It was bizarre to sit in the ballroom listening to Mark and Dina play: half flashback, and half wrong--almost like trying to relive a time solidly past. But along with good music, there was good talk there, too: Chris Bettcher and Rhodora Beaton were there, and I talked long and irrelevantly about pop culture and film with Ben Dillon and Eric Houston, hearing from the former what passes at St. Joe these days and what a disaster the Theology Department is: still being more Conservative than Christian. Even Bishop D'Arcy had instructed his priests not to endorse a candidate in the election, but that didn't stop these teachers from teaching the students categorically that voting for John Kerry would be a mortal sin and thus tearing down even more credability for Theology among the students. Crap crap crap.
Those are the bulk of the "details," but that doesn't really do it. Mark and I were talking a lot about how the great discourse--academic papers, paintings, statues, musical performances--going on at the conference, with the talk in the halls in-between, and the time we've been away, really made us "feel" that "Notre Dame thing" strongly for the first time in a long time. Despite the garishness it can muster in marketing itself at times, there still is something incredible going on there--I'll say it again: there are two Notre Dames, and at one of them, you can get the best intellectual and spiritual formation that I know of on the planet.
The memory of the conference: having had to "wing" my way through reading my (well-received!) paper Friday morning once I realized reading it would go significantly over my time limit, I was treated to the opportunity to re-read it for Mark and Dina since they arrived only later Friday afternoon. I will not forget the absolute, indulgent pleasure of being stretched out on my oh-so-comfy hotel bed, feather pillow under my head, reading the paper to Mark and Dina, stretched out and cuddling on the other bed, with Dali's The Sacrament of the Last Supper in its frame, balanced across their stomachs as they studied it, listened, and asked great questions.
The other memory of the conference: meeting William "Bill" Schickle, after being a fan of his work for years. He remodeled the Abbey of Gethsemani and that space has been one of the most spiritually significant of my life. I learned who he was after a time--his graduation project from Notre Dame, the three-sided water fountain at the Grotto with three scenes of Jesus involving water that he made 60 years ago was also something I'd admired--and Nathaniel acquainted me with more of his work by giving me the hardcover volume on him that Notre Dame Press put out some years back, The Art of William Schickel. It is now autographed with his "pleasure to meet you" note after we spoke briefly at the conclusion of his session. The memory here is me holding open the book as I was explaining to Mark and Dina how Gethsemani's church--visible in large glossy photographs within--so successfully expressed the Cistercian rule and spirituality. He walked out past us as this was happening, caught my eye as he heard and saw what was going on, and give a smile and nod of approval. Lang caught it, too, and smiled that "Oh, yeah..." kind of smile, knowing exactly how cool the moment was....