I’d been a struggling transfer student in SPU’s undergrad theology program for about a year and a half when Dr. Rob Wall, Professor of Scripture, introduced me to Dr. Richard Steele. It was the end of the 2008-2009 school year, I’d (somehow) survived Dr. Wall’s New Testament Letters class and, after a final meeting with Dr. Wall, we happened to see Dr. Steele in Alexander Hall. Dr. Wall exuberantly made the introduction and then strategically exited stage right. The next two and a half hours with Dr. Steele were like trying to drink from a fire hydrant, which is, as it turns out, exactly what they – and all the subsequent times I’ve (somehow) been sovereignly selected to have with him – have been ever since.
Dr. Steele, my former professor and now dear friend, has transfigured my frenetic, existential flails and cinematic regressions to opaquely granular experiences, from rootless dust to wells that can actually hold water. He’s then patiently laid furring battens when I couldn’t see above floods of my own making. He’s fiercely, feistily defended me against my own self-demeaning and self-defeating proclivities. And even now, he’s (somehow) leading me, through times I didn’t live through and places the likes of which I’ve never been, and by infinitely insightful – he’d say nosy – questions, to a home I thought I’d never find.
From his booklined office
in the building that houses
the study of God,
I go with him down
and back up thirty-five years
of country path.
We amble side by side,
sometimes get no further
than my first stumble
or his favorite tree,
and sometimes barrel
I stand, transfiguring in the shadow
of the redbrick church where he took the pulpit for years,
hold out my hands, too, for the bread and wine
he took to his withering parishioners
too worn to leave their homes,
listened to one woman’s story of her dying baby
and another’s faithless husband. My shoes click
on the tile of the sanctuary in which he presided
over people wedding.
These visits feel like a corn maze in waning October,
which a native urbaner like me
rarely attempts to brave,
but these vignettes
to a pastoral past never fail to
take me home.