If I had to come up with a headline for the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College, it would sound something like this:
Two thousand writers (introverted, neurotic, or both) assemble in a single place to eat lunch alone, together.
And yet, to most of us, this contained the feeling of finally arriving at Hogwarts – a sense of magic, of suddenly stumbling across a long-lost home…and moments of feeling like an intense outsider.
We yearned to get books signed, but had conversations in the waiting line about the exhaustion of the author and how s/he probably just wanted to have some tea and relax.
Like the Grinch, we found our hearts had suddenly grown two sizes bigger in a very short time span.
Unlike the Grinch, we spent all of the following day expecting to go into a cardiac episode due to the above.
We were intoxicated by the experience but dreading the inevitable hangover. Because, you see, when it comes to concentrated grace we’re total lightweights.
We tried to suck the marrow out of the experience and then struggled to shake hands and smile at others, lest they see evidence of our overexertion stuck in our teeth.
There are a lot of things I could gush about.
Meeting Andrew Clements, my childhood writer-hero whose characters were often my best friends,
Finally seeing The Mountain Goats live in concert
Hearing Nadia Bolz-Weber speak from the heart about what happens when people tell us true things that we can’t see about ourselves, things like “You are not stupid” and the life-changing freedom that comes from those words.
Watching M.T. Anderson make Harry Potter jokes about Shostakovich
…you know, the amazing celebrity worship things. And the outstanding quote things. And the words that land on your heart like gentle rain, soothing the areas in yourself that you didn’t know were parched to the point of aching until just now.
But my time at FFW was defined most by the tiny things, the things I’d never consider worthy of the price of admission until I found myself in the midst of them.
Top of the list? Overheard conversations. Again, gather 2,000 bookish people in one spot and then listen to them coax one another into sharing their work. A formula emerges: Impostor syndrome –> “Me too!” –> I hardly write, actually –> Me too! –> It’s kind of a weird blend, I’m not sure whether it has any legs to it –> “Oh, but no, that sounds really interesting! Have you read X by Y?” –> And then they’re off to the races, comparing notes about what it takes to get work done and absolutely reveling in conversation about good books, possibilities, and daring to hope.
Again and again, I (over)heard first hand how listening is the gift that goes before, listening creates space for others to breathe life and dare to stretch out and make a home in the thing they’re working on.
The witty banter is extra keen, too. Gather a lot of people who are working on paying attention to the small things and making connections and then follow them in their huddles. After their conversation partner speaks at length on some profound matter, the listener summarizes “YES! It’s like drinking a Corona without a lime in it – technically it’s just the thing itself, but really it’s entirely wrong.”
Finally, there’s a viscosity that hangs in the air in a room with people intensely listening, drinking in – as though you can hear everyone’s soul breathing “Yes, it is so. YES! That rings true. Yes, and I didn’t know I needed to hear that. Yes, and the story is bigger.”
The Festival – or, really, the hundreds of sincere, funny, attentive people there – woke up a part of my mind that had been comatose for years.
But then, it would be difficult to spend three days watching people give and receive deep gifts and not have it change you.
I’ll have my space reserved in 2018.
Thanks. Wow. Next year in Jerusalem.