Last Friday night, we held our first Foundling House brick-and-mortar event—a dinner and concert called Echo Hill, featuring the talents of Eric Peters, Janna Barber, Palmer Gregg, Ben Bannister, Bill Wolf, and Lorraine Furtner, plus an excellent feast by Sullivan’s.
This project had been more than six months in the making. The idea always seemed to be floating around in the back of my mind that we shouldn’t limit ourselves to virtual reception of art, to interaction by proxy. That kind of distance relationship, at least where art is concerned, suffers from a fan-based mentality. Good poems, stories, and songs drift into the territory of hagiography—that glowing writing full of miracles and merit that surrounds the saints of old. If we add the personal context of presence, our work takes on different and perhaps more holistic meaning*. I had mentioned the possibility of an event to our writers’ group multiple times, trying to gauge interest and, on a more subliminal level, hoping that if I talked about it enough, I would figure out how to pull it off.
Something special happens when people sit down to eat together. To be honest, I’m still at a loss to understand what that is. My best explanation is that the longing for Christ, the disconsolate yet hopeful yearning for the world’s redemption as expressed fully by the Holy Ghost, echoes from one person and to another. Like a multiphonic chorus of rising harmonies, this desire expresses itself in a thousand and one interpersonal ways. People tell stories about their lives, loving laughter and grieving sorrows together. People talk about how good food is. They introduce themselves and discuss where they are from. They take notice of where everyone came from and how they got to the table in the first place. People pay attention to body language and dress. They make mental notes of who is with whom. In all these things, we hear and see the longing. We cry over what is bad, and we celebrate what is good.
“Who despises the day of small things? Men will rejoice when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.” —Zechariah 4:10
A plumb line is indeed a small thing. It’s naught but a little weight attached to a string, yet by it, great walls are made straight, and houses (or temples, in Zerubbabel’s case) stand strong. All the nuances and conversational matters that come to pass when people are together, especially over a meal or a good story or song, are the small things adding up to the way the Holy Ghost works in people. What is seemingly insignificant defines what is great.
I’m a big believer in liturgy as a powerful force. Something so banal—something often wrongly decried as boring—is a vehicle of grace to the human heart. In piecing together Echo Hill, it was our desire to take these normal things—song, story, and table—and cultivate a space in which others could experience grace, both common and (may it be so) divine.
For all intents and purposes, I feel like the evening was a success and a delight. The measure of the real good achieved is quite beyond my pay grade, but I trust that it took place. There is a good deal of back-end work to do, and I’m excited to sit down with volunteers and artists to unpack what worked (and why it worked). Primarily, to those who attended, those who read or played, those who served, and those who supported, allow me to say: Thank you.
*To be fair, I like hagiography, but it is a literary form that must be taken in its particular context and not as though it were exhaustive history.
**We have a short film on the way featuring highlights from Echo Hill and interviews with artists. So stay tuned!