If Jesus were here today, I would not be able to sit at his feet and listen to what he had to say for hours on end.
I know this, because this morning he was here, speaking unmistakably through someone, and I had a very hard time sitting still.
Every Tuesday, the staff of International Arts Movement has a two-hour meeting. Because this is the one day of the week when everyone on staff is in the office, and because we work in the round,* the meeting often seeps into the rest of the day. We usually begin our staff meetings with some brief conversation about the glocal state of affairs in the world and in our homes, then take some time to thank God, then spend time asking God to help or heal us and others. We run through status reports and wrestle through agenda items, and at some point, usually around lunch time, we come to a mutual understanding that the staff meeting is adjourned, even as the work continues throughout the day.
This week, our founder, through whom God frequently speaks, came with something he wanted to share with us. When God has illuminated Mako’s heart-eyes to something new, he is very generous to invite others in to the revelation, and when he does, it is usually with a wonderful childlike delight and wonder.
I love hearing Mako speak. I love his respect for scripture and his compassion for the marginalized and his profound gift of encouragement.
And I love his affection for Emily Dickinson.
In fact, Emily was on his mind this morning. He has been meditating on one of her poems (to the tune of a forty-pages-and-counting essay in the works), and he wanted to share something with us, the staff of the movement he started twenty years ago, to spur us on, encourage us along, and direct our hearts.
And as I sat there listening to Mako deftly expositing Emily Dickinson, something occurred to me: as much as I like to imagine myself like Lazarus’s sister Mary, sitting at Jesus feet without a care in the world and listening to the master’s voice, in truth I would have been with her sister Martha instead, wondering why Mary was just sitting there listening when there was work to be done.
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At IAM, there is work to be done. In just over three weeks, the small staff of six will welcome guests from all over the world who are coming to New York City to listen to speakers, connect with friends they haven’t seen since Encounter 10, hear music and poetry readings, watch dance performances, and be generally infused with that thing that makes International Arts Movement so great. It’s a life-giving, creativity-inducing, dare I say generative quality that is often hard to explain. To borrow from Steve Garber, it’s something you can’t understand unless you “come and see.”
Dancers will chat with writers. Classical musicians will laugh with graphic designers. Illustrators will sketch in their Moleskins. Filmmakers, journalists, painters, and priests will all drink from the same coffee urns each morning, as they mingle around the tables waiting for the sessions to start. By Saturday, people will filter in late, not because they were too tired to get in on time, but because they were already deeply engaged in meaningful conversations before the morning session even started. We’ll hold the house; we always do. We understand that when generative interactions take place, the clock does not stop.
We will coordinate many presenters, performers and panelists. There will be video cameras and projection screens and collaborative art projects. Sometime in the next two weeks, we need to get the program sent off to the printers, finalize the details of the schedules, and make sure the artists coming from overseas have received their letters of invitation so they will be able to get their visas.
We need to confirm hotel accommodations, coordinate volunteers coming from all over to help out, arrange for book tables and merch tables and info tables. Our Encounter Director, Kevin, mentioned that this is about the time of year when he wakes up every morning thinking about the Encounter. For us, this is a huge deal, one that we take very seriously.
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Of course, all of this was on our minds this morning, as Mako talked about Emily Dickinson’s dashes. “The first people who edited her work for publication tried to remove the dashes,” Mako informs us, pausing, enthralled by the significance of this bit of trivia. “The dashes are the heart of Emily’s poems! There is so much significance in the dashes, yet people didn’t get it, because it wasn’t the way it was done.” She was breaking the mold.
Mako went on to exhort us, saying that, as a movement, part of our work is to stand up for the “dashes” in peoples’ work. We exist to serve the Emily Dickinsons of the world, those creative souls earnestly and honestly grappling with faith and humanity through the art they make, be it in the form of poetry or painting or creative business practices.
Mako said a lot more, but I was distracted by the still, small voice buzzing in my heart-ears. Grace and truth landed on me, and I was jarred from the temporal nonsense that consumes my thoughts and governs my emotions most of the time. I was stopped dead in my tracks by the conviction of things unseen – or perhaps more accurately, goals unseen – goals that are not accomplished by frenetic activity, but rather by being still and knowing that someone besides me is God.
And it was right about then that I realized I would have a very hard time sitting and listening to Jesus for very long. I would know that there was work to do, and I would be thinking about that throughout his lessons. He would be talking about the mystery of a mustard seed, and I would be calculating how much flour and yeast we would need for the next day’s bread. He would be pointing at lilies and sparrows, exhorting me to let them be my teachers, and I would be rehearsing my script in my mind, always preparing for the next interview or appearance or speaking engagement. Jesus would be smiling, with a sparkle in his eye, and I would be brow-furrowed and cheek-chewing, just as I was yesterday, listening to Jesus’s friend Mako sharing about Emily Dickinson’s dashes.
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In a few weeks, Encounter 11 will happen. It will be a glorious three days; it always is. And I hope that you’ll come. You really should. Whether you are an artist or not, you should be there. This is a conference for people interested in being fully alive, and being part of creating a world that helps many other people to be more fully alive. Business people come and experience generative inspiration that reaps calculable results in their corporations. Clergy who attend return to their congregations with fresh insight into the creative character of God, because they have spent time with his artful image bearers. And artists of all disciplines and career levels will be refreshed and recharged for creating, through their pockets of influence, the world that ought to be.
And I hope that if you do come, you’ll come and find me and say, “hi,” and tell me about the dashes in your life.
I hope you’ll share stories with me of how someone at some point in your career tried to edit out your dashes, and someone else came along and saw their importance and gave you the courage to keep them in.
And when you do start to talk, telling me your story, I will stop. There will be many things to do – there always are at an IAM Encounter. But I will stop. I will listen.
And I will celebrate your dashes.
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* At International Arts Movement, no one has her or his own office; we all sit around one big table, working collaboratively and collectively throughout the day. We have a telephone booth for people who need some privacy, but we rarely use it.