On not attending the conference

 I missed a good paper yesterday: “The Word Answering the Word: Opening the Space of Biblical Interpretation” at the Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference. Fortunately I have a copy of the paper to hand, and have read it sitting in bed to the sound of Lucy’s breathing as she sleeps next to me. No small talk, no feeling inadequate because I haven’t read that book, or that one either…or published a raft of peer-reviewed articles. This is the best–the very best–of both my little worlds. And I will even get a chance at some Q & A with the author of said paper: Lucy’s daddy.
My first question: “Don’t I remember you talking about Joseph Ratzinger’s concept of tradition in our kitchen in Atlanta?” Really. That’s my opening question, partly because I found the paper thought-provoking and not suspicion-arousing. But, more importantly, I will ask that question (probably in the kitchen) because it tells me something really important about scholarship. I think sometimes that my husband devours books and churns out essays. That’s true, but the essay-churning–if I am right about the conversation at least four years ago in our kitchen in Atlanta–lags significantly behind the book-devouring. Percolating happens.
That’s hopeful. Really hopeful. I don’t devour books, I glide over them like a glacier. And I only churn out to-do lists these days…and Christmas cards, when the time comes. Essays? Not so much. I think about things; I dream of papers I’d like to publish, books I’d like to write. Sometimes I make lists of those, too… But I find all the small spaces in which Lewis seems to get so much done completely occupied. My interstitial spaces, those odd moments in which I might read a few pages or jot down notes, are the spaces in which school uniform is ordered, birthday parties are planned, online Christmas shopping begins, a chore chart is devised, school supplies are organized, and Lucy’s clothes are sorted–she’s grown out of that and that and that…what does she need now? I store information about shoe sizes and coat sizes, teachers’ names and school holidays, doctor appointments and childcare arrangements. Neither in my head nor in my weekly schedule do I find time to divert to scholarship. I know, because I tried for several weeks to take an idea and make it into an essay, using those in-between times. The number of balls I would have had to drop was completely unacceptable.
That’s neither a complaint nor an excuse. It just is. So the idea that percolating is a part of the process for everyone does give me hope. Because one day I won’t have to choose between reading the paper next to my sleeping toddler, or going to the conference to hear it. I will have more time to read slowly and write slightly less slowly. But I won’t get to choose between my 2-year-old (and my 11-year-old, my 9-year-old, and my 6-year-old, for that matter) and some conference or other. Conferences will come again, year after year. But that little sigh I just heard will not be the same the next time the Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference comes around.
All the same, I am glad I had a chance to read the paper. It really is quite good.
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