In this issue of Cultivating we are launching something we have never done before ~ the unveiling of a newly commissioned series of paintings by the remarkable painter Amy Grimes. The series is titled Lighting Candles by Starlight. These paintings will make their debut one by one here at Cultivating, like stars coming out at night, over the course of this year. They represent something beautiful coming into being, first through the inspiration given a single person who then shared that vision and inspiration with another, entering into collaboration to create something to be shared with others. In a nutshell, this process reflects the life of every Cultivator and the call in every creative endeavor. Life itself is given to each of us singly and individually. But Life once given is never meant to stay alone, encapsulated, or self-possessed. The very nature of Life calls to be shared, to expand, to grow, to reproduce, to thrive.
The original image for Lighting Candles by Starlight was inspired long ago from words that I have held on to through periods of darkness, sometimes on the edge of despair itself.
“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
Light and high beauty for ever beyond the reach of Shadows. Just rest with this for a moment and think of it.
There is Light and high beauty for ever beyond the reach of shadows and our suffering. That Light and high beauty belongs to the King we serve, the King Who died for us, rose from the dead, and now lives beyond death, the King who is returning for us to bring us into His Kingdom that has no shadows. This High King we serve even unto death that we too may live with Him. It is His Light that we reach for.
At the end of last summer, I met together with four friends for the Board meeting of the Anselm Society, an organization dedicated to the renaissance and renewal of the Christian Imagination. We were talking about the essential calling and nature of the work that we are doing, and while I was sitting there with them, I saw suddenly a clear image of the work we do: it is really simply to light candles by starlight, especially for those searching and those losing hope.
As light-bearers, we carry small, earthly mechanisms for lighting our way through the gathering darkness, but we carry a Light that comes from high above us and is everlasting, beyond the reach of the shadows around us. This work of catching its high inspiration – starlight – and lighting our ordinary, everyday lives by it is not only done by the Anselm Society. It is also the good work being done the C.S. Lewis Foundation, by the Rabbit Room, by every church that truly seeks after Christ, by every educator, artisan of every kind, every healer and service person … labouring to pass on something of that shimmering Light and high beauty to others to light their own candles by.
This is the core vision and calling of Cultivating and The Cultivating Project. It always has been.
The season ahead of us, from this vantage point, looks to be a season filled with shadows, uncertainty, and reminders that we are indeed dust and mortal. Friends, I offer this suggestion softly – we do need to be reminded. We take so much for granted as human beings. We allow ourselves to be deceived into believing that we are not what we really are – small, finite, crooked, needy creatures each in fragile bodies yet immortal souls of incomprehensible value. In this fallen world we value what is fleeting yet neglect what is undying. We are broken, every one of us. Neither truth nor goodness inherently abide in us.
The Light we need to live by is not a Light we can self-generate.
History is stained edge to edge by our trying. The Light we need and long for can only ever be received. It is given. But there is a mysterious paradox to this Light- this Life. It is given but it must also be chosen. It must be received.
When we were each conceived, we were given life that we did not ask for or choose. Life was given to us by Someone Who deems us valuable enough to bring into being. And when we are, we are then given an astonishing and terrible power – the power to choose. It is with this power that every day we choose life or death.
Receiving Life is a gift, but it is also an act of choice. We are not powerless over receiving it, as we are powerless when we are first conceived and fashioned into being. We cannot generate this kind of Light or Life, but we must be willing to receive it when it comes to us. Receiving Life is not a random experience. It is chosen and it is cultivated.
As gardeners and Cultivators, we know we cannot make Life come to our gardens, but we can make the ground and conditions ready for it when it does. And, so it is with the gardens of our own lives. We can choose to become children of Light. Long ago, Saint Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus about this very thing. He wrote,
“For once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light – lead lives of those native-born to the Light. For the fruit – the effect and product – of the Light, the Spirit, consists in every form of kindly goodness, uprightness of heart, and trueness of life.” Ephesians 4.8-9
Here in this age of shadows, is where we can choose to receive Life as it is granted to us from high above shining still into our weary world. We can train our eyes to look upward, like Sam Gamgee, brave and true, and watch for starlight. Here, on this good earth is where we can cultivate the life we are given with expectation of thriving. Here we hold the ground, and the line, for the soon returning King.
May He find us ever faithful and gleaming brightly, ready for the Day!
The featured image “Receiving Life” is the first in the Lighting Candles by Starlight series and is (c) Amy Grimes. It is used here with her gracious permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project. The opening image is modified to fit the featured image size restrictions inherent to this website.
This series of paintings is lovingly dedicated to the Anselm Society, the C.S. Lewis Foundation, and to the Rabbit Room. These beloved organizations and communities have fostered thousands of us who are creatively inclined. Each with their own unique flavor and accent, they have sacrificially offered encouragement, inspiration, and education for the thriving of those who cultivate the good, the true, and beautiful.
Lancia E. Smith is an author, photographer, teacher, and business owner. A grateful lover of the Triune God, Lancia is the Founder & Executive Director of Cultivating & The Cultivating Project. She has served in executive management, church leadership, boards, and Art & Faith organizations over 30 years. She & her husband Peter have parented 7 children, & have a flock of beloved grandchildren. Lancia loves garden and website design, beautiful typography, road trips, being read aloud to by Peter, & cherishes every book she ever read by C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and George MacDonald.