Listen to it:
I left early for work yesterday morning. I don’t know how it happened. Except when I looked in the mirror to ready myself for the day, I couldn’t seem to care about the end product. So, I hopped in the car to drive that familiar road, still under star. A blue darkness hushed the morning commute, the world still and sleeping. I drove unseen and quieted. Invisible. As I crossed the Kanawha River, the clouds striated on the horizon, hinting at the day to come.
When I arrived at the hospital where I work, I parked facing east and sat in silence. The sky slowly spilled with light, a rosy hue cast over the city as the sun began her slow climb. Under the waking heavens, I asked God to make my heart tender for the work of the day. To be manna to the people I serve.
It’s been a hard week. Not only because of the loneliness that came after leaving the creative community of Hutchmoot, but because, right now, life is hard. We are having a difficult year. God is teaching us what it means to love in sickness.The days are unending and the moments pass unmarked. It feels like I’m holding my breath from dawn to dusk.
Music has been pulling me through the hours and the days, reminding me of the Hope in which I believe. Truth in lyric reminding me that I am Niggle, painting my small leaf. And God has a masterpiece in the works. The music—it awakens such deep longing.
This desire for more, this longing stirred … sometimes I need reminded this is part of the way God designed us. And if I fail to name this desire as God-ordained, it is then that I am in danger of falling into the despair the world offers.
This is why we need art. This is why I need art. We were designed to be makers and partakers of beauty. In creating and enjoying the creations of others, I am reminded this world is not what it was made to be.
I once heard an artist say that “The purpose of art and religion are the same: Transformation.”
“Art creates space,” he said. “Effective art creates a liminal space …”
That word, “liminal?” It means “threshold.” Art—beauty—creates a doorway that, when stepped into, takes us to a new place where transformation is more likely to occur. The Celts call this a “thin place.” It’s a place where the veil between heaven and earth is a thin membrane, and the holy is felt as close as a breath on the cheek.
I am not one easily swayed by feelings. I learned what it means to be set apart at an early age. I am known. I am seen. This knowledge has been a part of me in the most intimate way. But in this hard season of watching someone I love suffer, my heart is beginning to burn with questions. Do you see, Lord? Do you care?
So, imagine how the wind is knocked out of me when strangers in Tennessee name me Beloved with their smiles. Right there, in the Sanctuary, in the halls of the meeting place, all weekend long I am wrecked at the ways God connects our beating hearts.
I see you, daughter.
At Hutchmoot I found new music and new friends and insomnia and a hearth I carry with me. It frightened me, this feeling—so visceral—so exhausting—this need to be together. When I returned home, I lay in the hammock in the back yard, aching physically from being alone. I felt that big sky stretch out above me and when the wind came it was something bigger, reminding me this yearning is for the Holy One.
We were made to love each other. This frail flesh on me cannot handle this sometimes. But it is a glimpse of the Kingdom when the moments collide this way, when souls connect in an instant. When Beauty invites us to a place of transformation. And I asked God to wash these feelings, to release all impurities—to make all desire beautiful and let only love remain.
In a Hutchmoot session she led with Douglas McKelvey called “Betting on the Dark Horse: The Holy, Hidden Potential of Human Weakness,” writer and teacher Rebecca Reynolds spoke of how—in so many myths and stories—the hero has some element of invisibility. Cinderella had her ashes, Frodo had his smallness, even Harry had an invisibility cloak.
“It is a powerful thing to pass through the world unseen,” Rebecca said. She told us the Native American tale of the maiden Strong Wind, whose inner beauty becomes manifest when she answers the questions of the handsome warrior with honesty and humility.
C.S. Lewis famously said, “Our best havings are wantings.” Our best havings are wantings.
Think about that for a moment. How many great works of art were born out of desire? How much beauty does this world owe to our wantings? Whether it’s the Sistine Chapel or this evening’s dinner, all beauty must begin from a place of emptiness. There must be room inside of us to imagine, to create, to dream, to let this new thing take shape.
In theological terms this emptying is called kénōsis—the voluntary emptying of my own will and surrendering to God’s will.Philippians 2:5-11 says that Jesus made himself nothing.Being in very nature God … he made himself nothing. (NIV). The NRSV says he emptiedhimself. It’s the Greek verb form kenóō—“to empty”.
This is how I feel lately. Empty. Unseen.
But art creates a doorway that when walked through, makes me remember. A song, a story, a gleaming ornament carved from wood—these whisper hints of the Gospel story into my heart. The story of the Creator entering into his creation—a creationmarked by sin and human frailty but also great beauty. The entry of God into our broken world—this is the only hope I have of filling this emptiness inside of me.
This is why we gather. On Sunday mornings and Saturday nights. At pot lucks and cafeterias. Around the table and bellied up to the bar. On the corner in the neighborhood or at Hutchmoot. We come together to stoke the hunger and gather the manna. To remind one another we were created for more than what our eyes can see.
Through the beauty of autumn, in the dark of the night and the light of the morning, in the stink of the stable and in the royal halls of Herod, in the garden and on the hill—looking desperately for the Bread that gives life. Looking for Jesus in everything—every moment.
This is love. This is the Kingdom come down.