A recent issue of the Poetry Magazine featured a section called “Antagonisms” which invited poets to “write short pieces about some ostensibly great poet they had never really liked, perhaps even hated.” That is not my task here – I’m sharing about a book I really like and perhaps even love – but one line from that unlikely place has stood out to me. Peter Campion wrote this about D.H. Lawrence: “I … want to open Lawrence’s Collected again and find that … the poems had been reading me, underlining all my shortcomings.”
As I’ve read the writing of Zenos Hawkinson, collected in the book “Anatomy of the Pilgrim Experience” and published by Covenant Publications, I have felt that Hawkinson’s writings have indeed been reading me and underlining some of my shortcomings. Zenos Hawkinson taught history at North Park College for over forty years and our shared connections to North Park and the Covenant Church made his writing personal to me. Though he wrote on a wide range of topics, this book focuses on themes of identity and formation that Zenos addressed by telling stories of people on the move. I first read this book during my last semester at North Park and these stories seemed particularly relevant to me as I prepared to move from college student to college graduate and into the work force. I was on the move in my own life and this book served as my companion along the way.
Zenos’ words guided my vocational search and underlined some of my shortcomings. My time at North Park cultivated a love for mathematics and a desire to serve God. This book helped me understand those passions and created a desire to see them engaged in my daily work. Zenos’ belief that “we need meaningful labor just as we need sleep, bread, and water” added a new focus to my job search by reframing work not as meaningless toil, but as a meaningful expression of faith. With all of this in mind, I began looking for a job at a math teacher. I thought this would be a job that would combine these interests and lead to meaningful work that I could serve faithfully and wholly. This was also motivated by Zenos’ concern about human wholeness, wholeness that I understood as the integration of all things. I wanted my whole life to reflect my faith; to use what God has given me to help save the world, serve the church, and met all the other demands of life as I moved into adulthood.
My attempt to move into adulthood quickly became difficult and stressful. After some disappointments in a short job search, I found a teaching job that almost immediately overwhelmed me. Having been motivated by Zenos’ concern to “serve the work” I found new words speaking to me now: “if you feel perpetually unrewarded, unappreciated, misunderstood, you are probably not serving the work, or you are trying to serve the work for which you were not gifted.” These words struck me, pushed me to ask difficult questions of myself, and seemed to underline my shortcomings.
In retrospect, I see that my shortcoming was not in achievement; my error was in my goal and mindset. My conception of wholeness was one of perfection; I was hoping that every part of my life would be acceptable, under control, and perfectly integrated. And while this is perhaps a valid goal, it is not what Zenos had in mind when he talked about serving the work or wholeness. I see now that Zenos associated wholeness as Christian realness. “Our problem is to find a way to be God’s people and real people. I associate realness with wholeness, even if this wholeness is marred by warts, even if, as a consequence of my wholeness, I am forced to confess to you that I am less than I ought to be.” After graduation, I felt like I ‘ought to be’ someone who had life figured out and was doing good work, yet my attempts ended in experiences of frustration and anger that ran directly counter to my hopes. To me, wholeness now means the acceptance that everything – things as they ought to be and things in disarray – are still within the divine order. In my effort to make my life acceptable, I forgot to accept my life as a good gift from God meant to be enjoyed.
And even though Zenos caused some of my consternation and confusion, Zenos also offered encouragement and hope rooted in God’s goodness and expressed through the Covenant tradition. As I struggled with questions, words of encouragement and hope came in lines like this; “Imperfect as we are, we are yet, in ourselves, messages from God to each other, in that incarnated form we creatures most readily understand.” I felt heartfelt emotion and confidence when Zenos reflects on the final line from a hymn: “that you are ransomed as you are. We have, praise God, the right to be ourselves” and when he offers the repeated exhortation to “trust the Word.” Zenos offers hope to individuals and encouragement to the whole Covenant church that is rooted in the pilgrim experience and the love of God. It is good to have those stories as reminders.
The image I’ve used in this reflection – that Zenos’ writings has been reading me, underlining my shortcomings, asking questions, causing confusion, offering encouragement, and revealing hidden strengths – can be expressed more directly; Zenos is a teacher. The way this book has influenced me and changed me is connected to how a loving teacher grades the work of an honest student. “Anatomy of the Pilgrim Experience” has added question marks to certain areas of my life and exclamation points to others. This book has underlined some of my thoughts, crossed out some of my goals, and offered fresh thinking at pivotal points in my life. Zenos Hawkinson’s book represents the work of a great teacher who draws on the best of the Covenant tradition and I recommend it everyone, especially those who find themselves “on the move” in life.
 Peter Campion, “Delicate Mother Kangaroo: reconsidering D.H. Lawrence,” Poetry Magazine (January 2013): ???, http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/article/245162.
 Zenos Hawkinson, Anatomy of the Pilgrim Experience: Reflections on Being a Covenanter (Chicago, IL: Covenant Publications, 2000), 130.
 Ibid., 128.
 Ibid., 5.
 Ibid., 86.
 Ibid., 91.