Now holding out my thanks

Just Now

In the morning as the storm begins to blow away
the clear sky appears for a moment and it seems to me
that there has been something simpler than I could ever believe
simpler than I could have begun to find words for
not patient not even waiting no more hidden
than the air itself that became part of me for a while
with every breath and remained with me unnoticed
something that was here unnamed unknown in the days
and the nights not separate from them
not separate from them as they came and were gone
it must have been here neither early nor late then
by what name can I address it now holding out my thanks

“Just Now” by W. S. Merwin from Collected Poems. © The Library of America, 2013. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

Five things and three practices


At our Laity Lodge retreat I gave each of the speakers the same assignment:

What are FIVE things you wish you had been told when you first started off as an artist and what are THREE practices that keep you healthy and sane as an artist?

Here is how two of our speakers, Sandra Organ-Solis and Charlie Peacock, answered this double question. I’ll post Ginger Geyer’s answers in a subsequent post.


Five things I wish I had been told when I first started out as a ballet dancer:

1. That I would be misunderstood by both black and white communities.

2. That hard work will not always be rewarded; and concomitantly that diplomacy and cooperation are essential, that being a team player is non-negotiable.

3. That it would be incredibly important to learn how to take correction well.

4. That I should be prepared to reassess my artistic life and try other things along the way.

5. That losing dancers in your company (to other companies or other opportunities or “greener pastures”) would be heartbreaking, that it would be wounding.

Three practices that have kept my healthy and sane along the way:

1. Prayer and small group life (I’ve been in one for thirty years non-stop).

2. Taking a sabbath–daily ones, weekly ones, monthly ones.

3. Exposing myself to other pursuits and interests outside of my artistic work.

Finally, Sandra involved specific “movements” with each of her five points and at the end invited us to move with her. Here is a small video of that experiment and I’ll be surprised if I’m not sued or de-friended on Facebook by the people who show up in this video. But hey. It was an experiment. You guys look awesome. And there’s something to be said for dancing like there’s no tomorrow. And, yes, the dance makes better sense in its original context.


Five things I wish I had been told when I first started out as a musician:

1. That all of life is grace. That there is nothing that I could do to make God love me more. To the extent that I have not appreciated grace, any instance of it becomes creativity and imagination killers.

2. That your senses, mind, imagination and body need to always be learning, absorbing, taking in.

3. That the word “Christian” would someday be associated in the entertainment industry more with a genre than with the person of Christ.

4. That there are many ways of knowing and being known.

5. That even among the best of people … financial success, awards, consistent presence in the media, and work with recognizable brands and names means more than a quiet faithful life. Even the best of people, that is, give in to the temptation to desire the former over the latter.

Three practices that have kept my healthy and sane along the way:

1. God: having a conversational relationship with God.

2. People: hearing my wife regularly say to me when I’m in the thick of a music project, “You need to remember that there are more people in the world than just you and your artistic making.”

3. Place: learning, accepting and even embracing the way in which the places of my life have shaped me and continue to shape me rather than wishing to escape them.

Last question Charlie asks himself consistently: Who am I becoming while I’m doing all this making?

Finally, here are two videos from Charlie’s performance on the Friday evening of our retreat: one that includes music from his forthcoming album and one that involves an improv collaboration with Kenyon Adams on Charlie’s more famous song.

A Blanket of Peace and Forgetting





Well I know now the feel of dirt under the nails,
I know now the rhythm of furrowed ground under foot,
I have learned the sounds to listen for in the dusk,
the dawning and the noon.

I have held cornfields in the palm of my hand,
I have let the swaying wheat and rye run through my fingers,
I have learned when to be glad for sunlight and for sudden
thaw and for rain.

I know now what weariness is when the mind stops
and night is a dark blanket of peace and forgetting
and the morning breaks to the same ritual and the same
demands and the silence.
~Jane Clement from No One Can Stem the Tide




I did not sleep last night — my mind would not stop, my blankets twisted in turmoil, my muscles too tight.  The worries of the day needed serious wrestling in…

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A treasure trove of prayers of artists and for artists

Originally posted here. So delighted to have found this treasure trove:

January 16, 2015


I’ve been collecting prayers for artists and from artists for years. I thought I’d go ahead and put a number of them in the same place. There are plenty more, of course (such as here or here or here). But perhaps one of these may be of use to you or to artists in your community, perhaps even become a prayer that settles into the heart and turns into a source of daily rumination. As Richard Foster has said, to pray is to become a different kind of person. “All who have walked with God,” he writes, “have viewed prayer as the main business of their lives.” It is a beautiful and powerful thing when prayer becomes the deliberate, ongoing, chewing and chawing, mumbling here and there, even unconscious business of an artist’s life.

A Prayer for Artists
(Bryan Brown, worship pastor at Christ Church in Austin and the worship leader of the Transforming Culture symposium in 2008, adapted from Herbert Whittaker’s “Prayer for the Artists” (1987).)

Lord, remember your artists. Have mercy upon them and remember with compassion all those that reflect the good, the ill, the strengths and the weaknesses of the human spirit.

Remember those who raise their voices in unending song, those who pour their souls into music loud and soft.

Remember those who put pigment to surface, carve wood and stone and marble, who work base metals into beauty, those building upwards from the earth toward heaven.

Remember those who put thought to paper by computer and by pen; the poets who delve, the playwrights who analyze and proclaim, the dreamers-up of narrative, all those who work with the light and shadows of film.

Remember the actors moved by Spirit and dancers moving through space.

