After Elaine prayed for me, there was a bit of a pause. I wasn’t sure whether she would start up again or if she expected me to pray, or if it was just over. She smiled before opening her eyes and saying, “I just got a picture.” The first of several visions Elaine shared with me that night. “I saw water… just… little fountains of water starting to shoot up—not to full height yet, but… does that mean anything to you?” It meant nothing to me. Thinking that she would be expecting something relatively deep, I made a conscious effort to leave my face unchanged as I started formulating some good old fashioned English Major bullshit about water (one of our most fertile symbols). “If it doesn’t mean anything, that’s alright.” My God, she can read me. “I just thought I’d ask…”
“I see the shoots of water as new things God is opening up for you. They’re just starting, but they’re there.”
I told her I’d look for the little shoots of water. She laughed quietly and said, “Ok.”
Less than ten years ago my father rented a high pressure water gun, the kind used to blast paint off of outdoor surfaces. We were in the front yard, but he needed to get something inside so he handed me the gun, saying, “Don’t touch the water. It could tear your finger off.” I touched the water, just grazed it with my finger. It hurt, but my finger remained attached. Triumph. I later asked my mother for help with the large blister that developed.
Having finished J. K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy a few hours earlier in Heathrow, I pulled Stoner by John Williams out of my book-crammed backpack. It was a book whose cover caught my attention at Waterstones and Blackwell, two booksellers in Oxford. The cover of the new Vintage Classics edition being sold has three books stacked on top of one another. The blurbs on the back say things like ‘Stoner is a perfect novel,’ ‘A terrific novel of echoing sadness,’ and ‘democratic in how it breaks the heart… It is a triumph of literary endeavor.’ The brief synopsis says it is about William Stoner, who goes to the University of Missouri in 1910 to study agriculture but becomes a teacher instead, marries the wrong woman, leads a quiet life, and is rarely remembered after his death. In the past I read A Separate Peace and, more recently, Brideshead Revisited—both wartime novels involving university students. I loved Brideshead and liked A Separate Peace well enough, so I bought Stoner. By the time my flight touched down in Atlanta I had finished the book’s 288 pages. It was, as a dear professor of mine would say, “dreamy prose.”
In several days I will be flying back to Seattle. Christmas break will have ended, a month away from Seattle Pacific University will have passed, and I’ll have left behind another year. As I prepare for the new year, starting with Winter Quarter, I have been reading The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky, translated by Pevear and Volokhonsky. I began reading it more than a year ago “for fun,” if that expression actually describes the motivation that drove me to buy the book. But school led me away from Dmitri, Ivan, and Alyosha and into the world of ancient Greece. Before I stopped my attempt to blast through it, I made it approximately a third of the way through.
If you are familiar with The Brothers Karamazov, you might recall when the Elder Zosima relates the story of his life to Alyosha and others as he is reaching his life’s end. He begins with the story of his brother, who, an atheist, became sick and returned to God before dying while still a young man. In the last days of his life, he was consumed with a joy and love that confused his mother, visitors, and doctor, who mistook his fervor for madness. It was this passage that I read on the plane back to Seattle nearly a year ago.
Today was the second day of classes. I am enrolled in Honors UFound (Christian foundations), a survey of music literature from ancient Greece to Bach, several music groups, and Topics in American Literature. The last class is taught by Gregory Wolfe, founder and editor of IMAGE, a prominent literary quarterly that focuses on the intersection of faith and culture. He is also director of SPU’s MFA in creative writing.
I wasn’t really expecting any strong cohesion between these courses because they are each from different departments: theology, music, and English literature. But something has already emerged. In UFound, we will divide into groups and focus on different major Christian traditions—I’m hoping for Orthodox. In the survey class, we will study church chants of different places and eras. And the first book we’re reading in the Am Lit class is Mariette in Ecstasy by Ron Hansen. Mariette is right there on the cover experiencing ecstasy. I’ve received some odd looks. “She’s a nun,” I say, but that doesn’t change the looks.
The book is about a young woman, Mariette, who joins an order of sisters. SPOILER ALERT: Mr. Wolfe told us in class that she ends up with stigmata. There is so much tension building right now, in a weird nunny way.
Dad and I flew out of Grand Rapids yesterday morning and arrived in Seattle yesterday morning. It was a pretty long morning. I started a new journal on the plane and wrote a good six pages in it. Rainier from the plane…
Dad helped me settle into my room a bit and headed out. I should mention that I came early because I will be serving my residence hall as president this year. Nearly every minute since Dad left has been leadership training, eating, or preparing for Welcome Week—the half-week when all of the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed freshmen come in and we inject excitement straight into their veins. Busy, busy. But good busy. Busy with the really fantastic people in Hall Council with me. It will be a great year. Continue reading
The college search is hard for many people. Some lucky duckers know what they want to do and where they want to do it, only apply to that place, get accepted and attend. Others, like myself, have a vague sense of what they’d like to study and maybe a lead on a school they could be interested in. I thought that I’d like to study one of the liberal arts and I applied to eleven or twelve schools. Halfway through application season (January or so), I switched my intended major to music.
Some of my Christian friends have a strong sense of God’s will for their lives. Whether they use the phrase or not, you can tell they know—or at least think they know—which school God wants them to attend, what career God has prepared for them, etc. “God has a plan for you, and that is so beautiful and exciting!” This sort of language, although well-intended and true, confused me during my college search, and still does. The idea of ‘God’s plan’ wasn’t very comforting either, because I thought that it meant I had a one in twelve chance at choosing the Right School, and a similar chance at choosing the Right Major. There was a lot at stake and I didn’t want to screw my life up.
All right, close your eyes. Raise your hand if you think that sounds ridiculous and a little melodramatic. I see many hands in the air, belonging to agnostics, atheists, and believers alike. Oops, I raised my hand, too. Ok, hands down, hands down.
I still don’t understand the concept of God’s will, although I’ve learned that it involves a lot more freedom than I had previously thought. But I couldn’t see that in my senior year of high school. The fear that I could permanently remove myself from the Right Trajectory of Life added to my depression and anxiety, and was the cause of a couple panic attacks. I didn’t speak to anyone about this because I felt alone. Who would listen? Continue reading
Jobs. It’s all about the jobs. Gotta have one.
I really loved my first year at Seattle Pacific University, and the idea of going home and getting a job was offensive—not like the racist relative with whom you spend your holidays, but like the black beans you left in the fridge for too long, which now rot. Laziness is really what it was. My inner child sat on his chair in the corner screaming when he realized his summer would need to have some structure and—horror of horrors—productivity.
Reason won out, as it sometimes does. But what should I do? Barrista? Hmmm! Teach violin? Yes, but that isn’t full time. Physical labor? Nobody would pay me for that. Write a bunch and make a living off of submissions to literary journals?
Not easy, as it turns out.