The Scandal of Holiness

"Who tells your story?"

Recently I finished Winn Collier's Burning in My Bones, the authorized biography of Eugene Peterson. The whole time I was reading, I sang that final Hamilton song in my head, "Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?" While memoirs zero in on a theme, biographies tell the story of a life, from beginning to end. We see the whole narrative, all the paths that looked like detours to the one navigating the pilgrimage but make sense within the full story. I prefer the latter, seeing beginning through middle to the glorious end. 

When my mentor Ed Ericson, Jr. passed away in April 2017, his family asked me to go through his papers and books. He had hundreds of student notes. Some students had even sent postcards from their family vacations years after graduating. Ed was a teacher whose story belonged both before and after him, to his teachers and students; he saw himself in a larger story. Here is one of my favorite pieces by Ed about his father, and here his student David Deavel writes about Ed as his intellectual father. Our book Solzhenitsyn and American Culture was written in honor of Ed. 


At the end of June, I headed to Portsmouth Abbey Institute for a week to teach Catholic teachers about Flannery O'Connor. In the Dallas airport sat a familiar blazer and sunglasses. Evyn had graduated May 2020 but was now signed up to learn from me again in RI. Her drawing of the church at the abbey is above. She's one of those students that took all my classes. When I imagine what I'm doing as a teacher, she's one of the faces that I see. During that week, I recorded a few talks to help people who couldn't be there but are eager to pick up O'Connor stories.

I co-taught at Portsmouth alongside the great Kale Zelden (his name really lends itself to showmanship). Low and behold, Kale hosts a podcast with our friend Rod Dreher. Since I was in RI and Rod was in Budapest, I subbed for him on The General Eclectic. We really played it by ear, talking about books we love and teach, and it's a worthwhile conversation to listen in on.

I've been teaching almost two decades. You know that moment in teaching when you're on a role and you unexpectedly say something true and insightful? So, you pocket it away for a future semester to bring it back out. I watched a few minutes of my interview with Bishop Barron and realized it was like my highlights reel from teaching; I recalled in that conversation all the best things I've learned as a teacher. 

In The Habit podcast with Jonathan Rogers, I tattle on my previous teachers, though really I'm showing what a dunce I was and how long the journey from imposter to saint must be. I'm still muddling my way through, and I share my stories on "Sad Stories Told for Laughs." I neglected to tell the story of when I drove up to a conference where I was the keynote, and two guys approached my car. I assumed they were eager attendees looking to talk to me. They were just hoping I was an Uber. Humiliation is the perfect start to a conference where you’re invited to speak.

Two of my mentors, David Lyle Jeffrey and Dana Gioia, have recently written memoirs about their mentors, and I have both books waiting in my Amazon wishlist. If the publishers see this and want to send me a present, I'd love to get those titles. My husband offered me a weekend over the next few months to get away and read for three days.... 

Upcoming events

I'll be speaking at the CiRCE National Conference July 21-23. Not only will I be delivering a plenary on unpopular spiritual practices like asceticism, but also I get to enjoy sitting on the poetic knowledge panel alongside Andrew Kern and Christopher Perrin to talk about Margaret Atwood and Homer. It's too late to show up in Charleston, but do catch it on Zoom.