I’ve been home from Michigan for a week. A solid week of totally normal – Bible study, coffee dates, writing, church. A dumb ordinary life, Anne Lamott would say.
A week ago I was driving home across four states, half-listening to Coffee House radio as I reflected on my time away from my dumb ordinary life. Michigan doesn’t come to mind for most people as a place to get away from it all, but it is exactly that for me. It is a place where my soul finds rest. And that was perhaps truer this time than it has ever been.
I’m not hard pressed to find reasons to get back to Grand Rapids, a city I fell in love with when I was seventeen and living away from home for the first time. I was educated there in all kinds of ways, in the classrooms and in the dorm rooms, and for better or for worse, Grand Rapids grew me up. I came into my own in that city, and driving those familiar streets always feels like coming home.
This year, the Festival of Faith and Writing brought me home.
I’m not sure how to explain the conference itself, but basically a bunch of really talented writers that you wish you could be like all get up and talk about why they write, and how they write, and how we all can write better, and then you feel totally inferior and you never want to write another word ever again because you will never be as clever as Anne Lamott, or as well-crafted as Bret Lott, or as gracious as Rachel Held Evans. And then a day later you realize that they were all right, that you can’t not write, and you’ll sit down at your lap top and you’ll write. Because writing is a compulsion, and the only way you know to make sense of the world.
…or, you know, it was something like that.
I texted my friend Nickie after it was over and I told her that the Festival was like being in church, in the way that being with people who love God is Church, except that we also nerded out over books and grammar. It was great, I told her, because it filled a part of my heart that I didn’t know needed filling.
I have wonderful people in my life and they make God’s love tangible to me on a daily basis. But, they don’t usually get excited about parallel construction or irritated by split infinitives, and they really struggle to care about gerunds. And they want to understand and they listen when I talk about it, but they can’t understand what it’s like to write every day – no more than I can understand what it’s like to parent, or engineer, or teach.
And I’m realizing that maybe sitting in the not-knowing, in the trying-to-understand is a part of what makes the dumb ordinary life so beautiful. Being with people who easily understand your world is respite, I know, like John leaning back into the bosom of Jesus. But, life isn’t lived there. Eventually you have to sit up from the table, walk downstairs, and be in the world again. Because life is lived in the streets, among people who don’t organically get you, in moments where you connect in spite of the differences.
This means that for me life is processed in writing, but life is lived in coffee dates and Bible study and church, one dumb ordinary moment at a time.
And it really is a thing of beauty.