The sun did grace us with his presence! Steering my car away from our neighborhood, I knew this day was pregnant with inspiration, a quite literal blessing from God. Houston Baptist University was bright with promise - vivid shades of green (and blue), an omnipresent glaze of blinding gold, very Gauguin indeed.

Marilynne Robinson entered the room and I felt internally giddy. Gilead is one of my top 10 favorite books, and sitting in the same room as the author is an identical pleasure to a music concert or an art gallery. Various art forms up close and personal are thrilling. The first session with Robinson was the students' allotted Convocation, and she discussed the concept of Reverence. As much as I seek out creative inspiration via paintings, books, music, movies, and quirky items like wooden birds and blue glass, I also seek out intellectual pricks of inspiration. Creative and intellectual stimuli often overlap each other which occurred today.

Robinson did speak on Reverence, and a myriad of other topics: predestination, free will, mystery, quantum physics, science, writing, philosophy, and imagination. She was utterly fascinating. Much like the words of Gilead, her speech was to be savored and required concentration. Thus I did not take as many notes as her lecture deserved or near what I want to remember forever. I do not find an author like her often - able to write a beautiful, living novel and also intellectual theology, very precisely Christian. Usually an author is strong in one genre and weak in another or misplaces their faith. Marilynne Robinson balances poetic fiction writing with assertive (yet gentle) theology brilliantly.

During a break I ate a salad outside allowing the sun to pelt me with warmth and I shed my coat. I read The Poetry Handbook and people-watched unabashed. Back inside, I quietly stalked Robinson from my seat observing her manner: nonchalant, confident, cautious, gentle-sleepy eyes, an often-tilted head, quiet and reserved, but not shy. She read from Gilead much to my delight. Being read to is a rare luxury. Johnny kindly rubs my feet most every night while I sip wine or Tuaca, and we watch The Colbert Report or David Letterman. Now I'm thinking we should turn off the TV and read to each other.

Robinson read one of my favorite passages in her novel where the main character as a young boy accompanies his father to his grandfather's grave. As she read, the story popped off the page as alive as I was breathing and I became emotional choking down tears of beauty. The entire book is just like that, incandescent, a rarity hard to describe. Please read it - everyone I've pestered to do so thanks me. My half price hardback is next to me now and I might carry it around with me like a teddy bear for awhile.

After the reading she answered questions and I learned many astounding aspects of this writer with a subtle wit. She shared how Gilead was birthed. Robinson was in a Massachusetts hotel room, admiring the sea, and sensed the consciousness of an elderly man sitting at a desk, writing. And so began the character of Rev. John Ames. She is a Calvinist and a Congregationalist. She does not map out or outline her books and she does not edit or rework after she is finished. She merely sheds what is unpleasing as she writes - I think my jaw dropped open a little.

In between Robinson and the next segment with artist Mary McCleary, I spied Gregory Wolfe, the editor of Image, who tomorrow will "compare and contrast the Flannery O'Connor generation with current writers." I decided these people and their colleagues are my celebrities. Sure, Reese Witherspoon, Christian Bale, Kate Winslet, and Ryan Gosling are wonderful actors, but writers and artsy-types inspire me to no end and I'm grateful for what they do: create, imagine, and see the world in a way I understand.

Mary McCleary explained several of her stunning collages. Not only was I read to by Pulitzer Prize-winning Marilynne Robinson, but a gifted artist explained her work and how her Christian faith is involved - another rare luxury. Her manner was warmly extroverted, funny, and her Texan blood very familiar. Her work is based on Biblical stories, poems, and odd, historical accounts such as pets owned by Nazis and Mao's order to kill every bird in 1950's China, and the cruel process used by his people to obey.

I am not a morning person, so I previously decided to sleep in tomorrow 'til Gregory Wolfe at 1:00 pm. But after this glorious day, I believe I will set my alarm early and hear the following people starting at 9:30 am:

Artist Bill Komodore on "The Politics of Color."
Artist Jim Edwards on "Rocks, Salt, and Rust: Art and Entropy in the Desert Southwest."
Terrell James after Dr. Wolfe; James will discuss "Concerning the Spiritual in Artist's Statements."

Only a fool would skip such interesting lectures. I can always sleep another time when Wyeth weather reappears.


allison said...

Thanks, Jenni, for the vicarious inspiration! Here, too, the sun finally emerged (it's had its head in the oven for weeks) and I let out a huge sigh. I circled town after a doc appt, trying to find a cafe window facing the sun. I didn't want to waste a minute of it!

You'll be happy you set your alarm--James Terrell is the light artist who concieved the Friends Meeting House skyscape. What a treat to hear him live! And perhaps you can pick Greg Wolfe's brain about his perspective on this year's Glen theme...

I'm so envious I think I've committed the sixth of the seven deadly sins!

Beckye said...

You won't be disappointed if you choose to read to one another! We chose not to have a TV when we got married, and spent our free time reading novels and series to one another. It was wonderful and fun! And to read those books aloud later with our children was like sharing a secret joy with someone you dearly love! I highly recommend it. (At Em's request I am reading a series to her at bedtime each night! What a blessing.)

allison said...

and, and, and....

Jenni said...

Allison, read my next entry - I did not get to hear James Terrell, but Credo was still great!

And Beckye - I really am starting to think we need to cut down on TV...

Sherry said...

Hi! Do you live in Houston? I had my husband drive me from Clear Lake (I don't do freeways) to the Credo conference on Saturday, and I, too, wasn't disappointed. I did think the reading by Ms. Robinson was under-attended. If you have a Pulitzer-prize winning author speaking, shouldn't evrybody in Houston who loves literature be there? Anyway, I enjoyed it immensely and I'm planning to write about it at my blog soon.

Jenni said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jenni said...

Hi Sherry! Yes, I live in Houston. I totally agree - I forgot to mention that every lecture, but especially Marilynne Robinson's, was sadly low in attendance. Shameful!