Rev. Miranda Reflects on a Week Away

IMG_4646May 4, 2017
Dear friends,
I’m writing, first and foremost, to thank you for being so supportive of my post-Easter trip. It was great to feel that you were encouraging me in this opportunity to spend a little time away, and that there were many able and willing folks who would keep church running smoothly in my absence.
Thanks to a small grant from our diocese (and to my parents’ kindness in staying with our kids!), Phil and I spent a week at Penland School of Crafts, in the mountains of western North Carolina. Phil took a class on paper-cutting, and I took a pottery class. It was wonderful – demanding, refreshing, fun. Spending a week making messy, colorful art in a warm, friendly environment was probably more renewing than any clergy retreat could be!
Penland is just as wonderful as I always imagined it would be. Check out its website to learn more about the place and what happens there.  As we drove (sadly) down the mountain the final day, I found that I had some observations and thoughts to carry home. I think I noticed these things about Penland because they reminded me a little of St. Dunstan’s… but experiencing them at Penland made me think about them in a new way, and wonder whether we could live into them more fully. I’m sharing these thoughts with you (along with a few photos) as a sort of “What I Did On Vacation” report!
1. Hospitality in a porous community. 

I was a little bit worried about being a first-timer at Penland, and a relative beginner at my craft. In fact, it was very easy to be there, to learn, connect, find what we needed, and have fun. Penland’s hospitality isn’t the structured kind, of the sign-the-book-and-we’ll-show-you-around variety – perhaps because that kind of hospitality works best when there’s a fairly defined outsider/insider line, and that line doesn’t seem to be in Penland’s mindset. Instead there was a general culture or ethos of expecting newcomers. People – teachers, students, and staff, though there too the lines are fine and flexible – might be there for years, or months, or days, but everyone is there for love of the craft and the place, and it seemed like everyone loved to share about what they do. The big chalkboard in the dining hall outlining each day’s opportunities helped, and so did the maps, but what helped most was just the sense of a community that understands itself to be porous, to have fuzzy edges, and a general readiness to smile at someone and say, “Hey, we’re about to unload the wood-fired kiln, want to come watch?”

I wonder what that could look like in a church?

2. Collaboration and cross-fertilization.
Classes at Penland are taught by visiting artists who may be there for 18 months, 8 weeks, or just a week or so. The artists teaching and assisting during our session did slideshows during the week about their work, and I noticed that they consistently talked about their influences – artists or artistic traditions that had inspired them and shaped their work. And I also noticed experiments in collaboration among the artists at Penland – two potters decorating a mug together; someone in the print studio creating a poster for an event in the metal shop. There was no sense of “turf” or trespass, but rather a wonderful sense of curiosity and possibility. What someone else is doing – even in a totally different area or medium – could connect with what you’re doing to make something remarkable, or give you an idea that could take your work in a new direction.

I wonder what that could look like in a church?

IMG_48053. Place, community practice, and inner life as a united whole. 

While we were at Penland, my mother posted this quotation on Facebook:

“… I found myself thinking in new ways about monastic life as a whole, about how spiritual thought and practice are shaped by landscape and how the experience and perception of living in a place can be deepened through spiritual practice… the ancient Christian contemplative idea of weaving the inner and outer worlds into an integrated vision of the whole had the potential to offer something important to us in the contemporary moment.” – Douglas Christie, The Blue Sapphire of the Mind

Penland seems to have achieved a high degree of integration of sense of place and landscape, of community practice, and of inner life. The inner life is your focus on creativity and craft, your own engagement with matters of skill, beauty, and meaning; the community life is the rhythms of work, mealtime, and fellowship; and then there’s the loveliness of a green valley on a Blue Ridge mountainside. All work together to form a whole that is encompassing, effective, and gracious.

I wonder what that could look like in a church?

Thank you again, friends! And if any of my musings have sparked thoughts for you and you’d like to chat… let me know!

In gratitude and with affection,