I arrived today on the leafy green collegiate gothic campus of Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts to attend The Glen Workshop East from today until next Sunday. I will be taking part in a film seminar taught by Gareth Higgins, meeting people for interesting conversations, attending readings and presentations, and joining a gathering for worship each evening led by Debbie Blue for which the homilist will Eugene Petersen, a wise pastor and scholar.
At tonight's opening reception I had three interesting conversations with people, including a conversation with Suzanne Wolfe, one of the founders of Image Journal, which sponsors the Glen Workshops here in Massachusetts and in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Suzanne is an author of fiction and teaches writing at Seattle Pacific University. With her husband Gregory, she'll be leading the Founder's Seminar at this event. Suzanne, finding I was from Bellingham, shared with me her appreciation of Luci Shaw, who, as she points out, can be credited with the founding of Image Journal. Thank you, Luci!
Tonight's reception also gave me the gift of some time in conversation with Dennis Covington, author of Salvation on Sand Mountain, a book that amazed me and made me think and wonder when I read it last year. I got to tell him what the book meant to me and thank him for writing it. This book, which started out as an assignment for the New York Times, turned into a very personal account of his increasing involvement with snake-handling churches in his native south. The book gave me a glimpse into their world that helped humanize these people for me, and led me to wonder about many mysteries of faith. The book also made me like the man; I'm glad to have been able to meet him tonight. I like the way he crosses borders to seek understanding of people in this great, complex world God made. It's true what he says about himself: "I'm an adrenaline junkie." He's presently under contract to write a book about religious faith in the border regions of the Middle East; an assignment that he reports is challenging him to the maximum. He will read from this work-in-progress on Tuesday night, and I'm not going to miss that. He is bearing witness to the violence and pain that results when people kill one another in the name of God, and it is hard. Dennis told me he has a fascination with faith as "the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen". It's a gut level thing for him, and a very hard thing at times, and I sympathize with that.
Speaking of hard things: at our opening session this evening the recent shooting at Seattle Pacific University was one of the subject of Gregory Wolfe's welcoming address. Image Journal is hosted by SPU, and their office is a hundred feet or so from the site of the shooting. He assured us that the calamity that befell that campus this week, taking the life of a student and bringing pain and suffering to many, has revealed the "gold" of the strength of that campus community. He asked for our prayers.
I will begin attending Gareth's film seminar in the morning. I'm reading his book "Cinematic States" as preparation.
I'm thankful to be alive, to be here, and for the people back home who are supporting the common life of St. Paul's. God bless you all.
P.S. Would you please keep in prayer our beloved parishioner Bob Keiper, who is very ill. I don't know the latest, but his friend called me yesterday to report that Bob was getting a medical airlift back home from a trip he was taking in Russia.