[A version of this post was given as a speech by DSC Founder Jonathan Reuel at our October 2018 conference gathering in Goshen, Indiana]

by Jonathan Reuel

When I was was young, about as young as I can remember, my grandmother gave me a large sheet of paper and took me to the tub where we submerged the papers (hers and mine) for 8 minutes and then stapled them to fiberboard. As they dried they shrank and we painted watercolor on to surfaces that did not warp or shift.

When I was young, about as young as I can remember, we visited the church my mother attended growing up. I went alone to Sunday school and the teacher asked us if we would like to invite Jesus into our hearts. In that moment nothing existed but this simple question which I knew I did not understand but could say yes to… and did.

When I was young I left the country that was my home and went to another country. Then another. And another until I ended up in Bolivia and stayed there for four whole years. In most of the places I lived I not only had friends, but a best friend.

I was given the gift of art, the gift of friendship, and the gift of the presence of God in Jesus at a very young age. I was given the the gift of a great loss a few years later.

Then when I was 14 I stood in an airport in Bolivia and said goodbye to my life and friends. That ending and the move to America wounded me in a mysterious and deep way and landed me in my first major wilderness.

These gifts of art, Jesus, friendship and a wound shaped my life and set me on a particular course, one which I have sprinted and stumbled along, avoided, then plodded down now for 33 years.

Paul asks the Corinthians: “Who makes you different? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you really did receive it, why boast as if this were not so?”

TS Eliot declares ,

“You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel“

I want to talk tonight about the relay race we are in as artists, friends and/or followers of Jesus. I am calling this going to the hills.

This starts with a gift — that gift has many forms: an absence plus a longing, a discovery, an invitation, or a gentle drawing towards the thing.

We mature in that thing, at least in part, through suffering.

As a community, the DSC has been given the gifts of art, Jesus and friendship.

As individuals we are at different places. You may be clear about being an artist. Or not. Same thing with Jesus. And friendship. There’s room for whether you are walking in these gifts or waiting in the wilderness. Or asking whether they are for you.

“If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
than an order of words, the conscious occupation
of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying. . .

Here, the intersection of the timeless moment is Indiana, and nowhere. Never, and always.

Here are a few secrets hidden in plain sight that are signposts on the journey towards art, Jesus, and friendship.

Sign post number one: Gift

You receive the call, the capacity and the passion as a gift. You don’t earn it, you don’t build it. You can’t manufacture the raw materials from which art or faith or friendship are made.

One important function of wilderness seasons and desert portions of the journey is the slow removal of the delusion that we created and carry these things ourselves.  We don’t. They are a gift. From God. Through more means than we can possibly imagine.

Sign post number two: Narrow/Expanse

The gate is narrow. It’s more like a hole in the wall. You take off your pack, your jacket, your boots. You get down on your knees and crawl through. You enter the new world empty and open and small.

All your courageous exploring, sacrificial building and meaningful successes do not change this at all. Artmaking, friendship and following Jesus regularly return you to a humble place. This is not a sign of failure, but a central part of the process.

“I cried out to God from a narrow place and God answered with an expanse.”

Then I kept walking and found another narrow place.

Sign post number three: Community

You don’t get to these places alone even though the path requires solitude. The deepest wounds happen in community. They drive us to the wilderness. If we are to survive we must re-embrace community on new terms.

“If we come into community without knowing that the reason we come is to discover the mystery of forgiveness, we will soon be disappointed.” (Vanier, https://imagodeicommunity.ca/on-spiritual-issues/on-community-by-jean-vanier/)

Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.

The theme of this conference is “Living Art, Caring for Culture”.

At the root of art is the continual invitation to be consumed by Love and beauty and hope rather than fear and greed and pride.

Generosity increases as we discover art and faith and friendship are gifts resting on something bigger than us.

Genesis moments appear as we loosen our grip on our ideas and possessions and identities and crawl through the humbling door to the unknown.

Generations find their identity in the wilderness and their joy in entrusting to others what they carried for their leg of the relay.