A few weeks ago, I came home from work late only to remember I was supposed to run a meeting that night. As the resident gallery director at AS220, a non-profit arts organization in downtown Providence, it’s my job to curate shows during any month a resident artist is not exhibiting their work. We had a resident cancel at the last minute and now it was my job to fill that slot with a show in less than a month. The logistics for such an undertaking filled me with distress: deciding on the nature of the event, coming up with a coherent statement, a show title, planning refreshments, endless back and forth emailing to secure donations of artwork and then delegating numerous important tasks.
Now here I was, sitting in my chair hastily eating dinner. The meeting was in less than an hour. In less than an hour, I would be standing in front of a room full of people, guiding them towards an artistic vision. I realized I couldn’t sit in that chair and let anxiety consume me; a community of people was expecting me to show up, to lead them. Yes, me. The soft-spoken girl from the Massachusetts countryside who moved to the city a year ago. The girl who has never led a meeting before in her life.
I put the dishes in the sink and stepped in front of a mirror, feeling in many ways like my feet were stepping towards a threshold moment. I looked in the mirror and saw a face marked by a long day and no makeup, my work jeans with random gunk all over them and my men’s plaid shirt. Is this something that should I should avoid? Would this be a certain embarrassment that would result in a mental stabbing? I finally met my own blue eyes in the glass and decided I didn’t care. I didn’t care about my performance or whether this was even possible for me in my current state of mind. Good. I thought. They’ll see me just as I am. My indecisive thoughts retreated and I reached for my coat. Perhaps I will lead poorly, but I will show up. I prayed, quick. God, here I am. Just as I am. I’m going to show up. Help. Help me to love these people.”
Then, notes in hand, I shuffled out my door.
The room filled steadily with resident artists who, to my relief, decided to respond to my urgent call for collaborators. The clock hit 7:45 and I stood. I wasn’t sure how to begin, so I began by telling everyone I had a rough day and was only half present. Everyone was silent. Well, here goes. I looked down at my notes and began working down the list. As if invited by my own honesty, people began to speak. Discussion began to flow and suddenly, I found myself, an imperfect somebody, surrounded by other imperfect somebodies, all bravely putting forward what we had to offer, a humble exchange of thoughts.
I fell into a rhythm, gently keeping the conversation focused, giving direction, and moving steadily from point to point. I forgot my jeans, my long day, the lines under my eyes. When I ventured to speak, I stumbled over some of my words, struggled to find a way to phrase things. But I said them and I said them in pure service to their intent, with no layered motivations of proving my intelligence or worth. I had decided to not perform, so my energy was free to listen. When someone began to speak, I found myself looking at them intently, tuning in fully and deeply, loving them for their brave offering.
That meeting ended up being one of the easiest and most natural occurrences for me. And it was successful. We cast a vision for a show. Then we got busy bringing that vision to life. We emailed, we text-messaged, we painted; we typed; we plastered art onto the walls. On March 3rd, we spent all day arranging and rearranging the pieces and finally hanging it on the walls. The following day we filled tables with bread and cheese and wine. Dozens of people crowded into the small gallery space, full of consideration, conversation, and generosity. When the night was over, we put the chairs and tables back, sorted donations for two local refugee organizations we had chosen to support, and turned the lights off.
The gallery was now empty, naked in a way. But isn’t that how we must all come? We must reach the threshold of fear and desperation. We must face the desperate urge to reach for tangible coverings that would ensure success. That’s when you’ll meet one of one of life’s greatest opportunities: to come to God naked, empty, and bare. To make space for Him to come in and create, to bless our meager offering of our imperfect selves. This is the vital choice in being a creator: to either clothe yourself with the securities of this reality or to strip yourself of all superficial aids and fall blindly into supernatural coverings.
Alyssa Coffin is one of my newest friends here in Providence. We bonded over a shared love for Jesus, contemplative conversations, and almond flour waffles. She is an excellent listener, a lover of winter, and a fine arts painter currently based in Providence, RI. See her work here.