Just like heat and smoke, the bubbles of a carbonated beverage rise. So, too, have snapshots of my experience at Hutchmoot 2013 risen to the top as I’ve reflected in the days since I returned home. Those snapshots have refused to settle to the bottom and instead have insisted that I pay attention to them. More vivid than any other moment for me at Hutchmoot is the standing ovation we gave Leif Enger after he had spoken to us about reasonable worship and the constellation of gratitude, persistence, and delight, after he read to us from his new, yet-to-be-published book. Other people have mentioned this ovation as one of their favorite moments of the weekend, but I had the unique perspective of sitting in the seat directly behind Leif’s wife Robin. So I got a front seat viewing to this incredibly intimate moment.
“Story, and the process of storytelling, is the only apologetic by which I can even begin to understand the world.”
What I love about Leif’s “Special Guest Speaker” talk is that he prefaced by saying he was going to speak simply on the subject at hand: Story. And then he proceeded to speak beautifully, putting flesh on such ancient truths. Because isn’t that what Story is? An ancient truth that is continually reborn into something new? The bones never change, but we are each commissioned to bear flesh to those bones, lending ourselves in participation with the Great Storyteller. Stories not only form the apologetic by which I comprehend the world (for I, too, ascribe to that school of theology); Story, and my participation in it, is my reasonable, acceptable worship.
In explanation of what he meant by ‘reasonable worship,’ Leif described his 14 year-old dog named Collie, who died last year. Collie’s reasonable worship was to stand sentry over Leif and Robin’s sleeping because this is what she loved to do, and she didn’t want to miss out on anything, should the Master need her.
The sanctuary where Leif spoke was filled with a bunch of people who either create or appreciate great art and great storytelling. I’m sure a great many of us regard our participation with storytelling as a hobby or a guilty pleasure or side project or a distraction from the more important things that need to be done. But reasonable worship? My storytelling and my appreciation for it is the worship that is most acceptable to the Lord? How deliciously liberating.
But never mind my disbelief that something so simple could actually be true. Some things are just too beautiful not to be true.
I think it must have come as a great shock to Leif that we would give him such a robust and sincere ovation, and even more of a shock that we applauded him for so long (I recorded it: our ovation lasted for over a minute and a half). His head was bowed and his shoulders seemed to bend themselves beneath the weight of our admiration and gratitude for his words. He simply did not know what to do with our ovation.
Robin, though, knew exactly what to do. In the hour or so before Leif’s talk, Robin had befriended my comrades and me, and no matter what we were actually talking about, her love and pride and adoration for her husband and her two grown sons resonated from her presence. It was apparent that her warmth resulted from the life she has shared with this man for 30 years. So she knew exactly what to do, how to provide her support to Leif, how to hold his head up and bolster his shoulders to bear the weight of our applause.
Such a sight was overwhelmingly priceless. Truth reverberated in his lack of know-how and in her joyful, steadied embrace. That. That is why stories matter. Why putting flesh on bones is the noblest of tasks. Why our participation in stories is our reasonable worship.
“We and the world, my children, will always be at war. Retreat is impossible. Arm yourselves.” Leif Enger, Peace Like a River.