Today I read a story about a man, who after years of commercial writing failure, had an opportunity to ask his favorite author for some advice. He begged the author not tell him to merely “persevere,” saying he couldn’t take one more person giving him that same advice.
The author replied that he would not be so unkind to tell the man to persevere; instead he told him to quit. The author added that it appeared writing was giving the man no pleasure, for he was clearly in agony, and life was designed to be enjoyed. So the man should quit and pursue life. But if he found no other enjoyment after a few years away, he should return to writing and persevere.
Reading this story today I got chills. I've had many opportunities to throw in the towel; I've come close several times. By God's grace I haven't yet, and I'm still a working photographer (among a few other things) that pays the rent (mostly) with my camera or knowledge thereof.
After reading the story, and reflecting on my own, I started to think about the "Why?" Why do I keep doing this, as many difficulties as there are? What makes me not quit and go after an easier way to pay the rent? The reason, for me, was so simple it startled me: this is my craft. This is what I was made to do. As I recently remembered through an old box of family photos, this is what I've been doing since before I was 10-years-old. I am first beloved of Jesus, and my second identity is creator of contemplative photographs.
I don't throw in the towel because I can't. I mean, in the simplest terms possible I could pack up and sell my camera gear, and walk into a temp agency and get a job. But in the truest sense of those words, I can't abandon myself. And I am beyond grateful for the guidance, nurturing, wisdom of my husband, friends, and spiritual director who've continued to whisper my truth and truest self back to me when I forget.
And I wonder about you. I wonder my story is bringing up for you? I wonder if some part of who you are is sitting on a dusty shelf? I wonder if someone along the way told you it was impossible? I wonder if you feel like you never really had a shot? Maybe today you can take a chance, give yourself permission to type out your identity or your dream... to whisper it to me ::and the whole internet:: and give it a chance to grow restless within you until it comes overflowing out onto the world.
So share with me...
Saturday was a complete and utter gift. It was our third Art & Prayer Workshop, and although I'm no longer surprised in the ways Jesus often shows up and works in our lives during this experience, it's always a surprise to see where and how he works.
Feeling a bit in the groove of the timing of the day (and no longer feeling the neurotic need to keep checking the time to make sure we're "right on it," whatever that even meant) I was able to sink into the experiential space, to process my own feelings surfacing through this visual and Scriptural process.
Sitting on the pebbled front porch of the home we met in, with my Prismacolor markers and a technicolor rainbow pencil, over and over I heard with great comfort: "Trust the process." It's a message close to my heart these past years, and in this moment it not only applied to the process I was facilitating for those who attended the workshop, but also in my own life. As I sat with it a deeper meaning emerged.
I'm invited to trust the process not only in the workshop, in my journey with Jesus -- but in the details, too. Trust the process in my health, in my finances, in my vocation. Trust the process. Just show up, and let Jesus do his thing. It's not a recipe for success, but a relinquishment of the control I fool myself into thinking I have. I can't guarantee the outcome, I can only respond to the invitation. And that's a really uncomfortable thought for me. I love control. It tastes and feels so good at times. But there's no adventure, no risk, no freedom ... no life in security and control.
I walk from this workshop with a beautiful reminder to trust, to go out, to speak forth ... and watch what happens. Like a seed underground, I can only plant it there. I cannot make it grow. I can participate, but I cannot control.
Jesus, have mercy.
Church for me is a tender subject, so my reflection is perhaps more personal today. However, I will still try to follow the advice of Nadia Bolz Weber and speak from my scars and not my wounds. For me, church has represented a lifetime of hurt-filled and disappointing experiences, so while parts are still healing, others healed long ago. It is from this place I write today because I still love the church. And in the adapted words of Rachel Held Evans, I want to help keep the church weird in all its best, Jesus-following ways.
I've struggled to find a church where I feel at home, where I feel I fit, and honestly where I feel like people see me. Many times when visiting a new place I feel like the awkward 8th grader with braces and the wrong clothes.
When I saw the photo below from Arts Pastor blogger and author W. David O. Taylor I was reminded of something I knew deep down but hadn't yet formed into a clear thought: when there is aesthetic beauty inside a church it conveys a sense of awe, wonder, and reveals God's bigness to me. I suddenly forget if I'm wearing the right clothes or saying the right words on time. I feel settled. I feel calm. I sense God in, around, and through me.
I long for those experiences. And yet it wasn't that long ago I was able to name what had been missing for me in my church experiences for so many years: beauty.
Each time I see or step into a cathedral or stained glass chapel I find myself unconsciously responding to the reality of God, his love through Jesus, and that we're all in this life and world together. It (quite literally at times) draws my eyes up and drains the anxiety from my shoulders. God uses beauty to hold me in his truth.
"God uses beauty to hold me in his truth."
Not all churches can meet in frescoe-d spaces, but we can be mindful of the power of aesthetics in our gathering spaces. We can invest our attention, time, and resources into fertilizing the artists and opportunities around us so beauty can grow in our midst. Perhaps it's one of the best things we can do when our ears are tired of hearing, and our messages and advertising sound increasingly so similar.
Beauty is not a luxury - it is a life sustaining necessity. I forget that truth so often until I'm again caught up in its firm hold. Let us imitate our Creator and make our church, our communities, and our world beautiful again.