Thursday, June 11, 2009

Faith and Writing

Faith and Writing

We recently hosted a retreat here on faith and writing. There were about thirty people who registered for the retreat. Carl McColman, who manages our Abbey Store and who has written several books, carried the weekend with gusto. On Saturday morning, I asked several of the monks and Linda Mitchell to serve on a panel discussion on their love for writing and spirituality. Linda serves with us as a spiritual director. Father Anthony, Brothers Elias and Mark, me and Carl rounded out the panel. It would turn out to be the part of the weekend most liked by the retreatants. Many of them spoke of how much they enjoyed hearing about how and why we write. As the panelists each took turns talking about their writing journeys, I watched the expressions on the faces of the retreatants. I was delighted to see smiles of interest, delight, curiosity. I am very happy with the way the weekend “worked.” In addition to the retreat, many other events were taking place in the retreat house, especially on Sunday. Our Lay Cistercians were here as well as a group from a parish being given a tour of the monastery. And, to cap it all off, a friend of mine came and gave a concert in our Crypt Chapel. His name is Chuck Henderson and he is a folk singer and a recording artist. He came down from South Carolina with his guitar and harmonica and played and sang for an hour. He is good. Like, really good. He has composed songs about such beautiful experiences in his life, people and events that have come his way and which he put to words and music – a wondrously rich transformation. I did regret that there were not more people at the concert – but Chuck had called earlier in the week and I spread the word as best I could but it turned out fine. He seemed genuinely pleased to sing and play and it was easy to tell that those there realized that they were listening to a gifted musician as well as a sensitively attuned heart to the ways of God in this life. He sang of his grandma and his love for her. He shared a beautiful song about two homeless and wandering people, and a song about salvation and a stone. He finds his inspiration in what touches his heart and the melodies and lyrics pour out from that place.
All this took place last weekend. And, this weekend, we celebrated the Body and Blood of the Lord. There will be a Serenity retreat, which will as well be a full house, but there will be no troubadour and no panel discussions. But it will “work” just as well.
The sound of Chuck’s voice is still fresh in my mind, as are his words, and what he has seen in life and put to music. And I can still see the faces of those on the writing retreat – some letters have already come in from those who were here, letters that brim with words of gratitude and avowals to put pens to paper and fingers to keyboards. And, there may be a person or two who may have been inspired to sing and play guitar. I watched Anne Sullivan, who works in our retreat house and who sat in front of me as Chuck played. She has told me much about her life, and it has been a good, loving life, and I think if Chuck got to know her, he would raise her life even more to a melody, taking the rich places of her life and crafting some lovely notes and words.
During the retreat, on Saturday afternoon, we showed a DVD of the writer Anne Lamott. I had never seen it before, though I have corresponded with Anne over the years. She is a wonderful writer and a delightful person. But that is another story, too good, perhaps, to relegate to a few sentences here. Anyway, to my dismay, the DVD projector was not working properly. There was a “lag” as the picture played on the screen – it was like looking at a rapid slide show instead of a smoothly moving film. The audio worked fine, as did the movie as it played on the small computer screen. But something was lost in the transmission from the computer to the big screen. The retreatants did not seem to mind. They were able to fill in the gaps, listen to the DVD and watch the staccato-like images on the screen. It “worked” even though it sort of limped along in fits and starts. But the audio was as smooth as can be.
Like any weekend, or any day in life, that particular weekend was an interplay of highs and lows, misfires, adaptations, wondrous revelations spoken, sung, written, harmonized, strummed, jotted down. And I suppose that there was experienced some level of anxiety as some the retreatrants wrestled with how to better express their rich interior landscapes through words. And I found myself wishing that more folks had come to the banquet of the music of Chuck Henderson. And I wish the DVD player had perfect synchronization between the voice and the image.
The same might be said of this weekend, this feast of the Body and Blood of Our Lord. For it is a feast of this banquet of life, a setting aside of a day when we remember the gift of Jesus to his followers in the very offering of his body in the Eucharist.
Eucharist is best translated as “thanksgiving.” It seems strange. Like something is lost in the translation, Such a generous, all encompassing word settles on the familiar substance of bread and wine. (Another theme, incidentally, that Chuck put to music and rhyme). But it settles and then moves, expands, finds its proper place in the farthest reaches of the universe and the deepest recesses in the human heart.
Anne was beautiful to watch as Chuck sang. I wondered if she was thinking with love about her grandmother, about growing up in Michigan, about the hard and good times in her life, and finding in her heart as she did so a gratitude. As if the staccato like memories of her life were given a graced cohesion and fluidity with the tender words and cadence of Chuck’s voice and guitar. I like to think so.
Life is a daily banquet and everyone is always invited. It seems that few take the interest to ponder where all this came from, and how rich and vast it is. But that is okay. The world is a symphony of God’s love, and we had here a gathering who wanted to write, and listen, and who have now gone back to their lives – their work, their marriages, their loves with all that these offer in their joys and sorrows. A small panel shared how to find the gold in such things, and put it to paper. And then a man sang with all his heart, and even more was given us through the beauty of song, words written on the air and breathed into hearts, making the fits and starts of human life a lovely song.
As he left, Chuck gave me a hug and said he wanted to come again and sing. And that made me so happy. I will write to him in gratitude for what he gave, and for what he will give when he comes again. And at Eucharist later this morning, I will remember those who write and sing, raising something of this Body of the Lord to a visible and audible expression. Out of the fits and starts of this seemingly cranky machine of life, artists go for the gold in the seemingly misfiring engines of our lives, and make them purr and run and shine. It is always that way. But we need words and song to better see it, hear it, love it.

1 comment:

4get2remember said...

What a wonderful retreat; it went far beyond what I expected and anticipated, as always. Thank you for hosting it!