Always Becoming

silhouetted image of a woman standing in front of a window, mostly in dark. outside it is bright, light, and airy, inside you can only see the silhouettes of things. the windows open outwards, the image feels hopeful. The following is adapted from an address given at the Seattle Pacific University MFA in Creative Writing commencement ceremony last month.

For centuries, wise men and women of various traditions have troubled the terms being and becoming, without arriving at anything like conclusion. We affirm the beauty and joy of being—being writers, being Christians, being laborers in and lovers of a complex realm that is concurrently material and spiritual. Still, in the very midst of our being, we are obliged to affirm the efficacy of becoming, the call to be ever becoming.

During our residency we shared the deep pleasure of poring over Holy the Firm, a delicious if challenging text by the beloved Annie Dillard. Among the many provocative passages in that book, Dillard attends to the gap between what is known and what is.

“Here is the fringey edge,” she writes, “where elements meet and realms mingle, where time and eternity spatter each other with foam. The salt sea and the islands—molding and molding, row upon rolling row—don’t quit, nor do winds end nor skies cease from spreading in curves.” [Read more…]

You Must Be Present to Learn

4833326522_a6c37bda2e_zFor the past five years, I’ve been experimenting with the use of contemplative practices in the classes I teach at UNC Asheville. For a quick overview of the range of contemplative practices being used in higher education today, see The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society’s Tree of Contemplative Practices.

On the eve of a new academic year, today I offer you a list of some of the things I’ve observed as I explore the use of this powerful pedagogy in my own work as a contemplative educator. [Read more…]

My Wish for My Students

Students pray on lawn at SPU after shooting at the school.Only this I wish for my students: this semester, I hope you will learn to care for each other.

I hope you will learn how to create conditions in which everyone present in the room feels welcome to speak. I hope you will learn how to discern which of two competing voices within you is worth acting on: the voice that cautions you against speaking lest you confirm, for yourself and others, what you suspect, that you are a fool, and the voice that encourages you to trust yourself, that your thoughts, your questions are worthy of being heard by others. [Read more…]

Literacy Class: Learning the Language of Love

This past week, I taught my last English class for quite some time. Three years ago, I moved to my new city in the Midwest. Almost right away, I started teaching literacy to people (mostly women, mostly older, all East African refugees) who have been denied access to education.

The levels of trauma, displacement, oppression, and prejudice contained in that single educational qualifier “non-literate” are hard to explain. I taught in the corners of crowded libraries, classrooms, computer labs. I taught inside of makeshift police offices and elder housing complexes. I learned about the housing crisis in Minneapolis, I met large families who lived in homeless shelters, I learned of the cracks in the system, how gaping and wide open they turned out to be. [Read more…]

Why We Make Art

“Who you actually are is far bigger than the narrative you construct about who you are,” writes Jon Kabat-Zinn in Mindfulness for Beginners.

At this moment—end of semester, grades in, annual faculty record due, next year’s budget due, meetings to schedule, e-mails to respond to, office to clean, and the thousand and one things to do at home that have been ignored for months but there’s little time before I load the car and my son and I back out of the driveway, aim the car toward onto I-40W, Asheville to L.A.—I am feeling small, worn, reduced if not defeated.

And at this moment, 106 words into the unknown of this essay now two days late: doubt. Doubting my intelligence, talent, strength.

I know this story: I’ve been reading it for decades. Though who “I” was when the story of doubt, my doubt, was first written, I’m not, at this moment, sure, who else but “me” could have written the first draft? [Read more…]