Friday, May 9, 2008

Egging me on

When I was a twenty-three-year-old graduate student in English, my father took me out to lunch one day and told me he thought I really should be going to seminary. Maybe that lunch is where this story begins. Or maybe it was 15 years later when J (see yesterday's blog) first told me about Regent College. It might have been the summer after that when Beve, the children and I spent two weeks in Olds, Alberta at a basketball camp, and I spent the entire time with my head in books, while my children bounced balls in gyms and the Beve coached. During that time, I read a book that I'd found on the discount table at the tiny Christian bookstore in the sleepy town of Olds, called Spiritual Pathways, delineating nine different spiritual temperaments and giving clear, simple suggestions for each to enhance the devotional life of such a temperament. It confirmed that I'm a contemplative scholar. And suggested study. Surprise, surprise. Specifically, Regent College as one. Regent College, in Vancouver, BC. Just a three or four hour drive (by ferry and car) from where we lived. Maybe this story starts the day I received the catalogue from Regent that I'd sent for. I sat down in my family room, started looking at the course descriptions, and began to cry. That there is such a place in the world, that there might be such classes--Christianity and Fiction, The Christian Imagination, The Christian Life--I would be a fish in water there. Any of these are the beginning of the story. Or they all are.

But the story isn't about going to Regent, though the getting there is a story of itself--an Abrahamic leaving of a job, a home, a life, and a setting out on this call and trusting that God would provide for all those things for us. My Dad believed Regent was right for me. He believed it enough to give me money for my first laptop. I get a little teary when I think of that this afternoon. That old, heavy laptop that he was so glad to give me, because he was so glad to see me do what I was doing--even if it was a risk. And the story today isn't really about how God met us as every turn--though He did, with a job for the Beve, and a house, and a landing on our feet just in the nick of time, just before school started for the kids, for Steve, for me. Just before Dad died. And that isn't even the story either--that Dad died the first day I should have been at Regent. Though it colored every bit of my Regent story (well, every bit of my life's story, from there on out).

This is about the most important part of Regent for me. The most important who, I should say. I showed up to Regent a week late, on a Tuesday morning in time for chapel. And the class I most wanted to take that fall was full, a seminar class, called Christianity and Fiction. But I decided to talk to the professor--whom I only knew by his picture. But who could mistake him? No one in the whole world looks like him--like he's straight out of a fairy tale of the best kind. I found him after chapel, and pleaded my case. He wasn't encouraging, but told me to come to the seminar and we'd see. It was standing room only in the seminar that Thursday afternoon by the time everyone he told 'we'd see' had shown up. And we had to go around the room and tell why we wanted to take the class, what our background with reading was. Some of the students in that room said, "I needed a seminar;" or "I haven't read fiction since I was in third grade;" things like that. I was one of the last people to speak. Was probably a little passionate. I do remember that I said I'd read all but two of the books on the syllabus, and couldn't wait to reread the old ones and was looking forward to the new ones. That my degree was in Literature. You know, stuff like that. About halfway through that first class, there was a ten minute break, and as the prof walked past me, he said quietly, "You're in."

That was an amazing class. And it began a remarkable relationship with this professor. He's a profound reader, thinker and challenged me to be more than I knew I could be--to be the scholar I dreamed of being. He is incredibly kind and giving, has a hard time saying no to people, which gets him in trouble and makes him have a hard time completing his grading, because he cannot bear to do anything half-way. At Regent, students tend to gravitate toward certain professors, depending on that student's personality and bent, and I am proud to say I was an Interdisciplinary Studies student, one of Loren's. Sometimes people told me they were intimidated by him because he was so quiet. They'd go to see him, he'd look out the window for a while as they spoke, and they didn't know what he was thinking. I never found him so. But right from the beginning--from the very first day, he was familiar to me--Quiet, yes. But eerily (in the best way!) like my own quiet dad. And I knew exactly how to talk to such a man. We were talking one day about students who talk too much in class--you know the kind who raise their hands for every question, suck all the air out of the room, and make the rest of the students slide down in the chairs until their heads are resting on their elbows? "I tend to talk a lot, too," I said. And he gave me my all-time favorite compliment--"Yes, but unlike most people, you tend to have something to say."

The first spring I attended, I took Christian Imagination, and the culmination of the class was a trip to his home out on one of the Gulf Islands--a beautiful home with wide windows facing the water, and every inside wall floor to ceiling filled with bookcases, and a large garden out back where I once picked under-ripened onions instead of leeks for our breakfast and no one, not even Loren, realized the difference--where we presented our projects, while his wife fed us great meals. The Beve, as per usual, jumped in and assisted her in the kitchen so ably, that we were asked back for many years after that simply to be kitchen help. We became their real friends as a result of those weekends. I'm sad that Loren's stopped teaching that class because we havent' been out there in a few years now. I miss them. I miss going out the night before the students and eating a meal Loren threw together while drinking wine and talking books and theology and the world. I miss working hard for two days with MR and the Beve, while the students were in the living room presenting music, stories or artwork, some quite spectacular (though none as brilliant as the art/poetry Linda Bergwall created the year I was in the class--I'm telling you, that should be in a museum somewhere!!!). And I miss the students leaving and debriefing with Loren and MR, with the leftovers and more great wine, watching Loren fall asleep at the table.

The biggest contribution of Loren in my life, though, was something else. He was there the day my writing became real. The moment God slammed me on the head and said, "YES!" Loren's voice was one of those I heard when God spoke that day, when I first read the story that had come to me in a dream, fully given, names and all. I read the first thirty pages--a scene that has hardly changed, for everything else that has morphed in this thing-- and there was silence in that room. Silence. And then I realized they were crying. A room full of very, very talented people--people whose talent I could not hope to tie--and Loren was first among them. He was there, egging me on--no, determined that I tell the whole story--when I barely knew what the story was. All that year, he sat tipped back in his chair, asking the first questions, when I thought I was making sense, and he said I wasn't. He was the first one to read the first draft, and say, "You have something here." And even though the present story bears little resembles to the one he read, I credit him with more than I can say.

And, of course, it was in his home (his and MR's), at one of those weekend's, that I met my editor, who introduced me to my agent, and--well, these things are not accidental, are they? The hand of God. Regent College. Loren. I'm still waiting to see what becomes of it in the end. There's still a story to be finished. But he gave me the courage to take the risk. And in so doing, he's impacted this life I'm living as much as anyone outside of my own family, which might seem like a funny thing to say. But when it comes to my writing-- it's true. Everyone should have a teacher who believes in them as much as Loren believed in me, who taught me, then became my friend. It's one of God's great gifts in life.



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