I was fortunate to have the chance to get to know Dr. Richard McCann at the Vermont College of Fine Arts residency. I was assigned to his workshop and, with every piece that we looked at critically, like a surgeon, he cut to the heart of everyone's narratives. He kept pushing each of us to find the motive underneath our motives. Our workshop was like writing class and group therapy rolled into one. I left each day with a deep sense that a magical connection was being made among our faculty leaders (Richard and Sascha Feinstein) and the other writing students.
One of my worries going into a graduate writing program was exposing my writing to people who did not share my similar worldview. However, it has always been my hope that my writing would surpass the boundaries of the Christian literary market and would stand up under the scrutiny of even the most cynical reader. I want my writing to be universal, for someone, anyone, who reads it to be able to connect with my experience and see themselves. I thought for sure that I would be grilled and misunderstood and ridiculed or worse: dismissed.
However, that has not been my experience at all. Okay, certainly there may have been those who have dismissed me, my interpretations, and religious assumptions; however, none have overtly. Well, there was the one professor who refused to say hello to me when I waved, but I think that may have had more to do with his poor eye sight than his desire to cold-shoulder me. In fact, Richard McCann congratulated me on my bravery for writing about spirituality. Because I knew a brief history of how the Church at large has hurt McCann, I feared his bitterness toward it would turn toward me. Not only is McCann not bitter, but also generous in spirit— he made gestures toward me that were incredibly nurturing and life-giving.
As I was finding my seat on the airport shuttle on the last day of residency, I was pleased to see Richard there. I was hoping for a few more minutes with this brilliant man. After a few minutes, we realized that we were on the same flight to DC, where I would then switch planes and he would de-board for home.
After watching a harrowing episode of Hoarders on hulu.com together in the airport lobby, we sat next to each other on the plane. Richard shared a poem with me someone had previously sent him. With his melodic, raspy voice he read the poem "Love Dogs" by Rumi, translated into English by a writer and prof at the University of Georgia. As he read this poem to me, I instantly realized that Truth is Truth and Mystery is Mystery, no matter where you find it, and the cynic in me that fears all the other cynics in the world was silenced.
One night a man was crying Allah! Allah!
His lips grew sweet with praising,
until a cynic said, “So!
I’ve heard you calling out, but have you ever
gotten any response?”
The man had no answer to that.
He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.
He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,
in a thick, green foliage.
“Why did you stop praising?” “Because
I’ve never heard anything back.”
“This longing you express
is the return message.”
The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.
Your pure sadness
that wants help
is the secret cup.
Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
That whining is the connection.
There are love dogs
no one knows the names of.
Give your life
to be one of them.
Thanks to Richard and Rumi, the cynics' questions aren't as scary anymore (no matter how many answers I cannot give them.) I will continue to whine until my Master comes home.