Good Letters

14066373_10206865453981792_9089818213749029625_oI’m an introvert who loves to talk, an often confusing combination that can leave me drained in spite of myself, or perplex my friends when I suddenly slink off after an hour of raucous guffawing.

But I just spent a week in Santa Fe at the Glen Workshop, a gathering of writers, artists, and musicians who meet at St. John’s College every summer to hone their craft, eat and worship together, and listen to some of the world’s most inspiring creative people share their work. And it was there that I experienced several moments of healing and energizing silence.

Coming of age in evangelicalism, I heard Jesus’s words, “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them,” quite a bit. But those words often evoked images of Bible studies, group prayer, worship services, or other intentional, structured activities designed to move me from point A to point B on the spiritual growth chart.

It never occurred to me then, that sometimes just sitting together can fill us with the Holy Spirit more than a flashy program.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with corporate prayer and worship. The Bible’s strewn with it, and so is the Glen. I spent my evenings transfixed by the hymns we sang, the poetry our chaplain read, and the oil that anointed my forehead.

But there were also the sacred quietudes:

Sitting for hours with my friends Kristin and Sara, speaking only with our clacking laptop keys. Their very presences, the four steady eyes gliding to me with silent humor or compassion when I needed it, gave me the courage to write through difficult childhood memories.

Sitting on a brick ledge with a crying person I barely knew, huddled together in literally unspeakable sadness. We looked down at our sandaled toes as lizards scurried behind us, not sure where to find our survival but knowing we eventually would.

Sitting at an MFA graduation reading (Seattle Pacific University’s MFA students hold residencies during the Glen), taking in not only the reverberating poetic lines, but also the hushed spaces between pages as we prepared to send these writers on the Great Commission of bringing their art to the world.

Sitting on a boulder in front of the campus koi pond, the closest person on a bench several yards away. I hadn’t met her, but as her glasses flickered with the August sun, I felt the warmth of our shared experience in a consecrated space, a place that transcends handshakes and names.

Sitting on a folding chair at 1 a.m.—my hip needed a break—at the Saturday night dance party. Though “Bust A Move” thundered under my feet, I entered my own slow-motion silent space of awe, as I watched dancers from twenty-five to sixty-five move in the sheer joy of such wild, holy communion.

On the last night of the Glen, chaplain Malcolm Guite said something simple yet profound: instead of trying so hard to replicate Christ as you love your neighbor, look for Christ in your neighbor, seeing his face in the faces you meet.

It’s not an easy job, transposing the face of a thirty-something, longhaired Israeli dude on the face of every man, woman, and child I encounter. Of course it’s impossible to ever imagine the exact physical representation of Christ, at least in this world. There has to be another way of doing it, a seeing that goes beyond the eyes.

During one night at the Glen, an attendee asked poet Li-Young Lee how he differentiates among the longing, the waiting, and the resting. After several minutes of letting those words roll around his mind and tongue, Lee said, “maybe the resting is in the longing.”

And that is what those moments of sitting together were, I believe, from the week’s first evening meal to the flight home, when a fellow Glen attendee smoothed the edges of my flight anxiety by quietly flipping through a magazine in the adjoining seat. Resting in the longing for God and for one another. Seeing and hearing Christ in the quiet, in the seemingly mundane moment, whenever two or three are gathered in his name.

The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Written by: Tania Runyan

Tania Runyan is the author of the poetry collections Second Sky (Cascade Poiema Series), A Thousand Vessels, Simple Weight, and Delicious Air, which was awarded Book of the Year by the Conference on Christianity and Literature in 2007. Her book How to Read a Poem, an instructional guide based on Billy Collins’s “Introduction to Poetry,” was recently released by T.S. Poetry Press. Her poems have appeared in many publications, including Poetry, Image, Books & Culture, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, The Christian Century, Atlanta Review, Indiana Review, and the anthology In a Fine Frenzy: Poets Respond to Shakespeare. Tania was awarded an NEA Literature Fellowship in 2011.

Image above by Bob Denst, used with permission.

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