I truly meant to keep my blog up at least on a monthly basis, and here it is, months later, Fall gone and Winter here. I remember when I went to Kenya and started blogging, I hit a point where the intensity was just too great to continue writing without significant time spent processing the experience. I have found myself in the midst of the same level of intensity, too much to process quickly. Too much that needs to be turned over in my mind a few times.
First, there is the community. My incoming class bonded quickly. We were enthusiastic, idealistic, and doing fair imitations of the Energizer Bunny. We are still all of those things, but we have begun to recognize the need to pace ourselves, just a little. Of course some of the newness has worn off, the shine has begun to fade to a patina. We are beginning to recognize our inherent warts and find the value of our imperfections. Really, we would just be annoying as a whole if we were as perfect as we first imagined, as we first began to bond. I have found that the “we” of my class is becoming a critical part of who I am and will become.
And who I am is a known entity here. A hard, cold truth about life at General is that it is small enough, and enclosed enough, that we all know how a goldfish feels in it’s fishbowl. Every meltdown, every joy, every unkind word, every supportive hand is seen and measured here. If I had delusions about how much the faculty actually knows about us, I am no longer deluded. I am fully aware that I am not only being measured by my grades, but by how well I manage in this community, my little shared congregation. Rightfully so, since my ability to serve as God’s priests will rely more on how well I interact with people than how well I interact with textbooks. Learning to love and care for my classmates teaches me compassion for my own weaknesses as well. Grace. I find myself uttering that little, gigantic word like a mantra, for myself and for my fellow seminarians; for the faculty, and for the staff.
As I find my weaknesses and come to rely on my compatriot’s strengths, I have built a better understanding of how to manage my workload. I’ve learned how much time it takes to write volumes, how much time it takes to read theology well and deeply. Prioritization is a daily negotiation and act of compromise. In my mind, I want to be a week or two ahead of the workload. In reality, the workload is a balancing act of getting enough done soon enough. It’s a little frightening to realize how much there is to learn, how much to read and digest. The books I want to read far outnumber the books I will be able to read in a lifetime.
It isn’t as if any of my classes are “throw-away” classes, either. I remember as an undergraduate having a few classes that really didn’t need my full attention. I had to take them, I had to pass them, but they weren’t critical to my future. While getting my MBA, I had those classes that I knew I would never reference again. Not really the case so far at seminary. There are important take-aways from every class. And, there are things that I could learn from the faculty and the texts that I simply have not had the time for. Three years suddenly feels very condensed. I’m pretty sure that when I do bump into a class that seems to be worthy of the term “throw-away” there is a strong likelihood that I need to pay even more attention to it.
I feel like a rose bush. Encouraged and given nutrients on the one hand, pruned and deadheaded on the other. Distracted by aphids, yearning for a few good ladybugs to get me back on track. The ladybugs appear at a far greater rate than the aphids, through the grace of God. And, so far, the pruning shears have been kind. It’s the light, though, which keeps me going. The light of the Word of God which reminds me that the complete disruption of my life is worth all the blood, sweat, and tears. It’s that light shining in my strange fishbowl garden which urges me on, and reminds me that I am on the right path.
Life still happens, in spite of the desire to live entirely focused on seminary. All of my classmates have had reminders that what we are trying to do here is counter-cultural, risky, and dangerous in ways we never could have understood before. One of my dear classmates commented that the world doesn’t really want us to be successful, that there is always something which will make our path seem less desirable than just fitting in with the secular reality. Whatever you name that something–idol, Satan, evil, life–it holds the power to destroy the fragile hold we have on our calls to ordained ministry. Even the feeling that I am being transformed by this experience is a terrifying reality which makes it tempting to throw in the towel. Change is hard. What if I change into someone who is unlovable to my loved ones? What if I can never find home again? What if home isn’t home?
Those doubts are another type of idolatry. It’s easy to spend so much time practically cultivating my self-doubt that I am completely distracted from the course I am on. I have learned that self-doubt is not the same as humility. Self-doubt is deeply destructive to discernment. I spent many, many years thinking I wasn’t enough…well, enough something to be a priest. Careful study of the Old Testament in class this fall gave me a different perspective on that self-doubt. Self-doubt is cast in our path by evil to keep us from fulfilling our call. So many prophets felt that they weren’t enough something to follow God’s call, and yet follow it they did. Really, we are all but little children when it comes to following Christ. None of us is everything needed, but we are all needed. Knowing that I am not alone in my doubt gives me the faith to just keep moving.
There have been moments where stopping was a serious consideration. I miss home. I miss my husband. I miss my family. Matt and Olivia are growing up and moving along. Seeing my son as a husband is strange. Seeing Olivia planning to move to Dallas is weird. So, what keeps me here?
There are few moments in my life when I felt that I was exactly in the time and place that I was supposed to be. Standing at the altar with the man who was about to be pronounced my husband, when I felt the first kicks from Matthew and then from Olivia, when I first held Matthew and then Olivia, when I sat at the deathbeds of my father and mother. But, I spent so much time running from the inevitability of my call to ordained ministry, that moments of “Ah, this is just right” have been rare. At least, until I got to General where I have not had a moment of feeling that I was where I didn’t belong. I may have felt unworthy of being a priest, but I have consistently felt that General is where I am supposed to be. Having felt discomfited so often in life, it is a strange world to feel that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing in the place I supposed to be.
So my journey here continues. Intro to Theology, Preparing the Feast, Proclamation, Music Practicum, Elementary Greek, Intro to the Old Testament, Priestly Identity, and Early and Medieval Church History give way to Christian Spirituality, Church History: Reformation to the Present, Liturgics, Preparing the Feast, The Didache, Preaching Briefly, Intro to the New Testament, Ecclesiology in Context, and Faith, Identity, and Conflict. Papers will be written and texts read. I will continue to be formed and shaped. And, with the grace of God, I will be a priest.