Thursday, February 12, 2009

Poetry, Mystery, Dogma

(the next part of the story)
I don't have a neat time-line any more of how my faith life developed over my college years. I just have impressions and vignettes. I will share some with you:

I remember that I belonged to a charismatic prayer group on campus, although I don't remember a regular meeting time any more. People came and went from this group and it was unclear who were the leaders. I remember one night in particular a young man who was tangentially connected to this group asked if he could wash everyone's feet. I wasn't sure about this, although we let him do it. He had long blonde hair, and dried everyone's feet with his hair. (I also remember that he had a great recipe for cheesecake.)

I remember that there were several prayer and fasting vigils. I had not heard of the discipline of fasting before, and read a book about it. None of our fasts were more than 24 hours. (I no longer remember what we were fasting and praying for.)

I remember that there was a sort of a scandal when one of the engaged couples (among this Pentecostal group) broke up. They were seniors when I was a sophomore; I remember that he was a musician and song-writer who wrote wonderful Christian songs. (I remember listening to him sing his versions of Matthew 6 and Romans 12). I learned later that he was gay; in our Pentecostal group, of course, this was considered a terrible sin.

I remember that once we invited a student to our prayer meeting. He prayed in tongues for the first time -- and, according to a few students who understood him, it was French. He was also a literature student.

I went on some spiritual retreats at a nearby church camp. I remember that we received Bible verses for the weekend on our bunk beds. I also remember that getting "Slain in the Spirit" was all the rage. I couldn't figure out where being "slain in the spirit" was in the Bible; to me, it just seemed like a kind of "spiritual high." Since I was reading up on Classic Christian Doctrine at the time, I was suspicious of spiritual highs that were not endorsed in the Bible.

I had headaches. Sometimes I had headaches in prayer meetings. The others liked to pray for my headaches to go away. Sometimes it hurt so much to have people put their hands on my head that I lied and told them the headache had gone away, just to get them to stop.

At the same time that I attended charismatic prayer meetings, I joined a group called "Lutheran Youth Encounter." It was a sort of evangelical group of Lutheran students who formed small teams of 6-8 students, and went out to different churches to work with their youth groups, plan church services, lock-ins, etc. We learned skits, games, songs, and activities. Though not charismatic, this was not by any means a progressive organization. We had the first woman "team leader" my senior year (not me), and it was sort of a controversial move on our part.

Do you wonder how I had any time to study at all? I absolutely devoured my Interpretation of Poetry class as a sophomore, where our Professor used John Ciardi's classic "How Does a Poem Mean?" This also affected how I was reading scripture -- Ciardi's thesis that the form of a poem is an integral part of its meaning seemed to apply to Bible passages as well.

At the same time, I overloaded on Religion classes: not only the Introduction to the Bible class, but Church History, Christian Ethics and, my senior year, Mysticism. My Pentecostal experiences had made me curious about Christian Mysticism. I ended up taking Mysticism at the same time as I took a class in 17th Century Metaphysical Poetry (think George Herbert and John Donne, for example).

I remember that while I still embraced the conservative theology that I learned from the Pentecostals, I was realizing that I admired the piety of those who were merciful, generous, and full of charity.

To say that I was thinking about a lot of things was an understatement.

And somewhere during my senior year, I discovered the author Henri Nouwen. The first book I read was The Living Reminder.

I was unaware at the time that it was a book about what it means to be a minister. be continued


FranIAm said...

I just love reading each installment...

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

Wow, you had a LOT going on. I remember how much I loved Donne in college. I was already a little suspicious of the extreme charismatics though.

Jan said...

You remember everything so well and of course write of it movingly. Thanks, Diane. I've never heard of that particular Nouwen book, and I thought I knew of most of them.

Anonymous said...