Seeds and Rain, Graham Pergande ‘FF1

Graham Pergande ‘FF1
Washington & Lee University

Most of my prayers this year begin with a plea – to open my mind and my heart to what God may be teaching me, where he may be guiding me during this time. I’d like to share with you about two days in my first semester of the Franklin Fellows Program when the Lord broke my heart open.

October 10th – Hutchmoot
Hutchmoot is a Christian Artist’s conference (but so much more) put on by Andrew and Pete
Peterson’s Rabbit Room. “The Rabbit Room fosters Christ-centered community and spiritual
formation through music, story, and art” (from their website). This community and ministry reaches from Cambridge to Los Angeles, from London to Nashville – gathered in worship of God’s creativity and our belonging to that community.

So, three Franklin Fellows, Elly Anderson, Grace Tinsley, and I met Andrew and Pete to volunteer at their refurbished cabin in the woods. The weekend was full of kazoo’s and laughter, songs and worship, grief and tears. There was a pervasive sense of longing to be together, reflecting on all that was lost in 2020. Andrew Peterson performed Saturday night. It didn’t make the video, but he read a Luci Shaw poem before he sang:

changes my
feelings about

If that isn’t a concise summary of this year. We have been witness to a torrential downpour. But
there have been seeds planted. Like when my best friend and Trinity Fellow’s alumni Heeth
Varnedoe told me in February when I was trying to decide on whether to apply to a Fellows
program “Graham, what would it look like to use the gifts God has given you to glorify Him instead of yourself?” Like when Heeth and I hiked through snow in July to summit the Lost Man Loop. Like when we prayed out loud next to a half frozen alpine lake for healing for his mother, for our aching world, for guidance as he stepped into law school and me into Franklin Fellows. Like when I heard Andrew perform that night. He sang:

I had a dream that I was waking
At the burning edge of dawn
And all that rain had washed me clean
All the sorrow was gone

I had a dream that I was waking
At the burning edge of dawn
And I could finally believe
The king had loved me all along

I had a dream that I was waking
At the burning edge of dawn
I saw the sower in the silver mist
And He was calling me home

So, there I was, crying. Because as a Christian, we believe in that Jesus “loved us all along” that “He was calling me home.” So, we wait, we look east toward the “burning edge of dawn,” for our savior to return. But while we are here, especially this year – we are grieving. What I found so special about Hutchmoot, what broke my heart open that weekend, is that those believers made room for naming that grief, moving toward it instead of away from it. 

Earlier that day I watched Mark Meynell interview Malcolm Guite, a brilliant poet and passionate believer. On C.S. Lewis’s poem “Reason” Guite offered that the reader needs to be as imaginative as Lewis, that “the poem shimmers into being in the meeting of poet and reader.” And how in the same light, Samuel Taylor Coleridge realized that to perceive creation as divine, we humans must inherently contain some of that same divine imagination within us. Guite said, 

All the time that God has been reading the divine poem to us, we have been making footnotes about the color of the ink. That’s why we need the artists, to wake up the imaginative perceiving. The imagination is there to help us perceive the great poem of our existence in its height and depth.” 

He of course is drawing upon Ephesians 3:17-19:

17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19)

I believe this height and depth of God’s imagination includes poetry. Nashville knows as well as any other city, creativity is a powerful tool to bring people to Jesus. Here, we have a church on every corner, and worship stages filled with talented artists using their gifts for God’s glory. Heeth was right, this is where I am supposed to be. And as a poet, I aspire to use my gifts like Andrew Peterson, or Malcolm Guite, Luci Shaw, or Scott Cash. He’s a part of the next day.

Thursday December 17th – Seminary Classes and Leadership Lunch

Thursday at Franklin Fellows, we open with a devotional, then have two seminary classes split up by a leadership lunch. This Thursday our leadership lunch was with Scott and Michelle Cash. I asked Scott how he struck a balance between scripture and creative license – does he start every song with a bible verse? He said, 

“vulnerability is the gap between truth and creativity.” 

I think Andrew and his friends at Rabbit Room model this, as does We the Kingdom. They hold the grief of 2020 and joy of creative worship of our Almighty Creator in tension, together.

That same day Dr. David Michelson, a beloved professor at the Vanderbilt Divinity School and generous member of C3, taught us our last class of a course on early church history. Our reading that week was from “Treasure House of Mysteries: Explorations of the Sacred Text through Poetry in the Syriac Tradition.” The introduction addressed a fourth century Christian poet named Ephrem who stated on the reading of scripture

“Who is capable of comprehending the extend of what is to be discovered in a single utterance of Yours? For we leave behind in it far more than we take from it, like thirsty people drinking from a fountain…A thirsty person rejoices because he has drunk; he is not grieved because he proved incapable of drinking the fountain dry. Let the fountain vanquish you thirst; your thirst should not vanquish the fountain! (Ephrem, Commentary on the Diatessaron 1:18-19).” 

This passage reminded me of the humility with which I need to approach God’s Word – to be grateful for the ways that the Gospel has come alive in my life instead of mourning my failure to fully comprehend its infinite wisdom. To rejoice in all the ways that art has been a light in my life, that the Gospel has been illuminated through creativity. 

I am reminded of a quote that Pastor Cassidy told us, “The Gospel is shallow enough for a babe to wade in, and deep enough that the wisest theologian will never reach the bottom.” Thank God for that duality. That God is both present with us, and beyond our comprehension. That Jesus gives us direct teachings, but that his parables continue to reveal themselves to us over time. 

Out last class of the semester, and the last poem of this blog post, came from Pastor David Cassidy. He taught our class on the Life of Christ with vigor and wisdom and humor. Our last day, brought him and the rest of us to tears, he read a poem that reminds us of the central duality of our faith, that Christ is fully human and fully God. 

Mary’s Song – Luci Shaw

Blue homespun and the bend of my breast
keep warm this small hot naked star
fallen to my arms. (Rest…
you who have had so far
to come.) Now nearness satisfied
the body of God sweetly. Quiet he lies
whose vigor hurled
a universe. He sleeps
whose eyelids have not closed before.
His breath (so slight it seems
no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps
to sprout a world.
Charmed by dove’s voices, the whisper of straw,
he dreams,
hearing no music from his other spheres.
Breath, mouth, ears, eyes
he is curtailed
who overflowed all skies,
all years.
Older than eternity, now he
is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught that I might be free,
blind in my womb to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth
for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn.