This week I'm attending the Glen Workshop on the beautiful campus of Mt. Holyoke College, in South Hadley, Massachusetts. This is my third Glen Workshop, but only my first time at Glen East. Prior to last year, the Glen Workshop was held only once a year, in Santa Fe. Now there is both a Glen West and Glen East.
If you've never heard of the Glen Workshop, it's definitely something you should acquaint yourself with. Image Journal has been putting on this Christian writers and artists' workshop for nearly 20 years. It has achieved a reputation as one of the premiere artists/writers' conferences in the US, certainly the premiere one that is unabashedly faith-based. Drawing from all across the Christian spectrum (and a welcoming place for agnostic and spiritual types as well), it aims to blend Art, Faith, and Mystery. Attendees choose one of several morning classes (fiction, poetry, memoir, spiritual writing, painting, songwriting, playwriting, assemblage) or a seminar ("Icons: Prayer Made Visible") with recognized experts in their fields. Or they can do the retreat option which means their mornings are free but they still participate in all the other events which include talks; readings; corporate worship; open slide night for visual artists; open mike nights for poets, writers, musicians and the like; and communal meals. I'm doing the retreat option.
The theme of this year's Glen is "The Generations in Our Bones: Art and Tradition." Kathleen Norris (author of The Cloister Walk, Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, Acedia & Me, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, and The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and "Women's Work") is the keynote speaker and chaplain for the week. She started us out last night by talking about humility and hospitality. She drew from the Desert Fathers, including Abba Isidore who said, "Of all evil suggestions, the most terrible is the prompting to follow your own heart." We are blind to our own faults. Kathleen encouraged us to cultivate the practice recommended by Evagrius, of "thinking about your thoughts." Coupled with humility about our own weaknesses is hospitality towards others, a recognizable characteristic of Benedictine monks with whom Kathleen has stayed. Art must be hospitable to let the reader in. She has no patience with narcissistic writing. She also said, "Art does not argue, it does not seek to convince. It just is." She finished last night's keynote lecture by reading from several poets she felt deserved more attention: "Uphill" by Christina Rossetti, "Morning Worship" by Mark Van Doren, "Making Light of It" by Philip Levine, Kathleen's own "The Mourning (a November Song)" and "Midnight Gladness" by Denise Levertov.
We also heard a reading yesterday afternoon by essayist Scott Russell Sanders (who is teaching the spiritual writing class) on the theme of "Why write?" I can't remember the title of it, but it made me want to read more of his work. It was excellent!
One of the highlights of the Glen is always the book table, laid out by the inimitable Warren Farha of Eighth Day Books in Wichita, KS. I mean, seriously, you have never seen such an amazing book table at a conference anywhere. Here are some photos so you can almost have the browsing experience we have in person. And you can visit their website to buy any you want. Warren lets us build up a stack for ourselves off to the side during the week and pay for them all when we're ready. I've already got a stack about 2 feet tall!
To be continued...