In one of the songs on his new album, The Burning Edge of Dawn, Andrew Peterson alludes to Thomas Merton’s “Louisville” epiphany in Merton’s book Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. Here’s what Merton wrote:
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness… This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud… I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”
We gathered at Hutchmoot 2015, 100+ total strangers, unable to be “alien to one another even though we were total strangers.” It was a weekend of walls coming down, of hearts exposed, of giving and partaking of nourishment from the cool waters of new friendship between old souls. We drank deep. We took in story- our own and each other’s, and the one Story which connects us all.
Merton wrote “I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate.” Perhaps it gives some indication of the Hutchmoot weekend that our keynote speaker, author Walt Wangerin, Jr. said , “There is entirely too much joy in this place.”
The temptation for me right now is to wax philosophical, to try to ascend to that intoxicating cloud of friendship and pipe smoke once again in immediate nostalgic reflection. To go step by step through the weekend and parse out its significance. To mention names met and sessions attended. And I may do that yet in future posts, but things are still “settling” for me. Plus the fact that I am in my classroom monitoring an essay test. Ha. Sure. At least my students think I look busy grading.
So let me, for now, explain the title of this post, which attends to a very specific post-Hutchmoot experience.
I met two wonderful friends at Hutchmoot, Jonathan and Laure Hittle. Thinking my goodbye to them was too short, I resolved to ambush them at Nashville Airport for a final, more leisurely goodbye. A few Facebook messages back and forth found me waiting outside a small Mexican restaurant just outside their gate for what we quickly dubbed “whiskeymoot.”
I waited, and as I waited, had my own mini-Merton experience.
I was scanning the crowds as they moved toward me, trying to discern the friendly bearded face of Jonathan and the freckled smile of Laure. As I was doing so, I continuously thought I was recognizing other people who had been at Hutchmoot, even going so far as to nearly waving at (who I thought was) JJ Heller and her husband David. I got some odd looks. I think my face had a constant, “Hey, good to see you again!” expression- which in my case, includes bushy eyebrows raised, and overbitten smile beaming. An apparently awkward, gawky, unofficial greeter addition to the airport staff of Nashville International to the strangers streaming past me.
So here’s the mini-Merton moment: it wasn’t so epiphanic that I saw everyone in the airport shining like the sun. What I did recognize was that anyone and everyone who was coming toward me could have been at Hutchmoot 2015. Which says quite a lot about the community I experienced. Though there were amazing musicians, artists, teachers, writers, mothers, fathers, and presenters at Hutchmoot, no one really stood out- by which I mean, if they did stand out, it was out of the ordinary, universal, and holy of the day-to day journey all of us are on. Everyone went.
I relaxed my craning, searching neck for a moment, and bent my head in thanks to the realization. There are so many stories that matter. As Andrew Peterson wrote in his welcome letter to Hutchmoot “The bricks and mortar of God’s kingdom are not ideas, but people. It’s not stories, but characters in the Story.”
Then I spotted Laure and Jonathan. My overbitten smile returned. I called out “Let Whiskeymoot commence!”
Smiles were returned, as three characters in the Story sat down and broke bread with each other, and toasted the weekend.