I will be reflecting for months on this past weekend at The Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, NC, where my husband and I joined four thousand others for a few days of conversation and community around spirit, justice, music, and art. We’re still soaking up the beauty and energy of Asheville today and taking a field trip to Penland School of Crafts this afternoon, so for now I’m just posting some links here and photos of notes (if you’re interested, I’ve linked each photo to the website of the featured speaker, too), but I will say that it’s been a rich and full time away from home and routine to live into both/and realities – simultaneous grief for the world and hope for it, fear and love, pain and gratitude – that has refueled my passion for both contemplation and creative action in God’s glorious and great creation. More to come!
This is me, a couple of weeks ago at Emory University’s Tibet Week. I loved trying my hand at this: using a brass chak-pur to lay down a sand mandala. The really amazing work was done by the visiting monks as an act of prayer and meditation. Both my beginner’s efforts and their experienced ones ended up in the same place: let loose into running water, where the belief is that the lovingkindness and compassion imbued into every grain of sand will travel from creek to stream to river to sea and thus throughout creation – may it be so!
*To see a World in a Grain of Sand is the lovely first line of William Blake’s timeless poem, Auguries of Innocence. Give it a read and see if you don’t come away with a reminder that Everything is connected to Everything.
Theopoetics is a new word for many and an exhilarating idea for me. In our closing session this morning, we talked around breakfast tables about better language than “conference” and “session” for describing the spaces we made together at this event. During this weekend at the charmingly New England-y Walker Center for Ecumenical Exchange, we explored the ways that art and religion find one another in this world – considering both in their broadest contexts and, simultaneously, their most personal and particular implications. We rejoiced in Friday’s opening presentation by The Sanctuaries DC as a *true* opening – a yielding of our hearts and bodies and most vulnerable selves to the truths of others and of our own souls. We remembered with wonderment the power and courage of each participant’s willingness to be that – a full participant – and marveled that we never saw crossed arms or other shields-up postures. We remarked that even in the minority of sessions where there were trappings of academia – typed handouts or notes or slides on a screen – we were taken beyond the role of passive receiver to active, whole-hearted listener and embodied listener. We suggested that the weekend would be better described as a gathering, and the time we spent in community together more precisely named as a conversation.
There were amazing people at this gathering, and I am ridiculously pleased to say that three of the 75-ish attendees were there because I encouraged them to attend, just based on how cool the opportunity looked when I happened upon it online pretty much by chance. I’d be proud to be responsible for many more ARC event attendees. My next steps will be to build upon the art piece that Darci and I began, and to help with a June event in Atlanta at Centerform (details to follow). And especially, to keep learning, pondering and passing along ideas about theopoetics.
My favorite of the concept’s developing definitions? Co-creating with Creation. Selah and ashe and amen.
So, because I’m such a consumer and glutton and grabber (Type 7 if you’re wondering), I was really getting into Enneagram a couple of months ago until something else shiny caught my eye. Before I was distracted away, I signed up for this EnneaThought for the Day, and I do still read these and occasionally even pay attention to them. Here’s what I received in an email today:
What would it be like to let go of your acquisitiveness and express your higher qualities of gratitude and joy today?
Just as I read to the end of the sentence, an answer came right out – like literally, I think I spoke it aloud. It was: I would write a blog post. And with that, here comes the gratitude and joy:
I am grateful for my opportunities to teach and do and make art, to think about how we are created to create, to be meeting new people and making new friends who are living into this creative exchange with Creator/Source/Something Bigger than Ourselves /Love/God.
I am grateful for the sources of income that are allowing me to move in this space, my work and my husband’s work and the little windfalls and opportunities that come our way that keep the bills paid and the refrigerator stocked.
I am grateful for the wise ones, the old friends, the friends of longest standing, the family and forebears who have been in my life from before I knew anything, and who have loved me and love me still through my step forward/step back journey through this one wild and precious life.
I am grateful for my children, my two beautiful sons, who have taught me over and over how to love fiercely and let go fearlessly, and are surely, truly, teaching me that lesson even now.
