In 2014, I started this blog, Traces of Faith. A name that would hopefully forge a natural connection back to me, the author. Traci. Also a name pointing to our need for a constant awareness our faith walk happens all around us every day, not just in the four walls of a church on Sunday morning. As I began reading other bloggers for the first time, and started reading more and more books on faith, I learned about a Festival of Faith and Writing hosted by Calvin College, just a few miles north of me on US-131. I wrote about my first experience at the festival here. This festival takes place every two years, so when I returned in 2016, I knew more names, had a few conversations with these writers I had met online, and felt a little more acclimated. I wrote about the 2016 festival here.
My mind is still processing the 2018 festival experience. For now, suffice it to say the four days immersed in varying conversations were different from the first two experiences I had. I have staked a claim among these people, feeling less like a fraud. While the voices of doubt will likely never go away, I quiet them more readily, and willingly, now. There are overarching ideas I walked away with that I'll write about for some time to come. As I looked into the depths of the well of knowledge I was drinking from, I also realized I want to use my blog space as an invitation for others to share their stories as well. Together, tracing our faith. I love that.
I realize most of my readers are not writers, but there's a commonality we have in my festival experience. All of us want to feel a little less alone. Whether we're moving from one neighborhood to the next, starting a different job, trying out churches, or going to a new school, we hope to find at least one person in the crowd who will make eye contact, inviting us to join in. In fact, even when we find ourselves in the midst of those places we've always known, there can still be this sense of being on the outside looking in. It's important to us that we don't feel as if everyone else has a place, and we do not.
Sometimes you wanna go...
Where everybody knows your name
And they're always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
The troubles are all the same.
You wanna be where everybody knows your name.
That's what I experienced at this year's festival, and I'm profoundly grateful. The community of writers I have found online are gracious and accepting. The vast majority of us go to church, but certainly not all the same church. The hesitation I feel about being included among them comes from within me. I wonder how much that's true for all of us. When we approach situations with confidence, with a willingness to be known, it seems to work out for us. We find our friends, our mentors, our people. Sure, it will still take time. We might have work to do in order for the connections to happen. But when we're faithful to the task, when we smile back and keep taking the necessary steps, honest-to-goodness relationships are there to be found.
Several times during the festival, I approached someone I recognized from social media or the back of a book cover (why is this SO hard), and I would extend my hand, saying my name. This year, most of the time, people knew me. Knew my name. This gave me a great sensitivity too, for the ones who are new this time. Who might not feel so new next time. I'm thankful we're all getting to know one another, because we have work to do. Important Kingdom work to move the church towards lament, and forgiveness, reconciliation and unity. The excellent redemptive work Christ started, which he will be faithful to finish when he comes again. It really helps to feel a little less alone.