About Me

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I work as a teacher, poet and spiritual director at a number of institutions in the DC area. My teaching focuses in various ways on writing, poetry, Spirituality and Christian vocation and ministry - especially from the point of view of the laity. I also offer classes and retreats encouraging people to explore their inner lives, engage their creativity and reflect on their beliefs about God, vocation, and how we can discern and pursue new ways to transform our broken world. I enjoy speaking of faith in the secular academy as well as reminding those preparing for ministry in the Church that our primary purpose is to love and serve the world beyond the church's doors. I love helping people to grow in faith and to find their own voices, and I also love encouraging them to use their minds. I see no contradiction between these impulses, believing as I do that faith, reason and creativity work together.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Faith and Writing

I'm just back from the biannual Festival of Faith and Writing held at Calvin College. It's the second time I've been and I hope to make a habit of it. Will probably be processing for awhile the things I heard, and I hope that may prompt more frequent blog posts in the next couple of weeks.

It was wonderful to be around people who understand that writing is a vocation, whether or not one is widely published. And we heard from some lovely people who are published writers -- Scott Cairns, Thomas Lynch, Parker Palmer -- many others (those are the three who signed books for me). I am reminded that we write because it is a calling - and that writing well is part of how we worship -- attention to the craft a kind of contemplative activity. It makes me look forward to the summer months when I have more time to truly attend to that crafting. It also reminded me that a love of reading is something that writers share - nice to be among people who shared that passion.

What I'm chewing over right now -- perhaps following on some of the reading I've been doing in orthodox spirituality, and some of my Holy Week blogging -- is the keynote speech given by poet Scott Cairns. Scott was raised in a strict Calvinist tradition but is now a very joyful Eastern Orthodox Christian, and he is perhaps unique in his ability to bring alive to people what is richest in orthodox doctrine - and as he often says, the common heritage of all Christians. A couple of things he said in his opening remarks stay with me: first, just generally, the clear sense he had that all of us abide in communion with the great Mystery that we call the Love of God. Jokingly, he brought greetings from his Orthodox priest to the Calvinists -- "tell them,"he said, "that they are not as bad as they think they are" -- a wonderful summary of the difference between Orthodoxy, which sees us as made in the image of God, and our sinfulness as our tendency to dull or violate that abiding image of God in us. So there is no sense of original sin or "total depravity" of human beings, which is so important to some forms of Calvinism, and notorious in popular accounts of Christianity in this country (the sense that we are hopelessly fallen and bad and can only hope for redemption through the mercy of God) -- of course there's no denial, in either tradition, of the reliability of God's mercy or the sinfulness of humanity, but for me the language of Orthodoxy (also used by many Anglicans and by many Christians these days _ is a much more generous and hopeful understanding of our brokenness and of our call to be whole and human and in communion with God, in the orthodox way of thinking about sin and redemption. I appreciated that. Scott also invited us to reflect on whether we follow the way of faith as servants, hoping for a reward, or as slaves, fearful of punishment, or as lovers, who simply long to be near the beloved, and are formed by our love. Obviously the invitation, he would say, is to the last - to live into our identities as persons made in the image of God, and to understand ourselves as a whole community living within the divine life, and growing more and more into fulness of life.

Some of this is my language, brought in from my reading of orthodox theologian John Zizioulas, of whom more later -- but it seemed to me that Scott was speaking my language, and his poetry does, too -- in a kind of pithy, down-to-earth way that is very aware of human brokenness, hypocrisy, and sinfulness but radiates the experience of the divine mercy. Here's the end of one of his poems, "Adventures in New Testament Greek, Metanoia (metanoia, in Greek, is usually translated "repentance" - but it means "turning around," implies a total change of life, a turning toward God -- I love these lines:

The heart's metanoia
on the other hand, turns
without regret, turns not
so much away, as toward

as if the slow pilgrim
has been surprised to find
that sin is not so bad
as it is a waste of time. (from his volume Compass of Affection, p. 93)

1 comment:

  1. I really like that list of three ways, "the way of faith as servants, hoping for a reward, or as slaves, fearful of punishment, or as lovers, who simply long to be near the beloved, and are formed by our love." As a reluctanct mystic, who is being drawn down the path of lover, it clarifies the other paths that have not been meaningful.