Subs for my classes in place, I drove four hours last weekend to Calvin College in Michigan for a writer’s conference. Not knowing what to expect, I arrived in the dark, without my glasses to twist and turn my way down the roads of Grand Rapids which are marked by vexing u-turns and SE, SW indicators on every road sign. By the time I found the Prince Conference Center, the whole first day of speakers was over, everything but the poetry reading which proved to be a packed out delight. “Fog, fog, fog, fog, fog,” read the professor from China in an accent that left me wondering if he was saying “fog” or “frog?”
The morning sun melted the last of the roadside snow piles by noon the next day as I sat taking notes, listening to Bret Lott (Jewel), poet Luci Shaw (bought her book, Harvesting Fog) and Richard Foster (Celebration of Discipline). All worth the admission price of the conference alone and a similar exhortation ran through their talks. LISTEN. “The most important thing a writer does is listen.” (Foster) “Morning by morning he awakens my ears to listen.” (Isaiah, paraphrased by Shaw). These three talks filled six pages of my journal and motivated me to stand in line for thirty minutes waiting for Luci Shaw to sign a collection of her poems. I was full and ready to go home, but didn’t want to miss Anne Lemott who was the evening’s main speaker. Hoping to decompress, I sat in on a run through of a new play on the life of Hildegard of Bingen, lots of singing in Latin. Once again, a theme of the play…Listen. Listen for what God has specifically for you and then do it. By now I was getting the message. My writing life needs more listening so let’s start next week, in Holy Week.
During a Saturday session, Richard Foster was being interviewed by his son Nate. I was already tired of listening and almost skipped it. My listening stamina must be pretty low if I feel exhausted after comfortably sitting in and taking notes on an eight hour day of star studded conference speakers. After grabbing some solitude and revising a poem in the Arts Center balcony, I forced myself to unplug and go listen, again. Nate asked his dad, “What does a life look like fully formed in Christ?” Without hesitating he spoke, from the edge of the stage, long gray pony-tail dangling down the backside of his blue blazer, “Penetrated throughout with love. Someone who can see the good in all. Possessed by hope. Enabled by the Holy Spirit to overcome evil with good. And the ability to laugh.”
So simple and straight forward, but so difficult. In only 30 words, Foster had set a course, a tacking wind on the breath of the Holy Spirit, into Holy Week, back to my writing desk and beyond. May you all listen, hear God’s voice over these coming days and then follow Him into the future. Happy Easter!