Thankful for

When I watch the news, I seldom hear or see anything that says something good is happening. If there is good news it is photos of happy pets or children celebrating birthdays that the local news stations try to highlight because, well, after reporting another shooting, is there good news?

As I stop to reflect on all the things I have to be thankful for I think about the everyday events that are milestones. Last weekend I attended a baby shower, that’s good news. In my seminary class, this will make baby number three which is exciting. I’m not into baby shower games, but I love babies! So, I am thankful for the healthy babies that have been born here in Sewanee during our time in seminary and the one that is on the way. I can’t wait to do my first baptism. It will be an honor and the most rewarding part of my new vocation. (God willing and the people consenting).

I’m entering my last semester in seminary, that’s good news and relief. I’m thankful for many of the things I have learned. This has not been an easy journey for me. It has been filled with anxiety and doubt. I have had countless meltdowns and finances have been continuing stress. However, after every meltdown, there has always been a way through. That’s God and I’m thankful for God’s constant presence.

I’ve learned to manage stress a little better while spending time in seminary. Especially through my middler year. I remember after my junior (first) year, I had to do CPE, Clinical Pastoral Education, over the summer, and what a stressful time that was, and yet I gained so much from the experience. I had car trouble while I was in Louisville and I was ready to quit then, as I calmed down and took some time to breathe, something in me kept telling me to not give up. I was also surrounded by good people giving me moral support. Looking back on it, I’m thankful for not giving up.

I’m thankful that my cats are getting along now. This may seem strange, but I have had at least two years of having to keep my two cats separated. My cats are Miss Oscar and Isabella. Miss Oscar is thirteen years old and Isabella is going to be three. Miss Oscar has been hissing at Isabella for two years and sometimes growling so I have kept them, for the most part, in separate areas with the ability to close a door to keep them apart. One day I happen to turn around and I caught them touching noses. My heart melted. I wish I could have captured a picture of that moment! This morning, I was getting their breakfast ready (wet food from Fancy Feast) and I saw them touch noses again. That made my Thanksgiving morning! Silly, they are cats, but they have been my little furry family for this journey and I am grateful that I have had their love with me.

I’m spending this Thanksgiving with friends at the seminary and we are having a big feast this afternoon. I am very thankful for this extended family. I am thankful for the organizers who always end up organizing these sometimes complicated events. I am surrounded by gifted people in a gifted community and this will be my last Thanksgiving with them. Initially, I was going to stay in my little dorm apartment and chill. I kind of would like a day to just veg and stay in my sweatpants, but I realize that I won’t be with these folks much longer so I want to enjoy their company during this time of gratefulness.

Now, I am thankful for the food that will be brought to a table and shared. I hope all that read this post have time and space to share with the people you care about and that you feel cared for. Happy Thanksgiving!

This is a selfie taken from the Big Four Bridge in Louisville, Kentucky which is where I finished my CPE training (Level 1). I like that I have a windblown but happy look on my face. This image sums up the experience, happy that it was over and feeling like I had just gone through a storm, but thankful that I received the experience.

A Sacred Time of Sacrifice

I spent a couple of days in March baking the eucharistic bread for my seminary community. This is a wonderful ministry and I would recommend it to anyone who has the opportunity to take part. Why? Because baking bread in the context of the eucharist is a sacred time of sacrifice.

Ingredients

As I was pulling together all the things that I would need to make this bread I considered where the ingredients came from. The recipe I was given was very simple.

  • Two types of flour: bread and wheat
  • Brown sugar
  • Rapid Rise Yeast
  • Salt
  • Water
  • Oil

Mix the dry ingredients together then add the wet. Roll the dough into a round ball and place into an oiled bowl to let rise for an hour. Then bake for 20 minutes. Simple. However, every ingredient comes from places other than just the grocery store. There are many lives connected to each ingredient taking part in the processing, packaging, and then delivery of those items. How many people took part in just the package of brown sugar? Farmers, factory workers, the graphic designers of the packaging, the buyers and sellers that are involved with product distribution to various stores, and finally, the consumer. That’s a lot for one package of brown sugar and we are truly blessed to live in a country where we can simply go to the grocery store to pick it up.