This morning I attended Park Avenue Baptist Church, where Brandon Maxwell preached, on this first Sunday of Black History Month, about orthodoxy and heresy and white supremacy and strange fruit and above all the power of justice and mercy and love to be bigger than the barriers we as humankind face to living in God’s way. The joy was deep and abiding in his words and in that place, deeper even than the pain and the hurt and the anger and the injustice that is a part of the shared American history that has brought us to this day. The joy was bedrock, it was eternal, it was everlasting and everlasting, and its glints and flashes shine every day in my life when I only have eyes to see.
Letting go of my acquisitiveness? Just now, that meant not picking up a book, not slipping into the kitchen for a snack, not clicking over to social media, not casting about for something else to take on. It meant stopping to acknowledge and appreciate the rich and full present reality of my life. Blessed Be, Thank you Jesus, So be it, and Amen!
Contemplative crafting: thinking and listening, pondering and praying, replying to Creation with creation, making stuff and making meaning – that’s the practice I am trying to develop and sustain.
But now I’ve done this – these pieces of … art? – and I don’t understand what it means. I want to be able to explain it, but right now the work is coming from beyond a place of my knowing. I do know it has something to do with the fact that Trump is small and the God of my understanding is great. I know it has to do with the truth that love is greater than hate, or fear, or indifference. I know that it involves my wrestling with the fact – and for me it is a fact – that we are all, without exception, BELOVED children of God. Even Trump? What can that mean? I can not understand. I am repulsed and fascinated by the ugliness in his expressions, by his twisted face, by the evil gleam in his eye and the meanness on his lips. I can’t bear to look and I can’t look away, and I don’t know if the slathering on of love and welcome and blessing and peace makes any sense at all but I feel called – compelled – to do it. I do this as I remember the liturgy at my church and the calls to action there and in my community, as I listen to the no-good news and to podcasts about prayer and pain and peace. I slip back and forth on these snowy indoor days between snipping, assembling, gluing, rearranging and Google searches: Does God love Trump? Does God hate Trump? I ponder anew: Who is God? Who am I? What tiniest bit of Tikkun olam can I offer to this hurting world with my art and my prayers? I have questions, not answers, and for now, I only follow the compulsion to clip another word from the page – love, welcome, grace – and place it on the very source of all those words are not.
This Irish word – neart – is an odd, misspelled-looking little word for a beautiful and expansive concept. It is the idea of the spiritual energy of all living things, of the creative power of God. The ancient Celts asked God to strengthen them with the neart, and it has occurred to more than one person that “May the Force be with you,” might be an appropriate shorthand for wishing that another be blessed and made bold with their personal claim of neart.
I’ve learned this word, and others too, along with stories, poems, and prayers of the earliest Irish peoples in a weekend seminar on Celtic Christianity, presented by the engaging and wise Carl McColman. I’ve returned home reminded that God is not elsewhere, but is in my very breath, my very body, and surely in the breath and body of every atom of this earth and of this universe – how mystical is that?! And beyond that sheer euphoria, what does that mean for living a life?
A few weeks ago, I joined a group of friends from my church to watch a movie, one that would not have been a likely choice for viewing save for the fact that several scenes were filmed in our real-life sanctuary and some of our own congregation members appeared as extras in the worship scenes. The movie is Miracles from Heaven, and it tells the true story of a mom whose faith is tried, trampled, and ultimately restored as her daughter suffers through a rare incurable illness. Like many in our small audience, I came to the viewing with skepticism about the theology of the film, and there were indeed a few scenes that expressed beliefs different than my own. But overall, the story was well-told, well-acted, and well-representative of one family’s experience of making sense of the realities of this life. It was one line popularly attributed to Einstein in an impassioned speech by the mom of the story that has stayed with me since I heard it. That idea is this:
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is.”
The idea of seeing miracles everywhere, of seeing God’s presence in all places, is older than Einstein (who according to researchers likely never made that specific statement as such, but never mind) and older even than the life of Jesus; Celtic peoples converted to Christianity from a history of seeing gods in all things to seeing God in all things.
Seeing God in all things, sensing miracles everywhere, being strengthened by the creative power of God – that creates a heart full of neart. So may it be for all God’s people – AMEN!
I’ll be selling my work at a few events this fall – On Saturday, November 11, I’ll be at the Park Avenue Baptist Church Artist Market. A few weeks later, on Saturday, December 2, I’ll be at the North Decatur Presbyterian Church Alternative Gift Fair (link coming soon).
