In the company of friends

Be still, my soul:
thy God doth undertake
To guide the future,
as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence
let nothing shake;
All now mysterious
shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul:
the waves and winds
still know His voice
Who ruled them
while He dwelt below.

— Katharina Amalia Dorothea von Schlegel

I walked out of Hutchmoot 2018 not quite knowing who I was. The summer and early autumn had been rough, and constants I had grown to rely on kept getting peeled away. What was I professionally? Who knew? What should I be professionally? Who knows? Where did my deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet? And what was I supposed to do about it?

I didn’t figure it out over the course of the year (by the way, isn’t “the course of the year” a sort of lovely and majestic phrase?), but I kept plodding along, for better or (sometimes) for worse.

Hutchmoot always happens during the wee break in the busiest season of my job. This year my parents and I spent the first two weeks of September in Scotland, and then we came home and I went back to work almost immediately (our delayed flight got us home to Kansas City around 2 a.m.; we got home around 3; I was at work around 10:30 later that morning). And I worked nearly every day until the Wednesday I flew to Nashville. I was tired.

I am not the captain of my own destiny,
nor even of this new day, and so
I renounce anew all claim
to my own life and desires.
I am only yours, O Lord.
Lead me by your mercies through these hours,
that I might spend them well,
not in harried pursuit of my own agendas,
but rather in good service to you.
— From A Liturgy for First Waking, Douglas McKelvey, Every Moment Holy

Tired and burdened under the weight of my own insufficiencies. My failure to be who or what I thought I should be, for whatever reason. My failure to love people for the long haul; my failure in choosing transient treasures or pleasures over incorruptible ones. Those are times when you can know the blood of Jesus cleanses you from all sin, but the fact that you still have sinned even while knowing that can make you feel like “failure” is what you are.

May we grasp the grace
that is here so evident.
May we know solace and calm
and wonder and delight,
reveling here in a rightful place
as those who are not,
and never will be, God,
but who are yet your beloved image-bearers.

May the stresses of 
     and deadline
here dissolve.
May we find rest in the renewed certainty
that we need not be
     or respected
     or popular
     or successful
     or somehow perfect,
to be loved by you

There is no striving here at the end of our limits.
Forgive our former strivings
after our own righteousness, O Lord.
In our smallness let us celebrate your greatness.
— From A Liturgy for Arriving at the Ocean, Douglas McKelvey, Every Moment Holy

I like to make playlists for the seasons. This year I put Page CXVI’s rendition of “Be Still, My Soul” on my autumn playlist, even though it had been years since I’d last listened to it. I had that list on repeat a lot leading into October, and the words of the hymn became lodged in my mind. Wednesday evening, as I drove over to Murfreesboro for UTR Media’s pre-Hutchmoot house warming concert, those phrases kept echoing: “Be still my soul/thy God shall undertake/To guide the future/as He hath the past … all now mysterious/shall be bright at last.”

From there I can only describe things as grace upon grace lived out through friendship. The first person I encountered at the house concert was a friend who greeted me with a warm hug. Later I got to reconnect with Bekah, a sweet woman I’d met at Hutchmoot 2018 while learning how to smoke a pipe (yes, I’m serious; yes, it was the most incongruous thing ever; yes, it was wonderful). I got to meet Kate, who I’d wanted to meet for a long time, and who was probably the only person in the whole city of Nashville to experientially understand why October is the craziest month of the year for me. I got to reconnect with other dear Hutchmoot friends and kindred spirits and make new friends.

One of the artists who played at that concert was Shelly Moore, whose song “Unraveling” spoke to a lot of the things I had been feeling lately. The song that has stayed with me since that night, however, was one based on a psalm (which psalm I have forgotten), with a very simple chorus:

Come, child
Remember His benefits
He does not remember your sin

To be honest, that’s also all I remember of the song. But oh, what a truth to have rolling around inside of you. God leads us to exactly what we need to hear, when we need to hear it, and I am so thankful for that.

Shelly also designs lovely art prints like this one.

(And Shelly, if you were serious about visiting Kansas City, we’d love to host you anytime.)

