The Montreat Conference Center in Montreat NC serves as a place of spiritual awakening for many of the CLL’s Certificate in Spiritual Formation courses hosted there each year.
This post is a written reflection of participant Martha Jane Petersen’s experiences during her time in the 2018 course, I Have Room for Second Life– A Study of Rainer Maria Rilkes.
I took the course “I Have Room for a Second Life” – a study of Rainer Maria Rilke’s writings – in Montreat, NC, April 19-22, 2018.
The title spoke eloquently to me since I was a new widow of six months, trying to find my footing and wondering if indeed I had “a second life.”
I enrolled initially as a “commuter,” going back and forth to Montreat Conference Center from my home in Black Mountain.
But I found that too cumbersome, needed a change of space with peace and quiet plus I wanted to engage more fully with other participants in the course.
So I stayed in Assembly Inn for the duration. It was a warm and meaningful time for me.
Since 1996, I have been a fabric artist, the creator of art quilts.
I make them improvisationally and nontraditionally, usually with a spiritual theme.
I had set all this aside during 2017 as my husband, Pete, succumbed slowly to metastatic prostate cancer until he died in October.
In February 2018 I returned to my totally disorganized fabric studio which I attempted to put in order.
A few weeks later I re-entered it, hoping to engage in a creative project, but felt overwhelmed with too much stuff, too many options.
I had no energy to sort out this confusion, this abundance of possibilities, so I walked out.
I wondered if this was the end of my efforts as a visual artist.
Amazingly, the course on Rilke revitalized me, bestowing on me a new sense of direction.
The notion of one’s “senses” surfaced a number of times in his work, resonating with my realization that I, as an artist, am indeed a sensory person.
I am directed by color, pattern and texture.
I find my bliss when I discover how these components come together in a design.
The specific passage in #60 called to me: …Go, you who are sent out by your senses; Go out to the boundary of your yearning; Grow like a fire behind things….One must only go; no feeling is too remote…. Near is the land you call life. You’ll recognize it by its earnestness…
When we read this I exclaimed to the class, “This is a commission!”
I felt a new impetus not to squander my blood in blind passion (#38) and to see my hands as consecrated for [prayers]…whether [I’ve] painted or hayed (#42).
Interestingly, in #54 the poet speaks of God’s commands to him to write and to paint.
I also resonated with his words from #12): with this expansive return, I want to bear witness to You: I want to proclaim You like none before (#12), and …it’s not too late to plunge into [my] forming depths where life reveals itself (#14).
Not too late for me as I feel myself swelling and aching/ in a hundred places/ above all in the depths of my heart (#24).
I could only say of the course and its effect “Thanks be to God.”
Fall 2019 and Spring 2020 Montreat courses include:
October 17-20, 2019
With Dr. Martha Moore-Keish
Location: Montreat Conference Center
April 16-19, 2020
With Mark Burrows
Montreat Conference Center
April 19-22, 2020
With Jim Dant, Carl McColman, Debra Weir
Martha Jane Petersen is an ordained Presbyterian pastor who regards her art as a form of ministry, a visual proclamation of the Gospel. Whereas some people feed hungry bodies, Petersen says her deep desire is to feed hungry spirits through her art. Her art quilts have been exhibited widely.
Petersen’s life has unfolded in waves: Upon graduating from Agnes Scott College, as a nurse (BSN Cornell University); a PCUSA missionary for 16 years, Taiwan, Ghana and Nigeria; a writer for church periodicals; then a Seminary student at CTS (ThM and DMin) ,and upon ordination, interim at Columbia Presbyterian Church and facilitator of spiritual formation retreats and workshops. Upon retirement in Black Mountain NC, in addition to her artistic and writing activities, she supplied a tiny church with her husband, Pete, near Old Fort, NC for 15 years. She has three adult children and five grandchildren.