While I was mixing the ingredients I reflected on who came up with this recipe and I wondered how far back (in years) does this recipe go. I recalled that basic bread recipes go back to ancient times. The first mention of bread in the Bible is in Genesis 3:19, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” What a great reflection during the season of Lent.

The bread that I made was not unleavened. The Eastern and Western Churches base the use of leavened or unleavened bread on the use and symbolism from Scripture. During the Exodus, Moses told the people that they were not to eat leavened bread because it symbolised the work of God bringing the people out of Egypt. It is a reminder that the Israelites left Egypt without a home to go to but they fled and survived with God’s help. Unleavened bread represents a time of affliction.

“You shall eat no leavened bread with it; seven days you shall eat unleavened bread with it, that is, the bread of affliction (for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste), that you may remember the day in which you came out of the land of Egypt all the days of your life.” (Deuteronomy 16:3)

The leaven bread, on the other hand, represents thanksgiving and it is sacrificial work of the people. “Besides the cakes, as his offering he shall offer leavened bread with the sacrifice of thanksgiving of his peace offering.” (Leviticus 7:13)

There is tremendous meaning given to bread at various points in the Bible. It is spoken of 315 times in the NRSV Bible. (New Revised Standard Version) It is an important metaphor, symbol and sacrifice because it represents the work of the people. Whether it is leavened or unleavened is not the critical point of its usage in the Eucharist. The memory of Jesus’s sacrifice and the thanksgiving to God are the crucial elements. There is much more theology involved that I am not going to address in this blog post but, I wanted to note a couple of things of theological importance.

Baking

I watched the bread bake, I was so nervous about burning the loaves. To see the incisions come into more defined shape was exciting. There was a prayer that was said before I started mixing the ingredients and I thought that this was the moment that the “holy” work of that prayer would come to fruition but, now, I don’t think so.

At the point of baking, it is simply amazing to watch what happens to those simple ingredients and how the interacting elements create nourishment for body and soul.

As I pulled the loaves out of the oven to cool, I considered how this bread was going to serve a whole community. It was a sacred moment for me and I imagine it is for anyone who shares in this type of ministry. The true reward is not here though.

I packaged each one of my “holy” loaves and labeled them by date. I delivered them to the seminary freezer where they would be stored until being used that following week. Done but, not done. One of the sacristans at my school suggested that I be an oblation bearer that week. They said that there is something special about delivering your bread to the table. They were right. It was a special moment to hand my plate of bread to the priest. It was a greater moment of elation to finally see the bread broken and then served to the people. This is where I think my prayer over the process of baking that bread truly came to holy fruition.

Reflection

Ministry done with a happy heart that wants to do good for God alone brings about the best results. The results are not fully seen but are intertwined in the true essence of cheerful giving and thankful receiving. The spirit we place into the things we do sends out to the world the body of Christ.

Baking bread made me reflect more on the little things I do each day. I get tired. I get stressed. I don’t always do what is perfect because I am human. For a time of baking bread, however, I thought about keeping my focus on God. Not doing things for the sake of my own glory but, to do because of what has been done for me. “Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19) Glory to God always.

The Dancing Girl

The Dancing Girl

A lone figure in a hallway, with arms thrown towards the sky, displaying movement that speaks of a carefree spirit. It was positioned perfectly at the end of a long hallway at the entrance and exit of a hospital. I could not help but stare at this bronze beauty every day. When I came in and when I left I could feel the heaviness of wanting to be her. Oh, how I want her spirit, her happiness, her joy, and her freedom of expression of letting go. She is my idol. She is my dream.

A bronze statue of a dancing girl became my daily reminder that there are joys to be had in life. Seeing her made me reflect on the things that steal joy. Getting a speeding ticket, car trouble, financial issues, death, illness, gossip – especially when it’s about you, losing a friend, feeling alone, not fitting in, and the list goes on. What I found as the most devastating loss was living a life where the opportunity for joy was there but, it was lost because of allowing it to be stolen.

I finished my clinical pastoral education course. It was difficult. There was, and still is, a lot to learn about pastoral care. The funny irony, the ones that spend so much time giving the care are sometimes the worst at giving it to themselves or accepting someone else giving it to them. It is always easier to see someone else’s issues. Well, I spent a lot of time having my issues examined and I can say, I learned a few things. Whether it was truly beneficial to my growth, spiritually, I am still discerning.

Dancing Girl Face

When I first started taking classes to finish my undergraduate degree, I took a world history class at a local university to get core class credits. While taking this class, I ended up watching a documentary on prehistoric findings of human bones. The Ice Man was one that was of particular interest to me. I am not so fascinated with how the arrow went into his shoulder and he laid there and bled to death. I am also not so interested in how the scientists could pull DNA from his nicely preserved bones. What I found interesting was that this lonely caveman character was walking along, foraging for his next meal, and before he knew what hit him, he was laying on the ground dying. Why? Well, apparently, he trespassed on someone else’s territory.

Humanity has not evolved into a higher spirituality. No. Humanity has evolved, definitely. We know how to start a fire much more efficiently now. We know how to kill more efficiently, too. What gets me about the Ice Man is that there was a huge expanse of land around him. It’s not like he was walking down the wrong alley in New York City. He was killed for trespassing on land where no one had a “legal” claim. Was there a legal and binding document that said it was ok for the other guy to kill this guy for looking for his next meal? No, but, the other guy was there first, supposedly. I guess that gave him the right.

Jealousy and greed are the roots of all wickedness. At the root of both is a lack of knowing God. Many of the books of the Bible contain stories of jealousy. As a matter of fact, you can start at the beginning, with Genesis 4. I saw that in the Ice Man’s story. It’s not the science that is intriguing but, the human perception. As humans, we don’t own anything when we come into this world and we won’t own anything when we leave but, while we are here, we will let everyone know what is ours. In some cases, we don’t even care if we know that it’s not ours, we will take it anyway because well, it is owed to us. People trample other people in so many ways in life. People want to “get ahead” so they try to learn more by doing more, and taking more opportunities to do more while, in the midst, they step on those who are also in line to learn more. Well, not all people are important. Right? It would seem this way. This happens in racism but, it also happens among those within the same race. Jealousy and greed really have no boundaries.

Jealousy and greed will remain in the human race. It will remain among people. It will remain in relatives. It will become more obvious in people you thought were friends. Once someone sees another’s joy, it must be stolen. Of course, because having joy is a precious commodity. I believe this is why holding onto one’s joy is the one territory that is worth fighting for.

Each time I look at the different angles of this beautiful statue, I see another piece, another aspect, another fragment of what I hope to learn how to grasp. I would love to see this statue again. I would love to find another one like it, just as a reminder. As I continue growing and trying to manage to learn so many new things, I hope to stop and simply dance once in a while. Life is short and there is only so much time to dance.

Those are my thoughts, for now.

Deer in the snow

Woke up this morning to a snow covered mountain with the deer foraging for their breakfast. Thank God for electricity and a warm abode. My foraging is merely in the refrigerator for the eggs and bread. Of course, the coffee is first.

First week of second semester is over. The countdown towards the end begins. Sounds terrible, doesn’t it? I find myself consistently living for the next day, next week, next month or next year in anticipation of what comes next. Actually, I just want to get my papers and exams done. It’s bad that I am always in a hurry. I do enjoy studying scripture. The word, enjoy, probably does not best describe it because the classroom isn’t always filled with agreement on scripture’s interpretation. This is another terrible, probably heretical, thing to say but when we all come to our end and meet with our maker, I believe we will find out that we are all wrong. Ok, that said, I also believe that, as humans, we need some form of doctrinal structure to follow because it is easier than just following the wind. It is good that we have Jesus. It is so very good.

Theology, biblical study and the whole lot of spirituality is a matter of trying to describe the indescribable. So, I follow what I have experienced and witnessed and have come to believe with all my heart, mind and soul. Although I may not always be able to put into words the exactness of who God is, I know that presence is with me. I feel it. I trust it and I will stand firm in the belief and the faith of what has set me free and given me joy.

