3 hours and 12 minutes

Updated: Feb 12

I have been awake for 3 hours and 12 minutes. And it’s 7:12am.  Currently, I’m sitting on a plane on my way to a conference at Duke University, to perform in the New Caritas Orchestra: an orchestra comprised of phenomenal musicians from the nation’s leading orchestras and universities… and me.  This is the second time I’ll have had this honor, and the last time I went was a game changer for me.

Why?  I’ll try to boil it down.  First, the subject of the event (theology and the arts) was thought-provoking, artistically challenging, and somehow just far enough outside of my everyday realm of thinking to cause me to do a reflect-reset-reboot, ending in a liberating cry-fest over a single song set on repeat for the duration of my flight home.  Yes, I was that girl bawling into the window — and to the man sitting next to me:  I’m sorry if I took all of your kleenex (and personal space)… I really tried to be normal.

Second, It was an opportunity to see many friends from the midwest/east coast, many of whom I had not seen since graduate school days at CIM — since buying a house, since having children, since starting a school, since hiring and firing my first employee… and since I started to feel alone and like I was totally faking it all.  In that weekend at Duke, I was inspired and encouraged to see how and how much the people I knew and loved in college had grown, both personally and professionally.  We had a rare Brigadoon moment where we stepped out of our lives and shared our triumphs and struggles in an unusually authentic way.  It turns out that my feeling of struggle in isolation was almost universal with my friends, as well.  And It turns out that we were able to encourage each other just by being real for a minute.  That minute really stuck with me.

Third, I am inspired by big dreams and big dreamers.  I so value witnessing someone hard at work on what fires their heart up, especially if their work inspires others to dig deep and rise in their own excellent way.  Jeremy Begbie, one of the primary creative forces behind the entire event at Duke, is a concert pianist and theologian.  It is very clear to me that, while piano and theology don’t seem like they relate in the outset, he has found a way to express the relevance he innately understands because of his unique experience bridging both worlds.  

His persistence in revealing the beauty of music through his faith, one concert lecture at a time, has resulted in an eventual snowball effect across artistic, faith, and academic divides.  Two years ago, we formed an orchestra for an opening at the fine arts gallery — now we gather for the 10th anniversary of the Duke Initiatives for Theology and the Arts with hundreds of folks who have found commonality and a voice to express something that is both new and (if we are to reflect on human nature and our inherent spiritual connection with expression and art) very very old.  

In short, I went away from our last encounter with a fresh perspective on the why behind what I do and what I create.  I went away with more questions than answers, but also a reassured sense that often that is the way it is supposed to be.  It is the unknowingness in the search for excellence in what I do that is the under-acknowledged yet privileged part of the process of training, refining, and re-calibrating, so that my work can continually bear fruit and help others to rise.

*** ​Where is all this going?  I have to admit, I’m stepping into uncharted waters here by writing the lines above.  It feels risky to share, especially beyond that small circle of friends at Duke.  But I’ve become excited by the privilege of the unknown, and this is a first step in making good on my desire to speak much more openly about my ‘life experiments’ — the part of the journey that is after the exciting beginning and before the shiny, instagrammable ending — in the hopes that others (you!) might realise they are not alone as they bootstrap their way through the sloggy middle of a project, a life stage, or a dream.


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© 2020 Erica Ward  |  Photography by Jamie Nease Portraits