In the middle of June, I had the great pleasure of attending a spiritual writer’s conference in Princeton, NJ. In a crowd of strangers, I navigated the campus of Princeton Theological Seminary which has an enrollment of over 400 students who head out into the world on wider pathways than an Episcopal seminary offers. Some become parish ministers, some musicians and writers, some land in other denominations.
I had a private room in the continuing education center and was on my own in terms of schedule for four days. I attended seminars on publishing your writing, marketing your writing, and the creative process. Worship in the chapel (which was not very inspirational) was interspersed among these classes. Each day was kicked off with an address by a well-known African American writer, Enuma Okora.
She talked about the things she had discovered in her life of which Christianity helped her make sense. Her remarks weren’t very inspirational either. I felt I had traveled a lot of her road of discovery a long time ago, after all I am twice her age and must have learned a few things over the years. But as you might suspect, there was an unexpected surprise in store. As the Buddhists say, “when the student is ready, the teacher arrives.”
I had dinner with a late arrival which after a few minutes I surmised was one of the presenters. He was an odd small man, with an artistic way of dressing and a very introverted personality. These are the things that distinguish interesting writers. I had a pleasant conversation with him but nothing particularly deep or spiritual. However, the next day we spent part of the afternoon together after his presentation.
He began his class by tapping a small temple bell with his pen and announced that he would share a truth of his every fifteen minutes by doing so. So, it began. He told of his childhood: strange but not too damaging. He spoke of his faith, gentle and nourishing. He confessed he was an Episcopalian. Imagine that at a Presbyterian conference! He concluded with a quote from another writer whom he admired who said the way to write was to put a piece of paper in the typewriter and then bleed. After the lecture we talked about writing. He opened his heart to me almost wordlessly and I felt he understood me and my journey a little and was willing to share that of his own. He seemed to me to be someone whom the world could damage easily. At least he saw that coming and writing was his best defense.
I was deeply touched and was able to buy one of his books titled Between the Dreaming and the Coming True. It was his story of personal faith emerging like a gentle small flower needing the sun to grow. I commend it to you. I’ll be reading and re-reading it because Robert Benson has a lot to teach me. In our current time of transition, you might find it a comforting book.