle with a beautiful poet of a man. We talked of Milosz, Rilke, metaphor, Christ, translation, language, and the surprising ease of the conversation. We eased into Chalet Talley, not sure what the weekend would bring, but heartened by the blessing already given, and by the beauty of the setting.
Host Jack, a falstaffian sort of man exuding hospitality, wit, and quiet wisdom, greeted us from an open window, shouting, “I’m the cook!” Soon we found ourselves amidst a near-dozen band of artists, mystics, and fools, all of us gathered for a weekend of long, thoughtful conversation about the life and work of faith in Christ as it relates to the processes of making beauty, making art, and making life. There was no agenda, no set of exercises to work through, no pre-conceived notion of what might happen. We had not been informed of who else would be there; we’d simply been invited to come to the conversation. And to top it off, Chalet Talley’s beauty was not only in the charming architecture of a Swiss chalet in the Cascade mountains, but inside there were relief carvings commissioned by the owner, deeply cut renderings of biblical scenes, and they hovered over us, and as we talked, we were constantly reminded of the cloud of witnesses watching.
So we talked.
How do you describe the healing power of being in the presence of those who understand? Shared experience and thought-life created quick connection, and the burdens of living with the inescapable ambiguities that we artists try to hold up and honor in a religious world that largely demands clarity and easy answers…lifted. Musicians, writers, photographers, actors, directors…we read poetry, spoke of the Incarnation and sat in quiet wonder about the entry of God into the world, and what it meant for us as we try to emulate that coming. We wondered how to tease depth out of this swift, shallow culture, wondering about our role in the marketplace. We marveled together at God’s work in the world, at His refusal to wait for His church to speak truth into the culture, using whatever artist or clown He could find to get the word of His love out there. We shared our work, spoke of next projects, wept at failures and disappointment, collectively pushing back against the darkness that always threatens to steal into us.
We ate together, shared wine and bread and laughter, and the bounty was more than any of us deserved, a felt reality, a picture of grace and joy, a picture of the great banquet of God that awaits those who love and follow Him. With eleven men ranging in age from early 20’s to mid 60’s gathered around an absolutely gorgeous table, simply decorated with fall foliage, some of it gathered from a neighbor’s tree (with the neighbor’s permission, of course…spectacular yellow), the conversation was by turns quiet, raucous, funny, intense…even sad. Resonance abounded.
A community of love is one thing. A community of love where people resonate with each other is another.
I learned a lot about what it means to create space for such conversation and relationship. Yes, I’ve been around the block enough to know the dynamic of the mountaintop retreat and the subsequent fade of luster as post-retreat life begins again. But I couldn’t help but walk away thinking about how to replicate such space for folks like me more often. So many of my friends struggle to find companionship that resonates. Resonant space, resonate hospitality, resonant beauty.
The other big message I got was simply this: stop whining, be a professional, do the work, show up, push back the dark, get into the marketplace, let my voice be heard, be obedient, trust God, serve the work, tell the truth, let the work heal as God uses it. Results are not up to me, but the effort of creation belongs to us, animated by God and the One who made all things, and who energizes our making as well.
Thanks to Dick Staub, Nigel Goodwin, and Jeff Johnson for Kindling’s Hearth. As far as I’m concerned, mission accomplished. Re-kindled, flame on.
Nothing but grateful, and ready to work…