…But when your idol* is an Anglican priest-poet whose book on poetry and faith literally changed your life and he happens to be teaching a rare class in one of the coolest cities in North America, well, exceptions can be made.
Here’s the story:
I quit my teaching job 2 years ago and I made myself 2 vows:
One, never to read To Kill a Mockingbird again. I love the book, but 7 years of reading and teaching it were starting to kill my enthusiasm (kind of like when I overplayed John Mayer songs…)
Two, I vowed that I was going to get to the bottom of why literature was so important to me. I felt a constant need to defend the reading of imaginative fiction and poetry in light of a recent push towards the value of STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Math) subjects and towards reading and teaching more non-fiction texts. I’m all about giving kids good skills to recognize the difference between good and bad logic, but I know there is still a hunger for good stories. And I wanted to be able to understand why I loved stories and explain why they were still important.
In this pursuit, I stumbled upon a really intriguing review of Malcolm Guite’s “Faith, Hope and Poetry.” So I bought it and I read it. It was really hard to read because it was so impressive–so thorough, so thoughtful, so moving. When I finally finished it, I told Paul “I need to take the class where this book is the textbook. I need to meet other people who want to talk about this book.”
Paul filed this away and completely surprised me a year later when he announced this spring that we were heading to Vancouver so we could each take a class. Him with J.I. Packer. Me? With the one and only Malcolm Guite. And thus….
This, my friends, is Malcolm Guite. He is, in my opinion, a contemporary version of the G.K. Chesterton/C.S. Lewis brand of wit and wisdom, and I’m confident his defense of the “baptized imagination” is just beginning to gain steam.
He was generous enough to allow me to wear Caleb to class each day. (Caleb was an absolute gem and slept almost all of it!) My classmates were everything I expected–writers and readers from all different fields (I sat between a doctor and a lawyer) who have a vision for how the arts can bring new hope to people. And everyone was incredibly gracious about my crazy request to bring a newborn along to five 3-hour lectures.
Can I just take a minute to talk about the people I met? I can’t explain how we all arrived there except that we’ve all been called. I don’t usually subscribe much to the mystical idea of calling, but it was really clear that this was a room full of people who were feeling some similar need for poetry and metaphor, some hunger for a new defense of the imaginative and creative, some vision for how art can renew the culture.
So what was it like? I’m struggling to narrow down the pages of notes I scribbled while babywearing, but here’s a start…
We need metaphors to even attempt to explain certain parts of the human experience. For example, think of all the ways we use tree metaphors to explain things. We talk about “having roots” or “getting back to our roots.” We talk about “branching out” or “going out on a limb.” We talk about growth and fruitfulness. We talk about our families in terms of a tree. Try to imagine discussing these concepts without using a tree. Tough, isn’t it?
In essence, we look for good analogies and find them deeply satisfactory as ways of explaining ourselves. This demonstrates a deep kinship between human beings and the created world around us, which makes sense when we recognize that we have the same creator. In a sense, God gave us trees, seeds, yeast, sheep, vines, etc. to explain concepts that might otherwise be inexplicable. When Jesus came to Earth, he relied on metaphors and fictional stories to explain to us what the Kingdom of Heaven was like. Using our own baptized imaginations, we can, for example “consider the lilies” and find a rich depth of imagery and connections that can prove profitable in helping us to understand our relationship to the world and to God.
There is much more. So much more. I’m still digesting it all. (Digestion is another metaphor! See what I did there?)
Malcolm did not disappoint. I made some new friends and came back with a lot of new ideas that will feed my soul for a long time to come. And my husband made it all possible.
*Just to be clear, I’m using idol in the “James Corden/geeky-fan” way, not the “breaking the third commandment” way.