CLA Conference 2022 and Superbloom!

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Superbloom at the Tower of London!

Earlier this month, I traveled to London to present a paper at the conference on Catholicism, Literature, and the Arts, hosted by Durham University and the University of Notre Dame. It was a wonderful week of personal and professional flourishing! I’d never traveled on my own to a foreign country before, and I’d also never given a paper outside of a seminar classroom.

Throughout the week, I delighted in designing my own schedule (i.e. spending as much time wandering museums, strolling through gardens, and sipping tea by the Thames as I desired), and in developing my ability to navigate a professional context with curiosity and gratitude, rather than fear and trembling. I discovered that the best way to approach a conference, when I’m anxious about making a good impression on everyone, is to flip the focus and think instead about serving others. “How can I give to others here?” was a much better question than, “What will I receive from this?” because it allowed me to look for ways to affirm the research others are performing, and it freed me from my own cramped expectations of how the conference should go.

With that perspective in mind, the conference experience opened up for me. The delegates were excited to share their research, and I learned so much from conversations that happened over tea and lunch breaks. And everyone was so friendly; they were happy to get to know me, too! When it came time to share my own paper, it felt like just that: a sharing of my work with new friends, rather than a fretful desire to please.

The conference was an absolute feast for the mind, and with a focus on all kinds of art (music, visual art, poetry, prose, dance) it was a feast for the senses, too. The parallel paper sessions and plenary events were thoughtfully designed to incorporate the conference theme of “the poetics of liturgy and place” and at times, it felt more like a spiritual retreat than an academic conference. Just wonderful all-around!

Regrettably, the week had to come to an end at some point, but not before one last adventure at the Tower of London on my final morning in the city. In honor of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, the Tower moat has been bedecked with English wildflowers in a lavish display called Superbloom. For a small fee, you can purchase a ticket to walk around inside of it… and also, if you’re feeling especially adventurous, slide into a field of flowers (that might have been my favorite part). It was like a fairy tale come to life! The colors were so vibrant, the scents so sweet, the music – for they had tucked speakers streaming gentle yet soaring strings into the landscape – utterly transporting.

It was also a prayer. Perhaps it’s no surprise that I came off a conference about liturgy and place thinking hard about the transcendent significance of this place in which I now found myself. And as I wandered and pondered, delighting in the display, I felt the Lord speak two truths into my heart, truths that I would like to share with you now:

“You are worth more than many wildflowers.”

As I immersed myself in the cheerful landscape of flowers, stopping to admire glistening pearl dewdrops on pastel petals, and glittering traces of dappled gold on white flowers, I felt simultaneously delighted by the beauty of what I was enjoying, and in awe of the perfection with which each of these tiny flowers had been so intricately designed. My mind darted to Matthew 6: “Learn from the way the wildflowers grow. They do not work or spin… If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will He not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?”

If God delights in creating these wildflowers, how much more does He delight in each one of us! How much more intricately designed are we: masterpieces that stir the Lord’s own heart with delight at every moment! As beautiful as I found those flowers, we are infinitely more beautiful and radiant to Him. And if He takes care to fashion each one of those little flowers in exquisite detail, how much more is He designing our own hearts and the circumstances of our lives?

Which brings me to the next truth He whispered among the wildflowers:

“This is what I want to do in your heart.”

As I meandered through the fields of flowers, I picked up a short leaflet sketching the moat’s history. Though built to protect the Tower from attack, the moat silted over time and became a health hazard, so it was emptied and grassed over in the mid nineteenth-century. It’s been that way ever since – until now, of course, when Superbloom has given it new, beautiful life.

I was struck by the way the moat’s history sounds like the story of my own heart. I realized that I have often built my own moats to protect myself from vulnerability and attack, and subsequently closed down the parts of my heart most in need of healing. I have put up defenses to keep people – and sometimes even God Himself – from getting inside. And over time, those defenses, well-meaning as they might have first seemed, have become hazardous to my heart.

Can anyone else relate?

But here was the Lord, saying beside me, I can give you new life even here. I can turn this grassed-over moat around your own heart, which you have created to cover what you perceive to be dangerous waters, into a lavish display of My love. I can redeem it into something more beautiful than you can imagine.

Indeed, He has already begun! There was a time when I would have closed myself off at a conference, when I would have let past wounds keep me too afraid to talk to anyone, when I would have felt sure that they all thought I was stupid. I would have let myself think that I don’t know what I’m doing and that I really didn’t belong there among so many people clearly more practiced than me.

I did have a moment on the first night where I felt all of those things, but I didn’t let myself dwell there. More likely, it was God’s strength that saw me through. That I was able to let go and see so much good in the experience is a testament to the work that God is already doing in me to redeem what has been broken, to plant fields of wildflowers in my own heart, and to give me new life.

And He wants the same for you, dear friend. What brokenness can you surrender to Him today?