Story, Value, and Becoming More Real
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Lighting Candles by Starlight ~ Receiving Life

April 15, 2020

Lancia E. Smith


In this issue of Cultivating we are launching something we have never done before ~ the unveiling of a newly commissioned series of paintings by the remarkable painter Amy Grimes. The series is titled Lighting Candles by Starlight. These paintings will make their debut one by one here at Cultivating, like stars coming out at night, over the course of this year. They represent something beautiful coming into being, first through the inspiration given a single person who then shared that vision and inspiration with another, entering into collaboration to create something to be shared with others. In a nutshell, this process reflects the life of every Cultivator and the call in every creative endeavor. Life itself is given to each of us singly and individually. But Life once given is never meant to stay alone, encapsulated, or self-possessed. The very nature of Life calls to be shared, to expand, to grow, to reproduce, to thrive.  

The original image for Lighting Candles by Starlight was inspired long ago from words that I have held on to through periods of darkness, sometimes on the edge of despair itself.

“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

Light and high beauty for ever beyond the reach of Shadows. Just rest with this for a moment and think of it.

There is Light and high beauty for ever beyond the reach of shadows and our suffering. That Light and high beauty belongs to the King we serve, the King Who died for us, rose from the dead, and now lives beyond death, the King who is returning for us to bring us into His Kingdom that has no shadows. This High King we serve even unto death that we too may live with Him. It is His Light that we reach for. 

At the end of last summer, I met together with four friends for the Board meeting of the Anselm Society, an organization dedicated to the renaissance and renewal of the Christian Imagination. We were talking about the essential calling and nature of the work that we are doing, and while I was sitting there with them, I saw suddenly a clear image of the work we do: it is really simply to light candles by starlight, especially for those searching and those losing hope.

As light-bearers, we carry small, earthly mechanisms for lighting our way through the gathering darkness, but we carry a Light that comes from high above us and is everlasting, beyond the reach of the shadows around us. This work of catching its high inspiration – starlight – and lighting our ordinary, everyday lives by it is not only done by the Anselm Society. It is also the good work being done the C.S. Lewis Foundation, by the Rabbit Room, by every church that truly seeks after Christ, by every educator, artisan of every kind, every healer and service person … labouring to pass on something of that shimmering Light and high beauty to others to light their own candles by.

This is the core vision and calling of Cultivating and The Cultivating Project. It always has been. 

Lighting Candles by Starlight ~ Receiving Life – Amy Grimes, 2020

The season ahead of us, from this vantage point, looks to be a season filled with shadows, uncertainty, and reminders that we are indeed dust and mortal. Friends, I offer this suggestion softly – we do need to be reminded. We take so much for granted as human beings. We allow ourselves to be deceived into believing that we are not what we really are – small, finite, crooked, needy creatures each in fragile bodies yet immortal souls of incomprehensible value. In this fallen world we value what is fleeting yet neglect what is undying.  We are broken, every one of us. Neither truth nor goodness inherently abide in us.

The Light we need to live by is not a Light we can self-generate. 

History is stained edge to edge by our trying. The Light we need and long for can only ever be received. It is given. But there is a mysterious paradox to this Light- this Life. It is given but it must also be chosen. It must be received.

When we were each conceived, we were given life that we did not ask for or choose. Life was given to us by Someone Who deems us valuable enough to bring into being. And when we are, we are then given an astonishing and terrible power – the power to choose.  It is with this power that every day we choose life or death.

Receiving Life is a gift, but it is also an act of choice. We are not powerless over receiving it, as we are powerless when we are first conceived and fashioned into being. We cannot generate this kind of Light or Life, but we must be willing to receive it when it comes to us. Receiving Life is not a random experience. It is chosen and it is cultivated.

As gardeners and Cultivators, we know we cannot make Life come to our gardens, but we can make the ground and conditions ready for it when it does. And, so it is with the gardens of our own lives. We can choose to become children of Light. Long ago, Saint Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus about this very thing. He wrote, 

“For once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light – lead lives of those native-born to the Light. For the fruit – the effect and product – of the Light, the Spirit, consists in every form of kindly goodness, uprightness of heart, and trueness of life.” Ephesians 4.8-9

Here in this age of shadows, is where we can choose to receive Life as it is granted to us from high above shining still into our weary world. We can train our eyes to look upward, like Sam Gamgee, brave and true, and watch for starlight. Here, on this good earth is where we can cultivate the life we are given with expectation of thriving. Here we hold the ground, and the line, for the soon returning King. 

May He find us ever faithful and gleaming brightly, ready for the Day!

