My Dearest English Major,
I wonder, sometimes, if you feel forgotten. After all, I did not become an English professor, as I once thought I might. I can assure you, though, my love, that that is not the case.
I’ve been thinking of you lately, with my recent graduation from seminary, a lovely day filled with pomp and singing and valiant attempts at Latin pronunciation. It’s my third graduation in the last seven years (never mind that I didn’t actually go to the last one), and this is the first time I’m sitting on the other side of graduation without the prospect of more school in the near future. As I look forward to what’s coming next—beginning full-time ministry—I find myself also thinking a lot about what came before and looking back on the journey that has led me to this point. And much of that journey, English Major, is about you.
Do you remember how we met? It probably started with Dialogue, spending time with words and people who cared about them, and as a result going to Calvin Writers Read, where, well, Calvin writers read. There was so much love and fun and connection in the room. I knew then that we belonged together.
Our time brought me to the Festival of Faith and Writing, and the wonderful student committee cohorts. I learned responsibility and agency—though twenty-nine-year-old me is just a little astonished that nineteen-year-old me was deemed responsible enough to drive authors around the streets of Grand Rapids or pilot passenger vans full of people. I also learned improvisation and inspiration. I shared meals with people who care deeply about God and words. I sat around a table with Katherine Paterson. I heard a keynote speech from Yann Martel that, without exaggeration, saved my faith. FFW sparked with life.
And then of course there was New England Saints, those few magical weeks in Maine and Massachusetts that somehow seeped into my marrow. The places and the words and the closeness…there was something in the water, or the air. It was a literary thin place.
There were writers’ retreats and lunches, professors who asked me to think and made room for me to do so. Papers I felt good about and papers I simply couldn’t look at any longer. There was the honors project that made me love creative nonfiction. And then there was graduation.
Of course, English Major, I liked you so much that I made the obvious choice to continue going to school for English. Studying rhetoric and composition let me study—and teach—the power and the limits of words, and again I found a community of people who cared about and respected this power, people whom I’m proud of, who are doing meaningful and interesting work.
And in the midst of that all, I took an unexpected turn, the turn that led me to The Episcopal Church, to New York, to seminary. It seems like a departure, but really it’s only a plot development.
Because you see, English Major, you are still with me—in the sermons I write, in the way I study, even in how I think. A lifelong love of stories led me to English, and now my understanding of story, better honed than it was, informs how I think about God and faith. I still want to tell stories, and help others tell stories. I want to examine the stories we’re telling about God, and about ourselves, and about ourselves with God, and consider how we can tell better stories about these things. And this desire, I think, makes me a better almost-priest.
So you see, English Major, I may now be a student of theology, a woman of the cloth, but this is not an abandonment of English but a fulfillment. It is the next chapter of our story—a story of truest affection.
With all my love.
Alissa Goudswaard Anderson (’10) lives with her husband Josh in New York City, where she is earning her Master of Divinity at General Theological Seminary. Alissa enjoys private kitchen dance parties, big Midwestern thunderstorms, and perusing other peoples’ bookshelves. For more, find her online at www.episcotheque.wordpress.com or tweet her @episcotheque.