This summer I will be completing what is called CPE, Clinical Pastoral Education. CPE, to me, is the heart of what priesthood and ministry will be about. I will be putting in a total of four hundred hours in this “class.” It is considered a class but, it is completed by performing in-person training in a real world situation. I will be a chaplain at a hospital. I will physically be at the hospital five days a week for forty hours and then some. I expect this to be transformative training. I am nervous but, excited. Studying scripture is one thing, putting it to action is entirely another. I have no idea what I may face except that it will all fall into the category of beareavement and grief. This will be interfaith and possibly no-faith, no-belief in God. From what I have been told, I will be present when people die and I will need to be there for those who grieve. Is there a handbook for that? Does that come with a manual of “how-to?” There are general practices but, for the most part, no, there is no way to prepare for tragedy. Emotions are expressed in unexpected ways. I suppose my integral thought would be to tread carefully, tread lightly and say as little as possible. Being present in their pain is the most effective conduit of comfort I would imagine I could be.

Life is temporal. We do not know what will become of the relationships that have been established on this plane. We can imagine. We hear “stories” of what happens on “the other side.” As I have been studying this past week about St. Paul, I see more now the struggle for the forefathers of the Christian faith. Paul was required to have complete explanation for what he was preaching. Considering the context, that was a lot. Paul even had to have an answer for the dead and what happens to those who have already died before Christ has returned? Paul had to give an answer. People were under great anxiety over this.

For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.

1 Thessalonians 4:14 The Jewish Annotated New Testament

In studying St. Paul my faith is enhanced through his letters. I am justified. Even witnessing the weakness of Paul, within his letters, I have come to love him because I can relate to his imperfection. In the eyes of people, I will never be enough and neither will Paul. The relationship I have with the intangible is not an easy one to ascertain. My faith has made me well. That is something to contemplate.

Conversion

By Michelangelo – From Web Gallery of Art – http://www.wga.hu/index1.html., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2132794

Today, January 25, is the observance of the conversion of St. Paul. The imagery that Michelangelo provides is quite provocative to what had to be an intense interaction between Paul and Jesus.

For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Galatians 1:11,12 NRSV

The story of Paul’s road to Damascus always reminds me of my conversion to Christianity. There were many instances in my life when people would preach, teach and insist to me that Jesus was real and that Jesus died for me. When I contemplated these things in my heart, I did not think about the things that anyone told me. I remembered an experience that I could not explain. The experience ended up dictating the road I would eventually take.

One day, when I was married, I had an argument with my husband which led to me wanting to get out of the house. I was sitting at a stop light at a busy intersection. The light turned green. I did not move. My eyes kept staring at that green light as if it was pulling me in and holding me in place. It was strange, like being in a trance. Suddenly, I heard the incessant sound of a horn. The noise seemed to bring me to my senses but before I moved forward, I looked to my left to check the traffic. As soon as I looked to the left a Mack truck ran the red light.

It felt like I must have sat there for several more minutes realizing that I could have been hit by that speeding Mack truck. I drove to the nearest convenience store to buy a pack of cigarettes (I smoked for over twenty years). While I was pulling a soda out of the freezer a man appeared next to me. He started talking before I had a moment to realize he was talking to me.

Ma’am, I am not out to bother you. I just followed you into this store. I am not a stalker, I promise. I am the man who was honking at you at the light. I followed you to tell you that I am sorry for honking at you and I will never honk at another person for as long as I live. My mother is in the car right now still yelling at me for honking at you. I am so glad you did not pay attention to my honking.

I don’t know what you believe. I am not a religious man. I don’t even go to church. Ma’am, you would not have made it. I came into this store to tell you that I think someone “up there” is watching over you.

I was almost speechless. The more I go over that event the more I believe in supernatural power. Not only did one person witness something they could not explain but three people. That’s three testimonies. I tried to imagine the “what if” I had gone through that light. The driver’s side of the car would have been hit. I agree with that man. I would not have made it. I would have died on impact.

Not only would I have died but that man would still be living with what his actions caused. How amazing it is to me that grace spared all three of us that day!

