Everywhere I stand, I’m in deep water
Tryin’ to decide whether to drown
Baptized in a flood of sound and color
Let it come
I want to stand in the way of beauty
Awaken the senses that have no name
I want to learn how to breathe underwater
Let me go down, let me go down
Every time I hide, the water finds me
Speakin’ a language of its own
Drop by drop, it cuts; I bleed fresh colors
Let me bleed
–Let Me Go Down by Kirsten Ambrose, Nancy Carlson, Mike Loretto, and Jessica Smucker
Have you ever been so immersed in something beautiful that it felt like you were swimming in it, perhaps even submerged? I had a childhood dream of swimming in a pool of chocolate, the thought of being covered in something rich and wonderful. There have been a few acute moments where I have felt such presence and inspiration, where art is no longer something inside of me, but rather I am immersed in it. This past week was one such week.
Many months ago, at the suggestion of a friend, I began to research a new opportunity for continuing education through a quarterly journal on arts and religion called Image Journal. Image puts on two conferences a year called the Glen Workshop. It’s an opportunity for artists of faith to come for inspiration, conversation, community, and work. There are workshops at the Glen for many areas of artistic endeavor: poetry, life drawing, painting, memoir writing. When I considered signing up for the conference in South Hadley, Massachusetts, I noticed that there were two interesting workshops, one on sermon writing by renowned writer and Episcopal priest Lauren Winner, and one on songwriting by Linford Detweiler and Karin Berquist of the band Over the Rhine.
My immediately inclination was sermon writing, of course. But something kept pulling me toward songwriting. It could be that Over the Rhine is one of my favorite bands, with music that has touched me in various stages of my life up to this point. It could be that in working with Allen Levi, I have actually written a few songs myself and found it a great source of joy. Not knowing what this workshop would be like, and who would be in it, I decided to sign up.
My experience in Karin and Linford’s class surpassed any expectation. In class with me were 15 other people from all over the country and from all walks of life. Music directors, playwrights, acting students, touring singer/songwriters, and even a fellow pastor. Karin and Linford talked to us about the way they write as “catching butterflies,” being open to catching lines, stories, and experiences as they flutter past us. They spoke of the craft of writing important and vivid lyrics. After our initial introductions and didactics, we were encouraged to bring in our own songs to workshop with one another. It was a little intimidating to sit there in front of your favorite songwriters and ask for criticism, but as we went along, it became clear that it was a safe place. I felt that everyone in the room wanted to draw the best of one another. Their encouragement allowed me to offer two songs for workshopping and even performing at an Open Mic later in the week. In addition, we were split into groups and had to collaborate on a new song. The songs that came out of this, like the one I quoted above, were truly amazing. Linford’s jaw dropped a few times.
If you consider yourself a person of faith and an artist of any level and you want to ask more specific questions about the Glen, please ask. We have so many such people in the Episcopal Church who may need to find themselves immersed in the waters of the Glen Workshop.
I could belabor this post to include everything I experienced, which included art of every kind. For now, I’ll hold on to a few things and maybe spread them around over time. I found a new community of friends and fellow travelers, people who find God in the midst of creativity. I don’t know where this conference will take me creatively, but I know that I feel refreshed and inspired.
Lucky for me, I learned how to breathe underwater.