The 2020 Festival of Friendship Ushers an Online Revolution of Tenderness
By Suzanne M. Lewis
Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from Suzanne M. Lewis' summary of "You Can Be Found." The summary in full may be found on the Festival website here.
Knowledge is Always an Event. I first heard this phrase in 2009, when it served as the theme for the Rimini Meeting that provides the ongoing inspiration for the Festival of Friendship, which is organized by the nonprofit, Revolution of Tenderness. The Festival began in 2012 and has just completed its eighth run. In response to 2020’s extraordinary challenges, we made the decision to move all the Festival’s offerings online and to spread them over the course of a month.
Knowledge is Always an Event: I was struck by how much meaning could be packed into so few words! If we can imagine that the word is a tree, then the roots of “event” would include the sense of “unanticipated surprise”: an unplanned, unexpected, unforeseen, impossible to control, exceptional and astonishing breakthrough of something new. Something other. Something we didn’t invite because we didn’t know its address, or even its name. And yet, somewhere in our secret heart, we hoped against hope that this mysterious not-yet-known “something” would arrive and shake us out of our sleepiness. Bring us back to life. Crack us wide open to let the light pour in. Find us.
Thus, inspired by the song from the hit musical, “Dear Evan Hansen,“ we chose You Will Be Found as our theme this year. We decided to bet on our sure hope that the adventure of being surprised by the event of knowledge can and would awaken us to a new, more abundant way to face these difficult times.
For example, during our first panel discussion, when Father Saldaña revealed that Mother Teresa of Kolkata’s middle name, Gonxha (the saint was christened Agnes Gonxha at her Baptism) means “little flower” in Albanian, I was suddenly struck by the reverberations and the web of communion that suffuses the lives of the four great Teresas, whom we first grouped together simply because of the coincidence that they share a name. Their common name, though, far from being a superficial fact, turns out to be the most significant aspect of their identities. . . . I have called you by name and you are mine. The Mystery summons each of us in this way. And when we address the one who generates us and makes us whole, we beg: hallowed be thy name.
Sir Michael Edwards, during the panel discussion on poetic inspiration, “Deliver My Mouth of the Praise It Owes You,” commented on the inexpressibility of God’s name and wondered aloud about why we would ask that this particular aspect, God’s name, be hallowed—rather than God himself? Edwards observed that the more we consider the word “name,” the less we understand its full significance. Earlier in the talk, Edwards reflected on the “Adamic” language, whose function was to give names to all the animals. Edwards pointed out that the language spoken by Adam and Eve no longer exists; all other human languages can only hint and approximate, but the names that Adam gave to his fellow creatures were capable of expressing each one in its fullness and mystery.
During the second panel discussion “How Do We Respond to What Finds Us?” Samuel Ewell, III (author of Faith Seeking Conviviality and founder of Eat Make Play, a British charity that fosters conviviality in community life), made reference to a biblical pun contained in the opening chapters of Genesis: the name “Adam” derives from the Hebrew word אֲדָמָה (“adamah”), meaning "earth.” Thus Adam’s name calls us to recognize that we are taken from the earth and have a sacred connection to it. Ewell pointed out that the Hebrew word translated as “tend” or “till” or “cultivate” in Genesis 2:15 (“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it”) is שָׁמַר, (“shamar”), which is better translated as: “to observe, to give heed” or “to pay attention to.”
In our final keynote talk, Mary Mirrione spoke of how following the discipline of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (of which she is National Director) reveals the urgent and fundamental function of observation in catechesis. She highlighted, in example after delightful example, how a humble and objective attention to the religious life of the child yields extraordinary fruits for our own spiritual journeys and in the lives of children, even those of different nationalities and backgrounds. Mirrione travels the world to provide formation courses for the Missionaries of Charity. In the years since Mother Teresa first received the name Gonxha and later assumed the name Teresa, the order she founded has adopted Catechesis of the Good Shepherd as the only method the Sisters use in their catechetical and educational work around the globe and as an essential part of the formation and education of every novice who enters the order. Her successor explained the reason for this choice: “In the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, we find true contemplation.”
In Every Separation is a Link: Being Found Behind Bars, one panelist, Lance Graham, spoke about enrolling in a creative writing class, offered through Arizona State University, while he was a prisoner at the Arizona Department of Corrections. The process of writing and of receiving feedback and companionship through the class “found” Graham in an extraordinary way. Once out of prison, he completed advanced studies and became an instructor in the same ASU program he’d enrolled in. To describe his own journey, Graham quoted Tupac Shakur: “Did you hear of the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete?”
The very next evening, before the screening of the new opera, “Sweet Land,” Lucy Tucker Yates (who played in the opera’s orchestra and whose son, Leander Rajan, sang the part of Speck in the opera), described an outtake from the opera: as a train passes by, its plume of exhaust leaves behind a trail of white flowers, which Speck then picks, one by one. Yates explained that the train smoke represents our prayers (as does incense during a Vespers service), so the small flowers embody our cry for companionship, for wholeness, for healing of the earth, and for true dialogue between and among peoples.
The little flowers express our cry. We all desperately need to be found. The Festival this year has provided us with the assurance that we will be found. . . that even you will be found. ❖