From Thursday March 7 to Sunday March 10, I had the pleasure and privilege to participate in a retreat for minsters to artists at Laity Lodge (about 1 hour outside of San Antonio, TX). The Lodge itself is a remarkable place. Built in the early 1960s, Laity Lodge overhangs a lazy river at the bottom of a deep gorge. It is surely one of the most beautiful places that I have ever visited in Texas, and it is fitting that such an inspiring place should host a group gathered to discuss the role of imagination in Christian ministry.
As with most retreats, it was the conversations and personal interactions that really made it worthwhile. It is hard to duplicate or describe this part of the retreat here, but I do want to give you some of the highlights.
The theme of the retreat was “artist as caretakers of the imagination.” What exactly this means took on many forms during the conference but at its core is a commitment to the formation of a Christian imagination as a central component of ministry.
Those who are familiar with his recent books, Desiring the Kingdom and Imagining the Kingdom, will not be surprised to hear that Jamie K A Smith was the keynote speaker alongside David Taylor. These two offered some excellent and compelling thoughts on what the imagination is, how it works and what it means to imagine well. Smith imparted an exciting vision of the imagination as a primary mode of knowing and understanding the world, formed by the aesthetic environment and practices in which it is immersed. At the heart of Smith’s philosophical work is the Augustinian view that human persons are lovers and that it is through worship that we form a vision of the world that kindles the desires of our hearts.
The implications of Smith’s work for Christian education and ministry are vast and incalculable. Although a variety of professions were represented (artists, ministers, academics and more), most folks found Smith’s thoughts on the imagination to be compelling and valuable.
In addition to the keynote lectures, I also spent a good deal of my time in David Hooker’s cyanotype workshop. The facilities of Laity Lodge include two well stocked studio art spaces as well as a small art gallery. As part of this retreat, David led a workshop on how to make cyanotype prints, which involves coating paper with a special photo-sensitive liquid, placing objects over the paper so that they produce a shadow, leaving the paper and objects to expose in the sun, and then washing the exposed paper to reveal interesting and often beautiful shapes.
Although I studied studio art as an undergrad, I had not produced art in about 5 years Trying my hand a new project like this was exciting, and it reminded me why I loved to make art in the first place David, himself, was experimenting with Cyanotype for the first time, and he may use it in a new site-specific work called The Sweep Project.
There is so much more that could be said. The worship was incredible. The food was outstanding. The hospitality was contagious. When words begin to fail, it is sometimes helpful to turn to pictures.
If this is something that sounds interesting to you, I encourage you to keep this retreat in mind for next year. The planned theme for next year is “The Stewardship of the Affections.” Maybe I will see you there.
Jim Watkins is Featured Artist Editor of Transpositions. He has recently completed his PhD in theology through the Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts, and his forthcoming book Creativity as Sacrifice: Toward a Theological Model for Human Creativity in the Arts will be published with Fortress Press.