One of my newfound heroes, the late craft artist Paulus Berensohn, speaks so beautifully about creative practice and the challenges around selling one’s work in this beautiful video. He does begin, however, by saying that at one point he sold enough work at a single show to “buy the farm,” and he means that quite literally – I don’t have a farm to buy, but there are bills to pay and meals to eat, so this is how it has to go, at least for now. I dream of a day where I pick up a few 10K grants here and there that allow me to make for the sheer act of creation – someday!
I am delighted with these pieces and the stories they tell. On the back of each piece, I post this note:
They are lovely little artworks, possibly perfect gifts for newlyweds, new homeowners, or friends who offer their hospitality. Mostly I’m centering the mandala around the word welcome, but I’ve also used, peace, love, sanctuary, and other words that appear in these bulletins. If you’d like to request a specific word or set of colors, or just get more information about making a purchase, just email me at ellengadberry [at] gmail.com
Back on the first day of 2017, my husband and I wished one another a happy new year, as one does. On February 1, we said happy new year again, laughingly agreeing that January was on some level just an arbitrary starting point, and each month since then, it’s been a bit of a game to be the first to offer the little blessing to the other. We’ve already done that TEN times (!!), and I know that in the blink of an eye we’ll be back at January all over again. Before the full onslaught of the Hallothankmas season, though, I want to catalog a few high points from the happy new experiences I’ve had so far in 2017.
Last February, I spent a weekend in Montreat, NC, in a 3-day workshop called “Illuminating the Text,” where I got to put my own two eyes and my own two hands on the exquisite St. John’s Bible. This class was the next in my progress toward a Certificate in Spiritual Formation through the Center for Lifelong Learning at Columbia Theological Seminary. The wise and wonderful Dr. Ann Laird Jones led us through art experiences inspired by the text and illustrations of that exquisite bible, and I truly felt like a kid in a candy store.
In June, I returned to Montreat again to spend an entire week making pottery with Ann and liturgical banners with her colleague Hannah Garrity. Another friend and CTS classmate, Ally Markotich, came along as well and wrote so thoughtfully about the experience on her blog, Creative Soul Kindling. I returned home inspired to create my own art and was fortunate to have summer access to an unused classroom at my church, North Decatur Presbyterian.
July brought a trip with best friends Jake and Marlene Pomeroy to the Wild Goose Festival for four days of art, music and story. It was, as the organizers promise on their website, a “transformational experience grounded in faith-inspired social justice,” and a fun, energizing time. Later that month I led a series of kids’ papermaking workshops on behalf of Paint Love, one of my favorite art initiatives ever.
Things really got hopping in August – I began an eight week course with Atlanta Mindfulness Institute, found a great new friend and creative collaborator in Darci Jaret at Park Avenue Baptist Church, returned to weekly volunteering at Refuge Family Literacy, and started teaching art again for adults at the county jail. Time turned into September in the blink of an eye, which brought another unique opportunity: a weekend workshop called “The Painting Experience,” that was all about the process of letting image come forth from the self through the brush and onto the canvas. I also began a weekly internship at Centerform, a co-working space and “dynamic community of Christian change makers.” And just like that it was October, where on that new year’s day, I attended a silent meditation and yoga retreat with my mindfulness group at Hard Labor Creek State Park, a hidden gem of a state park just an hour away from my home.
I’ve had a lot of new starts and new things going on in 2017! As I look over this list, I can see why I’ve felt fairly scattered for much of this year – I’ve been sowing a lot of seeds and kind of thrown my very self all over the place in the process. There is still more to come, with another course at Montreat this month on Celtic Spirituality, ongoing commitments to teaching art, holiday and family events… perhaps it will not be until sometime after 2018’s first happy new year wishes that I will have a sense of where all of this seed-sowing will lead, what the garden will yield.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5
Today I’ll be creating scratchboard art with a group of women who have known darkness, that place that feels forlorn and barren and hopeless. We’ll talk for a moment about their experience of the eclipse and what that might symbolize for them. Then, out of the black of the page, we’ll scratch away the dark to reveal the color and light that is already there. While I probably won’t be so explicit with the participants, privately I’ll be reflecting on the ideas of Pelagius, Erigena, and Michelangelo, each of whom had convictions about the goodness within that needs only to be released.