Remember all these artists whom you have placed among us, for are they not, O Lord, the fellows of your inspiration? Do they not, Lord God, bring to your people great proof of your divinity and our part in it?

Remember your artists and show them mercy and compassion that they may do the same and so uplift all your people. That they may cry forth your praises, as we do here.

Amen! Amen! Amen!

From The Book of Common Prayer 
(17. For Church Musicians and Artists)

O God, whom saints and angels delight to worship in heaven: Be ever present with your servants who seek through art and music to perfect the praises offered by your people on earth; and grant to them even now glimpses of your beauty, and make them worthy at length to behold it unveiled for evermore; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Prayer for Artists 
(From “Prayers of Our Heart” by Vienna Cobb Andersen)

Bless the creators, O God of creation, who by their gifts make the world a more joyful and beautiful realm. Through their labors they teach us to see more clearly the truth around us. In their inspiration they call forth wonder and awe in our own living. In their hope and vision they remind us that life is holy. Bless all who create in your image, O God of creation. Pour your Spirit upon them that their hearts may sing and their works be fulfilling. Amen.

Prayer for Vocation in Daily Work (in the arts or any vocation)
(From Venite by Robert Benson)

Deliver us from the service of self alone, that we may do the work You have given us to do, in truth and beauty and for the common good, for the sake of the One who comes among us as One who serves. Amen.

Two Prayers by Flannery O’Connor

(A journal kept by the twenty-one-year-old Flannery O’Connor, whilst studying at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 1946, was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, titled A Prayer JournalThe New Yorker published a few excerpts of her prayers, one of which I include here. It is so very much her, yet we can hear our own voices in it too.)

“Please help me dear God to be a good writer and to get something else accepted. That is so far from what I deserve, of course, that I am naturally struck with the nerve of it…. All boils down to grace, I suppose”

“Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and myself is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon. The crescent is very beautiful and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see; but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing.

I do not know you God because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside.

I want very much to succeed in the world with what I want to do. I have prayed to You about this with my mind and my nerves on it and strung my nerves into a tension over it and said, ‘oh God, please’, and ‘I must’, and ‘please, please’. I have not asked You, I feel, in the right way. Let me henceforth ask You with resignation–that not being or meant to be a slacking up in prayer but a less frenzied kind, realizing that the frenzy is caused by an eagerness for what I want and not a spiritual trust. I do not with to presume. I want to love.

Oh God, please make my mind clear.

Please make it clean.

I ask You for a greater love for my holy Mother and I ask her for a greater love for You.

Please help me to get down under things and find where You are.

I do not mean to deny the traditional prayers I have said all my life; but I have been saying them and not feeling them. My attention is always very fugitive. This way I have it every instant. I can feel a warmth of love heating me when I think & write this to You. Please do not let the explanations of the psychologists about this make it turn suddenly cold. My intellect is so limited, Lord, that I can only trust in You to preserve me as I should be.”

A Prayer of an Artist 
(Over the course of my years as a pastor in Austin, I put to paper the sorts of things I prayed for the artists under my care and for myself as well. This is the result of that effort.)

Father God, Creator of all things, seen and unseen, we praise you for the works of your hand.  We declare that you are sovereign over our lives, and that you are the originator of all good things.  We humbly ask that you would grant us new ideas, even now.  Bless our labours.  Fulfill your creative purposes in us today.

Jesus Christ, Word of God, Icon of God, we praise you for sanctifying the earth in your incarnation, confirming the goodness of the physical world of stone, wood, metal, wind and fire and flesh.  We ask that you would rule our imaginations with wisdom and love.  Deliver us from fear and pride.  Great Carpenter: teach us, guide us, aid us in our work today.

Holy Spirit, Lord and Giver of life, Power and Fire, we praise you for sustaining all things in being, energizing them with vitality, and ushering them to their future and final state of glory.  Purify our souls; scour our hearts; re-order our minds; strengthen our bodies.  Free us to be playful today.

Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Three in One, we worship you, we acclaim you, we love you.  We praise you for the extravagant love that you demonstrate in the creation of this world.  We bless you, and we ask that you would form in us a community of artists that reflect the Divine Community, marked by self-giving love, infectious joy and the desire to honor and glorify the name of God; for Christ’s sake and for the sake of this world.  Amen.

An Iconographer’s Prayer

Teach me, Lord, to use wisely the time which You have given me and to work well without wasting a second. Teach me to profit from my past mistakes without falling into a gnawing doubt. Teach me to anticipate the project without worry, to imagine the work without despair if it should turn out differently. Teach me to unite haste and slowness, serenity and ardor, zeal and peace.

Help me at the beginning of the work when I am the weakest. Help me in the middle of the work when my attention must be sustained. And especially fill all the emptiness of my work with Your Presence. Lord, in all the work of my hands, bestow Your Grace so that it can speak to others and my mistake can speak to me alone. Keep me in the hope of perfection, without which I would lose heart, yet keep me from achieving perfection, for surely I would be lost in arrogance.

Purify my sight when I am doing poorly, for one is never sure that the work will turn out badly; Yet when I am doing well, one is never sure that the work will turn out well. Lord, let me never forget that all knowledge is in vain unless there is work. And all work is empty unless there is love. And all love is hollow unless it binds me both to others and to You.

Lord, teach me to pray with my hands, my arms, and all my strength. Remind me that the work of my hands belongs to You and that it is fitting to return this gift to You. Yet, if I work for the pleasure of others, like a flowering plant in the evening I will wither. But if I work for the love of goodness, I will remain in goodness. And the time to work for goodness and for Your Glory is now.