Reflections From Faith & Writing Festival At Calvin

festival-of-faith-and-writingBy Matt Klingstedt, Class of 2015

This past weekend I had the chance the attend the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College. Aside from reminding me how many lovely people there are in the world, one theme stood out to me above all else I heard.

The majority of writers who spoke about their process or vital aspects of life mentioned the importance of listening. It is interesting that so many different writers (mind you, these are people who make a living off their books and blogs) harped on the importance of taking time to be still and shut up. They were not advocating for more time spent praying to God, but for altogether silence in His presence. This took me aback. It is not as though this idea is new to my life. I returned from Spring Break hoping to really set aside some times where I could sit silently, and Dr. Housholder recently spoke in chapel about this same topic.

What took me aback was the way in which all these separate events have come together in a way that demands a physical response. I feel as though the notion of silence popped into my head at the opportune moment of my life so as to really challenge me. Junior year, especially this last semester, has been difficult. I don’t have copious amounts of free time to devote to relationships and time with God and sitting in silence. I am forced to be intentional about them (as cliché as that may sound from a TU student), and often times I do not feel I have time or energy to give.

I feel like God said, “Oh, you want to be still? Okay, here is the busiest two weeks of your semester.” He did not do this to spite me, but to make me give a real answer to the question, “Do you trust me?” This conference was another block of time I did not intend to be still. It was going to be busy and full of life and conversation and literature and exciting and on and on and on…

Instead, I heard Richard Foster tell me there are times in life not to write and not to talk, but to listen to God’s still voice. I heard Luci Shaw and Jeanne Murray Walker tell me to provide space for stillness. I heard Dr. Housholder, in the back of my mind, reminding me that God is in control, regardless of what I do. I came to a conference with over 2,000 attendees at a college with over 4,000 students in a city with over 100,000 people and, somehow, found silence.

I was talking with a fellow student on Saturday and, partially by chance events, decided to put this practice of stillness into practice–we skipped the next session. That may not have been what Richard Foster or others had in mind, but that time away was so incredibly refreshing. I don’t think Calvin set out to have an entire conference and brought in all these speakers and people to reinforce the idea of stillness to a random college kid from Taylor. From my perspective, though, that is exactly what happened and what I am taking away from the Festival.

Anne Lamott said in the Keynote lecture on Friday night that writing and life are pretty similar, and one way they line up is whatever we do, we do badly at first. Doing a quick check at my progress since Spring Break, I have pretty much been terrible at being silent. I have been a failure at setting aside frequent time to do nothing but listen before God. I have practiced silence poorly.

But, I don’t have to be great right away. In fact, I don’t have to be good. Anne Lamott (who is a pretty neat gal) gave me permission to suck on the condition that I keep at it. With this in mind, I will keep trying.

*This is the first in a series of reflections from the Faith & Writing Festival at Calvin.*

Reflections on a Calvin College conference

In the process of writing my senior English thesis, Dr. Baker suggested I submit it to the undergraduate section of the Midwestern Conference for Christianity and Literature at Calvin College. I did, and to my surprise, got accepted to present my paper to fellow undergrads as well as professors at the conference. The process of preparing my paper for the presentation was a great learning experience…and of course, getting to attend the conference and hear papers from others, as well as eat delicious food and hear the Pulitzer prize winning author Marilyn Robinson was a real treat! My paper was about identity re-creation in the context of metanarrative, and looked at the non-Fiction work “Country of My Skull” by South African author Antjie Krog. This book tracks the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa set up at the end of apartheid, through the eyes of a white, Afrikaans poet.

Since the Conference was back-to-back with the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin, I was able to spend an entire weekend at the college, going to workshops and hearing speakers and writers. Here are some of my favorite quotes and incidents from the weekend:

-“We need the courage of risking respect towards whoever we encounter”. (Marilyn Robinson)

– Spilling my cup of trail-mix all over the floor, and having the surrounding professors help me clean it up and comfort me by comparing it to the coin scene in Ellison’s “Battle Royale.” I love English people.

–“People are incandescent with the spark of God’s glory, and this is opposed to the “instincts” and “urges” that science says we are.” (Marilyn Robinson)

–Eating fancy food that I don’t even know how to pronounce.

–Getting to hear Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigerian writer of “Purple Hibiscus” fame)talk about her writing.

— “A story is a country where you can both stand together for a while in the space after a big question.There’s no answer unless you tell a story–the only way to tiptoe towards glory is through story.” (Brian Doyle, author.)

I’m so thankful the Honor’s Guild made this learning experience possible, and would highly recommend that honors students keep their eyes open for the next conference in two years.

— Stephanie Binion, Class of 2012