Monday, July 13, 2009

Collegeville Institute Summary

Don't expect for the summary to be comprehensive. I just mean that I'm sitting here waiting for the shuttle to show up, and I'm the last person to leave, so I thought it'd be a good time to put down some of my thoughts about this experience.

Of course, I'm fortunate to have attended. I now feel like I've gained 12 colleagues. I'm always glad to gain colleagues. Eugene Peterson is now a mentor and a collegue, not just a writer I admire. I'm fortunate to count myself in this regard now, as he's a very quiet and reserved person. He's not someone that you could go to a massive conference and ingratiate yourself to and try to hang out with. He wouldn't be doing much "hanging out" at a conference. So, this kind of environment: rural and slow-paced and in-depth, is the perfect kind of setting to build a relationship with a master writer and really learn something from him.

I've learned that writing, as my friend Katherine said on her blog, "is not complimentary to our pastoral lives, or an avocation tacked onto our vocation. Writing is part of our pastoral lives. We don't need permission to write. We don't even need permission to write words that can't be put to good use. We can (must?) simply weave writing into our pastoral lives - a life that can be lived in freedom, not busyness, if we can find a rhythm that works."

I'm a conversationalist, so I did more hanging out and drinking beers with new friends than hard core retreat writing. This is okay with me, although I also sometimes thought, "well, if I don't write now, then I'm going to be caught up in the multitude of other things when I get home." I just found the opportunity to talk about writing to be valuable too, so that's what I did for the most part. I did add to my writing project on music and the Spirit, and I also did some exercises that were helpful, and then I found myself rewriting something that haunts me.

I had told the folks here at the retreat when we were committing to a writing schedule that we'd hold each other accountable to that I'm not too hard on myself. They all laughed as I had a hawaiian shirt on and a beer in front of me and a open bag of cheetos on the table. I suppose I hadn't needed to say that :) I committed to 1000 words a week, whereas most others committed to a number of hours. I mentioned that I'm not too hard on myself because I was deciding to do a number of words, something more tangible for me than a number of hours that I could just while away and then rationalize that I actually had spent on some tangential element of writing.

I shared the story of tripping Clint (below) as a counterpoint to that image of me as one not troubled by much. It was effective. With that, here it is:

Get behind me Satan.
I remember the undulations of the asphalt on the school blacktop. We had our toes lined up on the spray painted line, readying ourselves for our track meet qualifying race. The undulations were caused by years of busses turning around in the cul-de-sac and lining up to pick up elementary school kids. A crack of the starting pistol, and I saw a flash of legs leap ahead of my own. I struggled to catch up.
The P.E. teacher was probably right. I didn’t run like I was supposed to. Otherwise, I’d probably be able to keep up with the others. My parents told me that when I was a baby, I had to have casts on my legs to straighten them out. My mom told me that when I used to get finished with my naps, she’d know because she’d start hearing the click click clicking of the casts as I knocked my legs together in the crib. I wasn’t supposed to jump on a trampoline as a kid. They were supposedly bad for my hips. But I had never noticed any problems. I guess the P.E. teacher did though.
There was one who was as slow as I was. Clint: sullen, sandy-haired Clint. He never had any shirts with the transformers or anything like that. All his shirts were striped or solid. He didn’t have Nikes or even Reeboks. He wore Velcro shoes with stripes on them as well. He didn’t have much. I stuck out my foot as I ran and I felt Clint drop to the ground. I crossed the finish line. I wasn’t last!
Clint hadn’t finished. He was lying in a heap on the humpy pavement. He was crying and rolling around. He was clenching his leg and grunting in pain. The kids who had finished the race were looking at me. Then Ms. Guinn grabbed me by the ear and twisted it. What made you do that, Nathan? What had made me do what? I was running, and he must’ve run into my leg. He must’ve bounced off my hip like one of those tie fighters ricocheted off the edge of the city wall canyon on the Death Star. She wanted an answer. She was aghast and disgusted at what she had seen, and now she was large and hovering over me like an eagle snatching a fish out of a lake with it’s claws buried deep. “The devil made me do it,” I stammered. Her eyes narrowed. She looked at me like she actually believed me and that Lucifer himself must be there behind me, caressing the shoulders of his favorite pupil and tending my wounded ego. All those kids were looking at me after all. She pulled me inside, with her red fingernails jabbing into my wrist, and slammed me into a chair at the principal’s office while she went and got him and took him outside to check on Clint.
I sat in the office on an orange plastic chair and looked at the ground as the kids filed by and looked at me with scorn. I could feel their looks. There was Sheri, who I had a crush on since the 3rd grade. There was David, my neighbor and best friend, who knew this wasn’t like me at all. He was perplexed but also forgiving and loyal. Then came in Clint, with an arm around Ms. Guinn and the Principal. I’d find out the next day that he had a hairline fracture in his ankle. That moment, sitting on that pavement trying to find an explanation for why I had tripped Clint, that is the moment that personal competitiveness was killed in me.

1 comment:

  1. hey nathan, i participated in this workshop last summer. it is a great experience, isn't it? eugene peterson, the benedictines, the psalms, the hospitality, and the place. congratulations!
    ken carter