Accepting the World: Leaving Room for Providence

Welcome to my last post in my not-quite-successfully-accomplished series on “accepting the world.” You can catch up on the rest of the series at its dedicated page here.

When I started this series, I wanted to try to write something short but useful for thirty days straight. My initial idea was that I ‘d be able to write a post in around 20 minutes and share it by 30. But that was optimistic, as it turned out. The things I wanted to talk about kept getting more and more involved and complicated, stories that needed to be told in their own way, without my editor’s brain getting in the way.

So each one took closer to 1.5-2 hours. Which is fine, and a useful bit of self-knowledge. But it wasn’t sustainable, especially with 2 weeks of all-day workshops and live events in Las Vegas and Louisville, KY. So I didn’t make it to thirty days. The fourteen days during which I managed to write were surprising in many ways. I found I have much more to say on the topic of accepting the world than I had time for. So it will be a regular category on my blog, in addition to the more historical-cultural stuff I mentioned in a previous post.

I got back from Artefact Institute’s inaugural event in Louisville a few days ago. If you’d like to hear my very specific thoughts about it, as well as some exclusive inside looks at the workshops themselves, check out my Patreon page. For this blog, I’ll be breaking down some specific elements over time, starting with the surprising power of leaving room for Providence in one’s creative endeavors.

The Dark Night of the Soul in Vegas

As I had anticipated, the workshop I attended in Vegas last week followed the hero’s journey in a variety of ways, including a day that could easily be called a “dark night of the soul.” It was a day when I simply couldn’t write. My internal critical voice had gotten so loud and obnoxious that I could do little but rest and hope for tomorrow to be different.

This has happened to me before. The dip in energy and productivity is often a phase in such workshops, as I have experienced before. What was different this time was that I anticipated it, and rather than wallow in self-pity, I made a conscious effort to remind myself that the next day would follow the hero’s journey paradigm. I was due a proper “eucatastrophe.”

And it came. Not because I conjured it, but because I stepped aside, having done as much work as humanly possible, and prayed that God take care of the rest. Well, He did. I had an incredibly productive day, with breakthroughs on several levels, some of which were truly unexpected, even shocking.

Leaving Room for Providence in Louisville

Conviviality in action at Artefact: Louisville

By itself, that could have been excused as a number of things. But something very similar happened in Louisville at Artefact. As I explained in a previous post, the culminating concert of this inaugural event was a semi-fictionalized retelling of the life of St Simeon the God-receiver, set to music from, and reminiscent of, Vespers. This added a deeper layer of storytelling structure, and a third layer was included when two of my writing students told episodes from their lives that also fit within the hero’s journey paradigm.

I had no trouble writing St. Simeon’s story, and as I hoped, several of my writing students dug deep and found moving episodes from their lives that fit the concert beautifully. But one thing was still missing. I needed a bit of connective tissue between the life of St Simeon and the last piece we were supposed to sing–“Rejoice, O Virgin.” I figured there would be plenty I could take from the service of the Meeting of the Lord, if I had to.

But I didn’t have to. Without my prompting or even suggesting it aloud, one of my students wrote a hymn that perfectly synthesized the life of Simeon, the expectation of the Old Testament, the coming of the New, and the Virgin as the one to bring the Incarnate Lord to the world. It fit exactly into that empty spot in the concert, and it was one of the most moving parts of the entire concert.

I didn’t plan for it. I just left room for Providence to work.

Other Manifestations of Providence

We had some very specific goals to accomplish with our first Artefact Event. I had written, and we had spoken, much about the theory of culture creation. And now we wanted to create a performance piece together with a group of talented singers, chanters, writers, and conductors, to show how it could be done as a technique. Something that could be replicated and passed on from master to apprentice, so to speak.

I think we managed some of that, and at least one person in the audience actually said that the concert was the most beautiful thing he had ever heard in his life. But something else also happened. Almost every other person involved in the workshops shared stories of personal pain and transformation with me and the other workshop leaders that made our hair stand on end. And all of them managed to transmute that pain into something beautiful, whether a story told aloud, a proper gesture to guide a choir, a correct note sung during a hymn.

It became frighteningly apparent to us organizers that something was happening that we hadn’t anticipated. Many people who seem perfectly happy and healthy on the outside are hurting deeply on the inside. And many of them had either not known it, or had managed to bury it deeply enough that it only nagged them. Hence, their apparently “ok” exterior.

But their encounter with creating beauty caused them to go deep inside themselves. To heal those hurts by giving voice to internal struggle and pain. It was incredible. It was moving and intense. And it was entirely not our doing. Apparently, people need beauty. It’s not just a luxury for those with free time. We all need it, because we are more damaged than we even know. And encountering a reflection of the beauty of the Beautiful One can do profound, painful, and transformative things. We saw it. And thank God for it.

If you’d like to know more about the specifics of how we teach the technique of culture creation, or if you’d simply like to support us as we try to make beautiful things for the glory of God, I invite you to browse the patronage tiers on my Patreon page. There is already a vibrant community there, and I’d be happy to include you in it.

Stay tuned for more thoughts on Louisville over the coming weeks, and thank you for your encouraging comments and the conversation that had been going on, both virtually and in person.

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