In truth, even though my life was spared that day, I don’t spend everyday thinking about how wonderful life is. No, I complain about life’s invariable inconveniences and I tend to get mad and have mood swings. I also have moments, like today, when I think about conversion that I am reminded to be more thankful.

If I was a supernatural power, and I took the time to consider sparing someone’s life, wouldn’t I want some thanks for it? Yes.

Conversion, for me, was not instigated by someone reading scripture to me. It was not instigated by someone telling me that Jesus loved me. It occurred because of life experiences. Personal experiences between me and God.

Life does not bequeath the same deck of cards equally. Life is unfair and civilization can be filled with injustice. History, as we know it, has been filled with stories of unfairness, inequality and injustice. How does a person like Anne Frank hide in an attic, for the sake of sparing her life, to eventually lose her life due to hatred? And what did she leave behind? Words that remain an inspiration to anyone who reads them.

I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.

Ann Frank

On this day of observance in the conversion of Paul, I reflect on the beauty that has always been. May my eyes, spirit and heart be open to more of that beauty each day that I live.

First Semester Seminary

As I reflect on my first semester in seminary, I am made keenly aware of how much I fall short of the ability to walk on water. Perhaps, that’s not really the point. Perhaps, being perfect is not the goal of seminary. This leaves me begging the question, what is the goal of seminary?

I am currently reading, “The Cross and The Lynching Tree” by James H. Cone. I have a break between semesters and this book was given to me, by the school, to read for a public discussion next semester. It is a good book. I will finish it soon. While Cone was a graduate student at Garrett Biblical Institute (now Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary) he shares that the professor of Christian Ethics was taught by “…one of the most blatantly racist professors there.”[1] Hypocrisy is an interesting thing. Irony is an interesting thing. There are possibilities for people to turn within the event. This reminded me of John Newton, a seafarer, who took part in the slave trade then, later in life, became a clergyman and wrote the beautiful hymn, Amazing Grace. Except, of course, Cone’s professor probably did not receive the same divine direction as Newton did. Shame.

Cone’s book makes excellent points in theology. This post is not a review of Cone’s book, however, it has helped me reflect differently on my experience and consider the value of my education. Will I become a better priest because of my education in seminary? I am not sure if seminary makes priests or if it makes more educated ministers able to communicate more concisely with their audience.

“Since most ministers had little or no formal training in academic theology, they spoke from their hearts, appealing to their life experience, biblical stories, and the Spirit of God that empowered them to struggle for dignity and freedom.”

[2] Cone, P 74.

Becoming a more educated minister is important. I understand the importance purely due to my experience of listening to ministers who could have used more academic theology. I have also witnessed a flip side to being “overly scholarly.” Not to criticize being smart but, too much in the way of book smarts can make a minister boring and uninspiring. There is a level of human connection that has to come across in ministry. Empathy is the ability to understand someone else’s pain because of having a similar experience. That is a human connection. I hope to make that connection one day in a parish. I am not so sure I will find it in the seminary experience.

Scholars are necessary. They need to write scholarly books and articles. Much of the knowledge I am receiving is from scholars. I also know that I will never be one. I can’t live up to the expectations. I will strive to be better in my writing. I surmise it will never be enough. I move forward to the second semester, none the less. I will utilize this time off to read and write. Honing my skills of communication will make me a better priest, I hope.

An interesting and historical mark of my time in seminary is the world pandemic. What a year 2020 has been. I took a couple of classes in a tent. It was terrible. I honestly think it affected my concentration. I was grateful because it made it possible to do in person classes. The drawback is that I think it hindered my learning experience. Well, it’s done. Onward to hopefully being able to meet in smaller groups inside, not in a tent. We did end up giving our tent a name that was very seminarian and a humorous analogy, The Tent of Meeting.

I am sad to say that there were people I knew who became victims of this treacherous period. I think of them as I finish out this year. I consider the seeds they planted in my life. The isolation some are feeling has been overwhelming. I have not felt that as much. I have had moments when I just wanted to see other human faces, masked or not. Zoom also brought some relief (and some pain) to the situation. I have felt the weariness of logging into Zoomland. There is a balance. I have to keep reminding myself to be grateful. Technology did help us through this tough time. I was able to finish my first semester at seminary because of it.

