I hope I’m wrong about this, but I’m afraid I left my pocket Bible and my new hand-decorated journal containing all my Hutchmoot notes in the back of my Nashville rental car, which I returned yesterday evening. I am now back home in Kansas City and have not unpacked enough yet to see whether I stashed both precious items somewhere and forgot about it.
However, the world is not yet at an end. I have other Bibles (isn’t it amazing/weird/crazy how lucky we are to own multiple copies of the Bible, to the extent that it’s no big deal?), and while I’d be sad to permanently lose my notes, most of what I heard over the weekend seemed to be driving home the same sort of lesson again and again and again.
Let go. This is not about you. Let go. Who do you think you are? Let go. Trust Me. Let go. Love — and do you know what that means? Let go. Trust Me. Let go.
What do a writing workshop, a talk on Lilias Trotter and La La Land, a talk on soul rest, and a talk on “adorning the dark” (“community, calling and the mystery of making”) have to do with each other? Those words above in italics.
O children of God, casting your cares
upon His strong shoulders,
now surrender your own agendas for this day,
and instead be led by the workings of His Spirit.
Open our eyes and our hearts, O Lord,
to Your words and truth.
— A Liturgy of The Hours: Daybreak, from Every Moment Holy, by Douglas Kaine McElvey
This being my second Hutchmoot, I had some ideas on what it would be like. I had some thoughts on things I would do, people I would see, conversations I would have, things I would say, things people would say to me, and things I would say back to them (after I had impressed them with my wit, bonhomie and literary references).
Some most of the time, life doesn’t unfold the way I have imagined it.
In the fourth season of the TV show Sherlock, during a moment of crisis in which it appears a character wishes to commit suicide, Sherlock shouts “Your life is not your own — keep your hands off it!” The idea is not original to him. The Apostle Paul told the Christians in Corinth something similar about 2,000 years ago:
Have you forgotten that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you, and that you are not the owner of your own body? You have been bought, and at what a price! Therefore bring glory to God both in your body and your spirit, for they both belong to him. — 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, J.B. Phillips New Testament
While the context for these ideas differs, the point they’re driving at is similar: Your life, in very real ways, does not belong to you. You do not get to call all the shots. You just don’t.
And Paul isn’t even the originator of the idea — Jesus is (quoted at least once in all four gospels):
The man who loves his own life will destroy it, and the man who hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. — John 12:25, J.B. Phillips New Testament
I have been wrestling with this idea all year. What level of say do I get in my life? What is the business of my life? What am I supposed to be doing, and how am I supposed to accomplish it? And how shall I know these things?
I make collections of poetry, prose and pictures every year for Christmas gifts and the titles always end up related to the theme of my year. Up until July, when I changed my mind, I was going to call this year’s book Jacob and Job, because I felt like I was in a grappling match with God and kept demanding answers for the questions that plagued me. In retrospect, I should have been wrestling with God more, rather than withdrawing into complacent gloom when I didn’t think I was getting any answers.
Have you ever seen Seussical the Musical? At one point, the bird Gertrude McFuzz sings a love song to Horton the Elephant (the interspecies romance dynamics confound me a bit, but I guess anything’s possible in Dr. Seuss’s world). It’s called “Notice Me, Horton,” because he doesn’t. The one thing Gertrude wants is for Horton to see her for who she is and love her, but he doesn’t, so she does something crazy to try to get his attention … and he still doesn’t notice her. I haven’t been directly pulling a Gertrude, but the self-aware part of my brain has noticed plenty of similar behavior. Notice me! Notice me! See this pretty picture I took? See this poem I wrote? See this awesome play on words I painstakingly crafted to make it look off-the-cuff? Like me! Publish me! Validate me! Hire me! I have used people, whether consciously or unconsciously, to try to get what I want out of life. And it hasn’t been working.
In the Friday afternoon session “Finding Rest for the Soul,” Curtis Zackery said God essentially stripped away all the means by which he defined himself and his worth to God, the church and society, then asked him, “Am I enough for you? Just Me?” (That’s a simplification of the story, so you should listen to it for yourself.)
I began to think about the ways I identify myself and who, or what, I would be if those were all taken away. I don’t know the answer yet, but it made me realize how much I identify myself and my worth based on “what” I am or what I do. Or what I think I do.
This came after the talk on Lilias Trotter and La La Land, which was actually about vocation. During the talk, Lanier Ivester shared a Frederick Buechner quote that goes something like this: The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.
What is my deep gladness? I wondered. Where is the me-shaped hole God designed me to peg into? How shall I find it, and how shall I recognize it? And how soon (please God, let it be soon!) can all this happen?
I love to write. I love to take photographs. I love to bake and cook and throw parties and have three-hour-long conversations with friends over coffee. And yet so many of those things I make about myself; so many of those things I do or share because of what I can get back from the people on the receiving end, not because of how I want to share what Christ has given me. And I do it so many — not all, but too many — times. So where does that leave me? I am still wondering.
Lest you think I had a completely sombre time full of existential soul-searching, let me disabuse you of that notion.
I had such a fun, sweet time. Yes, there were conversations I had planned for and hoped for that didn’t happen, or didn’t happen the way I had planned. No, I did not get to smoke my pipe with the kindest collection of well-bearded men I’ve ever met (I apologize if any of you are in fact clean-shaven). But there was also conversation after conversation that had not even entered my mind — many of which were with people I had never before met — and many of these were the ones which most richly blessed me. And I don’t use the word “blessed” flippantly or lightly here. To see the deep love people had for Jesus and the deep belief they had in God’s absolute goodness was a life-giving thing. I can’t explain why this is. Oh yes, I went to a conference for Christians interested in the creative arts (this is often the easiest way of explaining what Hutchmoot is) … of course people would love Jesus, right? Maybe it’s the fact that people come from all over the country (and world), from all kinds of backgrounds and churches, and yet the love is the same.
Also, God has a sense of humor. I love that He has a sense of humor. Last year Hutchmoot featured a poetry open mic for the first time, and I was hand-tremblingly rarin’ to go and read my shockingly brilliant poem and wow everybody with how much of a genius I was (that’s not what I actually consciously thought, but if I boil it down until it can’t get any more thick and sticky, that’s pretty much what I was thinking). Then I encountered a room crammed to the bursting point with beautiful poems from people who didn’t necessarily look like … poets. I felt God chastening me a little for my pride. This year, life being what it is and my creative discipline being what it isn’t, I haven’t written many poems. There were two I felt I could chose from, and one of them — the longer, more beautiful, more profound one — would also almost certainly make me cry. I am no good at cry-talking, so I read the other one. I wrote it in a fit of the heebie-jeebies after having asked someone to critique a poem I was submitting to a contest. I wrote it wondering if I was honestly a poet at all, or whether I should even think of myself that way.
The day after this year’s first poetry read, I was sitting in a hallway reading Charles Williams and trying to evaluate the bits of myself that I wasn’t understanding, when down the hall came a guy who had performed an awesome spoken word/semi-rap sort of thing at the poetry session. He said he really appreciated my poem and that it tied in with some of the other themes God was showing him from the sessions and speakers, that you have to get out of the way of the thing you’re creating and your agenda for it and let it become what it wants to become (which I personally think happens by the working of the Holy Spirit). Which God was, in fact, doing with the little poem of mine that I’d written in a fit of fear and frustration. God uses broken, weak and silly humans and makes beautiful things through and out of them.
And God is making something beautiful out of broken, weak, silly me, even though I’m impatient because I can’t see it yet.
I can’t see it, but He’s doing it. It’s true.