If you do something for the first time, you’ve done something new. If you do it again, well, you’ve done the same thing twice now. If you do it a third, a fourth, a fifth time, you could say you’ve reached the rhythm of tradition.

Frothy Monkey rosemary honey lattes, for the third year in a row.

Even though Hutchmoot 2019 was a new creation, with new faces, new speakers, new sessions, new special events, I felt I was finally in sync with the rhythm of everything. There were people I knew and loved (and had adopted) who knew and loved and poured into me, even if it was just for a moment in a hallway “Hello!” or a short catch-up conversation. There was a community I belonged to — The Poetry Pub! There were things I knew to do (bring tissues!) and not to do (lug an excess of bags around). And even though there were some sessions that left me weeping, just as in previous years, I felt so at rest and filled.

Someone has described Hutchmoot as a conference with the Holy Spirit. I think this is an apt depiction — it really does seem like God always directs our feet to what He wants to show us, remind us, teach us. The first session I went to was one by Lanier Ivester and S.D. Smith on embracing our God-given, God-gifted roles as subcreators. What Lanier said in talking about J.R.R. Tolkien’s story “Leaf by Niggle” was beautiful and heart-breaking in the best way, but it’s really something Sam Smith shared that has stuck with me more than anything. It’s from the 1960s carton Tooter Turtle, spoken by the character Mr. Wizard the Lizard:

“Be just what you is, not what you is not. Folks what do this has the happiest lot.”

Sam talked about accepting who God made each of us to be, with the particular details of the stories He’s given us, and using that to inform whatever creative work God has called us to, rather than becoming paralyzed by comparing ourselves with others and the brilliance of what they’ve produced and wondering what the point is of our trying to create anything ourselves. He mentioned humility, ingenuity and hospitality as crucial aspects of the process of subcreation, and as much as that was convicting (as it leaves no room for selfishness), it was also so, so, so encouraging. And I’ve been repeating Mr. Wizard’s words to myself a lot the past two weeks.

On Friday I also had lunch with some members of The Poetry Pub, the community of poets I’ve been blessed to be part of the past year. We laughed and talked about random things, poetry, new ideas for the Pub, and … pocket cheese. G.K. Chesterton, one of my favorite writers ever, once observed that “Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.” So we dared our resident sonnet writer to compose a tribute to cheese and read it at our first poetry open mic, and then several of the rest of us presented our cheesy poems the next day at the second open mic — and there were even two surprise wonderful cheese-related poems. (You can read them all here, if you’d like.)

This year’s Hutchmoot was definitely filled with friends and wonderful conversations with people I knew or had at least met before, but I also had tremendously fun or deeply encouraging talks with people I’d only just met. I nearly burst into sobs talking with the sweet woman sitting next to me during the Friday evening concert, who grieved along with me during the story I told her, even though 30 minutes before we hadn’t known each other from Eve. This sort of thing is entirely normal at Hutchmoot, and is just one of the many elements that make it so beautiful.

Oh. I haven’t even mentioned Carolyn Arends’ keynote talk. But it was by far my favorite of the three keynotes I’ve heard. Part of this was her topic — how the arts can be allies in spiritual formation — but it was also just how deeply humble, down-to-earth and low-key she is, even though she’s incredibly gifted, talented and insightful.

Last day Frothy Monkey latte traditions.

On Sunday after services at the Church of the Redeemer (continuing my tradition of being a vacation Anglican), my friend Hannah (for whom this was also the third Hutchmoot) and I adopted a new friend, with whom we had a lovely farewell-to-Nashville brunch, followed by a quick trip to see Northwind Manor, the home-in-progress of the Rabbit Room.

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.

— C.S. Lewis

In past years “re-entry,” or the business of going back to normal everyday life post-Hutchmoot, has been kind of rough. This year I just felt content, happy, full of God’s good and kind gifts. It’s easy in the disappointment, heartache, or ordinary grind, grind, grind of everyday life to forget who we are — and God gives us good friends to once again tell us the story we need to hear over and over and over.