May the souls that have left us go on to find their rest with the Great Creator. May those of us who have been left behind, for a time, find even greater hope in the Everlasting promise.

Amen

[1] James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2019), P 58.

[2] Cone, 74.

Exegesis

It has almost been a month since my arrival upon the mountain in Sewanee, Tennessee. Today was the first official day of classes. Prior to classes actually starting, we had already received reading assignments and emails indicating that we should be prepared for discussions during class. We went through diversity and safeguarding training. Personally, I don’t know that there is enough of that training to prepare someone for all that life may throw at them in different situations. I can only hope that I may never have to deal with some of the scenarios that came up during discussions. God help me.

Class took place under a tent and it was a bit strange but, not that bad. I like the recorded lectures. With recorded lectures, I can go back and play the lecture over again and capture what I may have missed the first time. I honestly feel like I receive more time to learn.

Right now, I need to be reading and preparing for class but, I felt to write something for my journal. Exegesis was a new word for my vocabulary this week. There is so much interpretation of scripture that is taken for “face” value within many sermons. I suppose my past is what I reflected upon the most in my lessons/readings. Contextual analysis is not a matter of interpreting the meaning of scripture as much as it is actually deciphering what the text is saying, specifically. In the English language, alone, there are many words that can have varied meaning depending on their context. It leaves a lot of questions about the intricate process of deciphering the texts of long ago to gather the books of the library known as The Holy Bible.

Last week the Gospel reading was Matthew 15:21-28. I have pondered this scripture more than a few times. It is one that is a bit controversial because of how Jesus may or may not be viewed within its context.

…a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Matthew 15:21-28 NRSV

I love this scripture because it exemplifies faith in the intangible, supernatural element of healing and it exemplifies a teacher using a moment to teach all those witnessing the moment. The latter part of my statement would be and is argued by many! This is a controversial scripture and it is one that I think would have to be carefully preached. I can have my opinion and I am allowed to have my own belief but, that does not become what someone else would be required to believe.

I discussed this scripture with my spiritual director many months ago. It was the first time that Christology was explained to me involving different levels or categories. It was described to me that my Christology was very high, which means, the way I view Jesus in the level of Divine and in the level of human. Some may interpret this scripture to suggest that Jesus messed up and this Canaanite woman corrected him. Well, ok, maybe he messed up. Maybe he was new to his ministry and made an “oops.” Ok, but, I don’t think so. For now, I still don’t think so. I journal this in order to note it. Perhaps my Christology changes in the next three years. Perhaps it doesn’t. We shall see.

For now, when I look at Jesus, it is not in an extreme exegetic kind of way but, by way of the general stories within the Gospels. Some examples I look to are the woman at the well and the woman who touched the hem of his garment and within both contexts, Jesus knew what was not obviously known. How did he know about the woman at the well? (John 4:4-26) How did he know in a crowd that someone touched him? (Matthew 9:21) And these are just two examples that pop into my mind.

For now, I see this as Christ, in his Divinity, at work. Jesus taught by example. He taught by parables. There is a lot to digest in those concepts alone. The parables are powerful when understood but more so are one’s actions. Jesus degraded the Canaanite woman by comparing her to the dogs. Her response was not that of a typical person. How many people would respond like that today? Anyone? I would be amazed to meet one person (including myself) who would take that kind of judgement and answer it with the level of humility and faith that she did. It is an amazing example of faith.

Give us this day our daily bread…

Seminary will change me but, I don’t know if it is so much “change” as it is enlighten. Now that is a good word, in whatever context.

Arrival

I arrived at my new address in Tennessee. I will say that driving a U-haul is not bad nor hard but, when you are towing a car behind you, you have to be extra careful on the turns. This is actually what made the experience a little more stressful for me. I did not sleep much the night before leaving. By the time I made it to Tennessee, I was so ready for a shower and an already-made bed with fresh sheets and soft pillows. Of course, that did not happen. By the time the troop of wonderful folks were to arrive to help me unload, it was already dark. Then I locked my keys in the apartment and had to get help from my neighbor, who I think may have already gone to bed. It was a grand beginning! I finally showered and made it to bed around 3am.

