Reflections on the Festival of Faith and Writing

It’s been two weeks since the 2016 Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI—a gathering for Christian readers, writers, editors, and book pitchers. It took me that much time to process it, because like the pile of papers and books I brought home, there was a cluttered pile of mental sentiments to sort through.

To sum it up, I felt both at home and like an imposter during the three day gathering

Geographically, Grand Rapids and Calvin were familiar. I attended nursing school through the Hope-Calvin nursing program in the late 1990’s, where I learned to take blood pressures and inject oranges with my cohort of student nurses. Now as an Advanced Practice Nurse, I skipped a couple festival sessions to analyze data with a delightful Calvin professor with whom I’m currently doing nursing research. I also just moved from Michigan about 8 months ago, so in many ways, I was at home.

The festival kicked off with a mingle and prayer time with my fellow Redbud Writers Guild members, all of whom I was meeting for the first time. We eyed each other, guessing names based on the thumbnail sized images of our online interactions. One of the members, who is also a female pastor, led us in a time of contemplative prayer, asking God to take our fears and let us sense his presence and purposes. That was one of the most refreshing and holy interactions of the weekend—and also made me wish female pastors serving on church staff in some capacity was the norm. (That is a topic for another time, but can’t go unmentioned).

The Redbuds dispersed, wandering across campus with the rest of the crowd to see author Tobias Wolf speak at the opening plenary session. As he read from a work of his, my mind drifted away from his words, annoyed at him for reading and not just offering truths about some grand topic. Meanwhile I was equally annoyed at myself for my clear lack of sophistication and the rest of the audience for indulging him with polite laughter.

Though I had geographical ties to the area and was part of a group with a significant festival presence, those things weren’t enough of an invitation to feel completely integrated, understood, or relaxed. The pace of the conference was rapid, new acquaintances sharing bits of conversation before rushing to the next session. There was a constant nagging feeling I couldn’t shake while observing the hierarchy present, and the the way relational interactions were taking place within its framework. Certain authors and editors constantly had a crowd around them, and those of us who could offer no baton in the literary relay race quickly got used to glances over our shoulders or abrupt good-byes as someone more important became visible.

To really feel at home, we need to sense that others genuinely want to know us in spite of what we can offer them, and this wasn’t the environment that fostered that.

I nearly collided into Sarah Bessey in a foyer and spent several minutes in conversation within six feet of Shauna Niequist, two of my favorite authors, but I found I couldn’t say “hi.” I wouldn’t have had anything to offer except a mumbled phrase of praise, and in the mercenary environment, it seemed a lacking currency.

In the words of Catholic priest and mystic Richard Rohr, “Most women prefer circles of sharing to pyramids and hierarchies. They prefer conversation to construction. They will usually choose nurturance and empathy over competition and climbing. They will normally choose connection over simple performance games.” Oh Richard, you know me so well. What I really wanted there was genuine connection, and thankfully there was some interspersed in the chaos.

One highlight was a circle session led by Christie Purifoy, where participants moved our chairs into an actual circle and had a discussion about blogging—Should we continue? Is it beneficial? Necessary in today’s publishing environment? I may have left with more questions than answers, but enjoyed the more intimate interactions and conversation.

Goodness was present in other ways as well.

I made a few lovely connections with women I hope to get to know better online. It was delightful to meet so many Redbud Writers Guild members. Talking to editors without having something to pitch was freeing. Nearly every session I attended was interesting. There was shared camaraderie with people who love to see the world in metaphors.

But by the end, I was really, really tired.

Being at the festival was a lot like eating a banana; in the beginning it’s sweet intensity was refreshing, but near the end, it became tiresome and unpalatable. 

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Really, the festival was simply a reminder that everything is all for Him, through Him, and by Him. We’re never supposed to feel completely at home or independently capable anywhere this side of eternity. For me there’s always an ache, composed of an uncomfortable longing to be rid of pretense for the sake of being known and a desire to have more capacity for all that I’m encountering—good or hard.

I tell myself, and you, in spite of that ache:

Festival on.

Write on.

Mother on.

Non-profit on.

Go places where you feel unnoticed.

Do what you’re called to do and go where you’re called to go. When the ache comes to visit you in the midst of it, nod to her and say, “Thanks for the reminder of what I’m made for, who made me, and where I’m going.” 

At least that’s what this imposter plans to do at the next Festival of Faith and Writing. Until I end up in a corner spitting out the last bite of my banana.

redbuds

Comments

  1. **standing ovation** I share many of your feelings about the festival, and I’m so glad I wasn’t the only one bored/annoyed with Tobias Wolf’s reading. So glad we connected!

  2. Thanks so much for sharing this, Heidi. I have so many questions – wish we could meet for coffee today:) Miss you!

    • Oh girl, it’s been way too long. I have GOT to get out there. Hopefully next year sometime. I miss you so much. Coffee and a park date sounds divine.

  3. I appreciated your honesty, and this glimpse into your experience, Heidi! Wish we’d had more time to chat! I share your perspective on many of the topics you touch on here, and love how you point it all to our eternal hope. Looking forward to getting to know you better!

    • You were one of the delightful surprises (why I tagged you to read this), so glad to have met you, Kate. I think I’m going to love your book because we share a desire to encourage ourselves and others to keep an eternal perspective. Stay in touch!

  4. Sally Hale says:

    Your writing is so authentic and entertaining. So true about men valuing heirarchy and women avoiding such contests in order to connect. I’m sure many of the women there shared your sentiments in that regard.

    • Aww, my counselor friend. If only you could’ve been there to help me process as I went. 🙂 Your ability to connect is one of the things I love about you.

  5. Becky Wudy says:

    I admire your perspective and how you are able to communicate it – I feel your highs and lows while reading this! Seeking connection over competition – this, in particular,resonates with me. Really enjoyed this post, Heidi!