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Personal/Theological Notebook: Dinner with Meg; Spiritual Experience and Autobiography

Meg and I, after enduring a number of weeks of postponing our dinner plans, finally managed to get together on Wednesday now that my schedule has settled down. We decided to postpone exploring Milwaukee's famed German restaurants until after I got my taxes back and wasn't feeling so financially cautious, and so we met at the Twisted Fork, to which neither of us had been in some time. I arrived, a few minutes late, to find her already waiting and waving as I came in through the door. As we hugged and started yammering together, and I turned to the hostess to ask for a table for two, I was amused to see the look of a rapid set of narrative calculations go across the hostess's face as she seemed to be filling in the blanks and figuring out what kind of story she was watching: evidence = old friends, non-couple. I suppose that that's the type of game you play when you watch this many people come through your door. It was pretty busy in the restaurant, for a Wednesday, and we took advantage of their Wednesday/Sunday Half-Price Bottle of Wine deal (read: regular mark-up instead of double mark-up) to grab a pretty yummy Shiraz, which we then continued to casually finish for some time after the meal. I checked to see that they were still running the special, given how long it had been since I'd been there.

Dinner conversation – the dinners were there amazingly fast – kicked off with a series of questions Meg fired at me on spiritual experience, starting with definitional questions about what I thought of Pentecostalism and spreading out from there. We hadn't talked about much in that direction for a while, so I was a bit surprised, as I had come with no prepared conversation topics other than to ask her if she possessed my missing Star Wars DVDs. (She had had me introduce her to those movies a few years back, admitting she'd never seen them, and basically asking me for a tutorial so that she could get all the references people expected her to know, which was kind of an hysterical way for me to watch these movies again.) So we talked about Pentecostalism, about the Charismatic Renewal, about those as a particular style of spirituality and a particularly demonstrative one at that, about possibilities between authentic spiritual experience and human learned behaviour, and of the psychology of spiritual experience in general. I touched on my dissertation, as I had never expected to be writing on a topic that had so much intersection with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, as that had never been an academic interest of mine. And then I had to go way back, and talk about how, despite my relative contemporary lack of interest (revved up some since I'd stumbled into my dissertation topic, of course) I nevertheless had had a number of early spiritual experiences that tied into that movement. And I talked some about how many of the Theology faculty had had similar experiences, to my surprise, which I had learned in conversation as my dissertation topic had come into focus.

This made me touch on some of my recent thoughts about spirituality and autobiography. Given the recent re-read of Thomas Merton's The Seven Storey Mountain, as well as my dive through Augustine's Confessions again with Barnes (he has his class using the Chadwick translation), and some thoughts about what kind of college courses I would like to create, I had been thinking quite a bit in terms of spiritual autobiography over the last few weeks. Back at Saint Joe's, I had done a Directed Readings course (individualized courses for select seniors, by audition) with Tom Nolan on "Religion and Autobiography." I think that's what we called it. There we read Augustine, Merton, Lewis's Surprised By Joy, and Newman's Apologia Pro Vita Sua, and Tom had come up with an interesting thesis project on The Role of Friendship in Conversion from these texts. I think I'd really enjoy taking that basic concept and doing it as an undergraduate course. This is definitely part of personal preference, as I've found these sorts of books quite spiritually nourishing myself over the years, and relatively easy to engage students with. And personally, I know that reflection on my own life – the only human life I get to truly experience from "the inside," and thus extrapolate to others's subjective experiences – has long been a fruitful source for my own spirituality; this journaling not least in that process. These are literary versions of some of the best sorts of conversations I ever have. So that kept Meg and I going for a while, talking about autobiography and biography in this way, well toward the bottom of the bottle of wine, nearly four hours later.

On the random side of things, I discovered was that she doesn't have much of a sense of direction at all, and so I did my Good Deed for the night by realizing that she was about to set off in the entirely opposite direction from the bus stop she was trying to find. That was lucky, as I was a bit fuzzy on the street names there for a minute, myself, and it was too cold a night to be wandering around. We had gotten to talking about Iowa, and I was horrified to discover that she had no idea of how to describe the location of her hometown relative to anything else in the area. I got my Mom's perfect sense of direction instead of my Dad's clueless sense of direction, mercifully, and cannot understand how the Other Sort of People function at all. Still, I shouldn't talk, after having recently found out how many appointments I missed because I forgot to tell my computer to tell me to go to them. It takes all kinds....
Tags: books, friends-marquette era, milwaukee, mysticism/spirituality, personal, restaurants, saint joseph's high school, students, teaching, theological notebook
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