It has been a week and a couple of days since my move and I have gotten somewhat organized. I had to go through COVID-19 testing which came out inconclusive. I took a second test and I am sitting in my apartment waiting for the results. I asked why the test was inconclusive and the response was that they really didn’t know except maybe there wasn’t enough spit. I am not sure what testing is out there for COVID-19, other than the “up your nose” brain swirl but, I have to say that the spitting was kind of hard. You have to fast at least 30 minutes prior to the test and we (the group I was testing with) were specifically told we could not spit a loogie because that cannot be tested. Apparently someone had tried it and it did not work.

In the meantime, I have walked around the area, keeping social distancing practices always in check. Sewanee is beautiful. It is also remote. This is part of what attracted me to the school. The other part was housing. I am single and I have a pet so, that pushes me out of dormitories and community housing arrangements. Sewanee is generous and flexible with housing arrangements. They do what they can to help accommodate various life situations where other seminaries aren’t as congenial. Experience with the University of the South is also what attracted me to this school. I am on the Board of Trustees as a representative for the Diocese of East Carolina (North Carolina).

While unpacking I found this block of stone that I was given during my training and induction to the trustees. This is a piece of sandstone. It is part of the original bunch of quarried sandstone pieces that built the first architectural builds on the campus. The tradition of the sandstone is that it was cut and set by at least four generations of stone masons. That story spoke to me when I became a trustee. I am a rockhound and I sincerely have a venerable heart towards the work of stone masons. To have this block of sandstone means to hold a part of united tradition. It goes along with the University motto, Ecce quam bonum et quam iucundum habitare fratres in unum. (Latin, from Psalm 133) Behold how good and pleasant it is when kindred dwell together in unity.

I will treasure having this piece of history. I have a few ideas about carving my name and graduation date within it. That would definitely be a centerpiece among my theological book collection one day!

Onward to the reality of the hard work that lies ahead. I have already met and spoken with some of my fellow classmates. I have shared some interesting discussion with a few current students. The discussions mainly center around the courses and the professors. All of the professors are great, yes, idiosyncrasies and all. In reflection, I do feel that I should be open to the experience in its mass (weight). I have said to others that, no matter what, we can learn from those who are different from us. When I say different, I mean an all encompassing embodiment of background, culture, beliefs and even religious traditions. I don’t have to agree with all of it either. (except when the professor requires it and for the betterment of my grade, of course)

The Celtic Cross has always been my favorite design. All crosses are beautiful in symbolism. The circle is the element that speaks to me in this cross. All encompassing.

“May grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.”

2 Peter 1:2 NRSV

Abundance in the knowledge of God will prayerfully lead me and guide me in helping others. What is most exciting about the journey is actually not knowing what is ahead. I have been nervous about this process of seminary, and beyond, before I ever came close to being here. Now, “I am here.” What made me nervous, with daily steps, I am facing. That doesn’t mean that I face it without failure or mistakes. I believe mistakes will be part of the journey whether I want them to be or not. I will keep learning. (hopefully)

Pencil Sketch, You Are Here, 2011

As I sit here writing, my test results have returned. Negative. Thank God for that. Now I can move around campus like a free citizen. 😉 Practicing all the necessary social restrictions, of course!

So, I am in the midst of ordering books and anticipating a very busy first semester. I will eventually acclimate to my new environment, physically and spiritually. I still wonder how I am going to manage it all …. Read, write, pray, practice social distancing, learn, eat pizza, drink some beer but mostly Smirnoff with orange juice (but not while you study), make friends, have deep and interesting discussions to charge your energy for debate, volunteer for community activities, do work study to make some extra cash because you’re a student and you’re officially broke and will be for quite some time, read some more, watch documentaries that make you want to save the world, realize that you can’t save the world but, maybe you can help some people, prepare for preaching, don’t underestimate the power of compassion for those you don’t understand, don’t forget to feed your pet(s) because they are going through this too, talk to yourself because it helps you study, don’t forget to get in your CPE over the summer of your first year otherwise you’ll regret it, remember your summers do not belong to you anymore – they belong to the diocese, always keep in mind that seminary is not teaching you what priesthood is actually going to be like, and most of all remember the supernatural moments that brought you here.

