The Kilns as a place is vested with a distinct sense of familiarity to it and a kindly quiet sense of welcome. I was warmly greeted at the front door by Kate Simcoe, the Summer Seminar Coordinator and hostess, as though I were some very important person rather than the shadow of a person that I felt I was and I was treated like a most desired guest.
To this day the effect of that lingers with me because it was experiencing a foretaste of Heaven. I was not the only one who felt that way as it turned out. All of us, ten I believe, felt the same way. I was shown to my room to find a lovely bed made up with a beautiful stack of towels awaiting me. From that moment till the moment of my departure I was treated with such grace, beauty and kindness that it approaches magic. It could just as well have been Rivendell or even the Houses of Healing.
– Lancia E. Smith, “The Kilns 2005 – Part I”
According to my memo notes, the idea for Deep Draughts of Beauty was born in November 2016. At the top of the list was a site I had visited for a few months: Cultivating the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.
I hadn’t seen anything quite like this virtual spot before. It offered gorgeous images that created a sanctuary from the cacophony on the internet, thoughtful interviews of scholars and artists, and a well-measured balance of white space between all of its noteworthy elements. Every nook bore the mark of intentional, lovingly curated beauty.
I took my time looking through the archives. One of my favorite posts was by the curator herself, about a trip to C. S. Lewis’ home. With her photographs and words, Lancia brought me up the walk of The Kilns and through the front door. I think what I loved most about this post — though I couldn’t have expressed it in words then — was her candid description of the responsibilities and pressures that might have kept her at home, contrasted with the healing that met her in England. “It was hard to believe and to accept that God’s will for me could actually be something so beautiful,” she writes of the trip, and this idea caught the attention of my punctilious heart. (It still does.) Could He really be — that good?
That was my own first brush with Cultivating. The actual Story of Cultivating begins much further back, and is absolutely worth reading to understand what has taken place there. (“The real beginning of Cultivating happened a long time ago when my life conditions were very different than what they are now. At that time I was a very young mother, an addict and alcoholic, and we had just reached the place I most feared. We were homeless.” — yes, do go read it!)
For since then, Cultivating has bloomed into something else entirely. No — actually, not something “else,” but something more itself than ever.
Cultivating the Good, the True, and the Beautiful is now an online magazine that focuses on “integrating our faith, reason, and imagination” through the seasons of the year and of life. It is still a refuge for girding up strength to press on. It is still, even more than before, a beautiful place to linger. Though it’s already on its third (Autumn) issue, I still marvel over the warmth and welcome of the layout and its seven sections with each new release. I’d recommend exploring it with a rather large cup of tea, and — if you can! — using only one tab or window so that you can go through it one piece at a time.
But I’d also like to highlight Lancia Smith herself, friends, because she is so integral to the life-giving encouragement you’ll find at Cultivating. She’s the best interviewer I’ve seen in this field, and has brought her gift of listening and insight to the table with a range of artists — many of whom I suspect you may already know and love, like Sarah Clarkson, Malcolm Guite, Lanier Ivester, K.C. Ireton, Karen Swallow Prior, Christie Purifoy, Brian Brown, and Diana Glyer.
Lancia also takes exquisite photographs, whether they are of human faces caught right at the moment when the personality most clearly shines through, or of scenes into which one would like to insert oneself posthaste.
And she is familiar with the darkness that can seem like a powerful counterargument to truth and beauty and goodness. Grief, melancholy, anxiety, depression: in her speaking and writing, she is honest about her own struggles, and ever watchful for those who may be battling the same things. (If you ever have the chance to hear her speak, don’t pass it up! Lancia plants wisdom deep — with stirring clarity and a contagious sense of humor. This is one of her recent talks, from the Anselm Society.) But she does not bow to that darkness. One thing I love very much about Lancia as an artist and as a friend is that she doesn’t merely introduce a lovely spectacle or share a story; without a hint of moralizing, she consistently brings the thread of beauty back to the truths found in the Word of God… a Lady of Light, if ever there was one.
More than anything, to look at Lancia and her work is to see what happens when people are brought into a place of being welcomed and known. Through her example I’ve learned that art can be an act of love, all the way from initial creation to final release, and that it thrives in generous community. The sense of Rivendell she mentions in the opening excerpt is what she has made of Cultivating and The Cultivating Project, and it’s a privilege to give you a glimpse of it here.
Selections from Cultivating that you might enjoy:
– “This Is the Work”: a song by Matthew Clark for Lancia. This phrase hangs on my living room wall as a reminder for me in the work of mothering, writing, and living.
This post is part of the Deep Draughts of Beauty series.