The featured image “Receiving Life” is the first in the Lighting Candles by Starlight series and is (c) Amy Grimes. It is used here with her gracious permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project. The opening image is modified to fit the featured image size restrictions inherent to this website. 

This series of paintings is lovingly dedicated to the Anselm Society, the C.S. Lewis Foundation, and to the Rabbit Room. These beloved organizations and communities have fostered thousands of us who are creatively inclined. Each with their own unique flavor and accent, they have sacrificially offered encouragement, inspiration, and education for the thriving of those who cultivate the good, the true, and beautiful.  


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  1. This is beautiful, Lancia! Both the work of art and the words surrounding it. I love the concept behind “Lighting candles by starlight.” What a beautiful vision.

  2. “When we were each conceived, we were given life that we did not ask for or choose. Life was given to us by Someone Who deems us valuable enough to bring into being. And when we are, we are then given an astonishing and terrible power – the power to choose. It is with this power that every day we choose life or death.”

    yes. The gift is weighty and glorious. I don’t always choose it, but it’s good to be reminded that I always have the choice. Thank you, Lancia.

  3. You are welcome, Matthew. We all need to be reminded of it. XOXOXO

  4. Thank you, Gillian. Isn’t it a good image for what we do and what we are called to?

  5. This is absolutely gorgeous, Lancia. Both the art and the words. Receiving the life and light we cannot self-generate…so true. so good.

  6. These words drip with wisdom, Lancia. I’m going to read and then read again because I want them to sink deep within my bones. “Receiving Life is not a random experience. It is chosen and it is cultivated.” A million yeses! I just love this publication so much. 💕

  7. Jennifer thank you so much. I am so grateful to know that this resonates with you and I hope from deep within me that it helps to keeps some light shining on the horizon for you, too! You are precious to me!

  8. Sarah says:

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how Jesus asks us to remember him. So vulnerable and human. And we need the reminder every day. Remember to remember. Lord, help us. Thank you for these words. I’m so Inspired by the visual of the star lighting the candle. How quick a lighting can happen always gives me great joy at a candlelight service because the flame does not lose anything by sharing its light. Darkness can not overcome it.

  9. Ashlee,

    Thank you so much! I am so grateful for Amy’s work in bringing that vision into visibility. It is not something I ever could have done alone. It is such a gift to be able to share with all of you and something I deeply believe we need. Blessings to you, Creative one!

  10. Sarah, you are so very welcome. My small words here barely touch on what I so deeply believe to be true but are an earnest attempt to catch a good glimpse of it. God gives us Life and Light that is undiminished by this world’s sorrow so that we might take what is indeed high and undimmed and in our earthly way also cast light around us to push back the darkness. I believe that to the core of my being. And I too love the fact that candlelight does not empty itself at all by being shared with other candles. Love is never less for the giving. Praise be to our almighty God that the darkness cannot ever overcome the Light! Blessings to you, friend. May you always have the High Star to guide you, and a strong candle with you to light your way! 🙂

  11. This artwork & these words are a match made in heaven, literally. Thank you for sharing this beautiful message of divine language and creativity <3

  12. Maureen, thank you so much! It is a joy to do this collaborative work with Amy and all our Cultivators. Blessings to you!

  13. Amy says:

    Such a welcome reminder that I don’t bear the responsibility to be a light-creator, but am created to be a light-bearer. I am reminded of the invitation in Isaiah to not light one’s own fire, but to “trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God”. In this season of darkness, I am invited to wait expectantly, to search the sky for light, to live with an upturned face and open hands. Thank you for this, Lancia. You bear light so beautifully.

  14. Amy, thank you so much. Your words matter a great deal to me. Isaiah is the prophet I spend the most time with and these words from him so long ago anchor me still. Yes, yes! “To live with an upturned face and open hands.” And there is such an important distinction between being a light-creator and a light-bearer. 🙂 Blessings to you and yours!

  15. Athena Williams says:

    Thank you, Lancia and Amy, for reminding us once again of the truth by wrapping it in beauty. I wouldn’t have believed I could anticipate a new release of “Cultivating” more than I already do, but with the introduction of this painting series… new delights abound!

  16. Athena, I am so grateful that you find beauty already in Cultivating and that we can also offer the sweetness of anticipation that comes with new beauties unfolding. Thank you for being such a sweet part of what makes The Cultivating Project the wonder that it is!

  17. Ellen Niemann says:

    I am so very blessed that my friend shared this on my facebook page. Heart of my heart, every page speaks to me. I am a visual artist – presently working in watercolor florals. I’ll be following closely. Peace and blessings to you.

  18. Ellen, I am so happy that your friend shared us with you and that you resonate with what you find here. Welcome to Cultivating! May you be encouraged and inspired and find good good company for the days ahead!

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