Amen

Didactic

River Rocks in Balance by Tara Bartal

Unbalance. Chaos. Disharmony. Stress. Messy. U-Haul boxes.

I am preparing for my move and stress is hitting me like a ton of bricks. I am getting ready to change my whole life. Wait. I have just changed my whole life. I quit my job. I am officially becoming a full time student, on-campus. I have never done this before. When I studied to go into commercial art I went to a community college. I was twenty-something when I finished. I had an Associates Degree and for commercial art that was actually enough to get out there and find a job. Anyway, this is a whole lot different than when I was twenty-something. Energy is probably a key word here. I don’t have a whole lot of it.

What am I supposed to learn in the midst of stress? Why does change have to be stressful? Because I love harmony, I guess. I love knowing where things are and that everything has its place and is in correct order.

Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.

Stephen Hawking

I can adapt to the change. It is going through the change and trying to maintain a feeling of normalcy that is difficult. The year 2020 will never be remembered as normal so, I think this is also affecting my feelings of unbalance.

I find it to be a funny trait of human beings. At one time we used to be foragers. Now we like to have a place where we “nest,” so to speak. It is comfortable and gives a sense of home and belonging when things are familiar and established. I want to be able to go to the kitchen and use a utensil that is not plastic. I want to open a cabinet and see my dishes because I am home and that makes me comfortable. I want to be able to get up in the middle of the night and go to the bathroom without tripping over boxes.

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7 NRSV

Jesus didn’t have a permanent residence when he began his ministry. As a matter of fact, I believe he started in a desert. So, what is my problem? Expectation. This is the educational element of every change. What one expects is not what one always gets. When I don’t get what I expect to receive then upset is likely to happen. It’s the same with promises. Someone promises to do this or that or to be there at a certain time and then they fail to keep their promise. It’s upsetting.

How does one live without any expectations? If your expecting the plumber to show up and fix a leak then that would be a reasonable expectation, right?

Sometimes I think I put too much expectation in life events. I have a new beginning and I want/expect from myself, perfection. Like starting a new job. Optimism fills the air on the first day and lots of smiles and friendliness. Everything is awesomeness! And then…

You start fulfilling your tasks, doing what is your job then you’re questioned, then you have to deal with a disagreement, then the other person, who you thought was going to be the most awesome person to work with, fights you tooth and nail over everything you decide to do/or change. Ugh. Here we go again. Another new beginning fail. Gossip ensues and before you know it, your pristine reputation as a nice, friendly person goes to ****. But, you believe in what you are doing and that you are right so, you stand up for yourself. Divisions occur and it is unavoidable. When decisions have to be made not everyone is going to walk away happy. I have lived this scenario many times over and with every new beginning I take a deep breath and try to believe that this time it will be different.

At this moment in time, at the age of 50, it will be different. I think I have grown enough to be more careful with the battles I choose to fight and the ones I choose to walk away from. I also don’t think it’s necessary to be a doormat and be a loving Christian. I think the expectations of what love is and what it looks like in everyday life are set too simply. Love can be simple but not necessarily easy. Love is preached like it is as simple as water through a sifter. It doesn’t work like that. Not at all. The hardest, most painful loves that I have known have been those people I have been the closest to. Family.

I used the word didactic for this post. I used it because of its ulterior motive to teach. I sometimes feel like when I am going through a hard time, that is the moment to consider God. What is God doing in the midst of this? It isn’t that God is the cause but, perhaps, God is the manipulator.

I consider this passage of life to be the ever evolving journey of my soul to develop, grow and increase for the next life. I have never been perfect and never will be. Only through Christ am I made clean. I have had people put their expectations on me to be what they think I should be instead of accepting me for who I am. When I tried to live up to those expectations, I was always a failure. This is the new beginning. When I begin to realize my humanity and how limited I am then God can become big. Then I become a new thing in God’s creation.

Is it edifying to adjust to change? Yes. It is also edifying to learn to let go of what cannot be controlled. People. Situations. Unrealistic expectations.