Festival of Faith & Writing

My brain is filled to bursting with all that I heard and participated in at the Festival last week. I took over 25 pages of notes (and sketched many of the speakers I heard), so will only touch on a few highlights here. That’s not so easy, since it felt like one, continuous three-day highlight, but I’ll try.

For starts, it was wonderful to meet and listen to established writers whose books I’ve read and who turned out to be real people with many of the same doubts and questions and struggles as I have. Hearing about their growing process as writers has given me more confidence in my journey and more enthusiasm for pursuing writing in my areas of interest.

Eugene Peterson has been one of my favorite authors for many years. His writing draws me in so that I find it hard to put the book down, except for his writing about prayer, which is so inspiring that I drop my book frequently to spend time in prayer. His talk last week was an example of the power of personal story. He told the story of how he became a pastor and a writer, and in the process we absorbed much truth about what makes a writer and what writing is. One point he made was that we write as a conversation with our readers and we write into what we don’t know, as a way of exploring and discovering, as a way of paying attention and as an act of prayer.

Here’s a sketch I did of Eugene Peterson as we were listening to another speaker.

Sara Miles has given me much to think about and chew on, both in her book, Take This Bread, and in the two opportunities I had to hear her speak last week. One of the many things she spoke about that has me pondering is her thought about the difference between healing and cure and how there can be one without the other. Cure would be physical recovery from an affliction of some sort, whether disease or something along the lines of alcoholism or some other problem. In other words, the typical situation we want “fixed.”

Healing, as Sara Miles sees it, is bringing wholeness to individuals and communities, and it may or may not be accompanied by cure. She spoke about how diseases and other problems tend to isolate people– or rather, society tends to isolate those whom they see as sick in some way or other, viewing them as “unclean.” She reminded us of how Jesus touched the unclean when he healed them, thus bringing them into connection, even as he became unclean through touching them. She stated that healing happens in relationship and that prayer is one of the deepest forms of relationship, both with God and with other people.

I went to two talks by naturalists– Paul Willis and Kathleen Dean Moore. Paul Willis spoke about John Muir, and I really enjoyed his gentle, quiet approach. We read some selections from Muir’s journals and discussed them as a group. I think I’d enjoy taking a class taught by Willis. His manner blends well with his subject matter and promotes a contemplative attitude by example. I’ll be pondering his manner of being and speaking as much as his words.

Arielle and I attended the talk by Kathleen Dean Moore together. Moore caught our attention right from the start, when she said that her father had had a Downy Woodpecker in his freezer, as I currently have a Downy Woodpecker in my freezer. Moore spoke about having movement in a nature essay from experience and observation to exploration of meaning, from what one notices to what one questions. That was part of the pattern in Holdfast that I enjoyed so much. She said that the task of the nature writer is to awaken a sense of wonder and awe.

Leslie Leyland Fields, Jeanne Murray Walker, and Paul Willis spoke together about translating personal suffering to the shared page. One interesting point they made was that being highly rational, being highly spiritual, and using humor can all be ways of denying the reality of pain, rather than allowing our own felt, painful lives to connect with our writing. They talked about writing into our sufferings to steward the afflictions God has granted us when the time is right. Wow! What a thought. That gives a whole new perspective on suffering.

Mary Karr was the last speaker, and she was fascinating. Very honest about her life and struggles and urging us to be honest in both prayer and in writing. One thing she said was that she loves her readers and feels a conscious connection to them as she writes. That was evident in her manner as she answered questions after her talk. Her simple, straightforward way of speaking and replying to questions was motivating and gave a sense of emotional connection.

There was so much more, but that is all I can summarize now. I have much to meditate on and notes to read and reread during the coming weeks. There were quite a few other powerful speakers/talks I heard, and I need to ponder them for a while as I let them sink into me and shape me in various ways. For now, I am eager to write, but feel as though I am in a holding pattern of thinking and allowing information and patterns to develop in my mind.

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