Monday, November 14, 2005

In Between

For some reason, coming back from P. this time around, I feel more dis-placed than ever. I don't know if it's a function of being here just long enough that I don't feel like I quite belong in either place? If it's merely a passing mood? Is it that I somehow realized on this trip that we're probably not going to stay here after all? My roots feel too close to the surface here. Someone once told me that you should not water the garden early in the day, because the roots will reach up toward the water then get scorched as the noon sun bears down. Is that what this most recent trip did?

I wonder how much it has to do with anticipating my comps proposal this Wednesday. I want to anticipate the worst, so that I can have thick skin. Don't want to be taken by surprise. Want to expect acrimony, academic brutality. But how to live into these days with these expectations?

Yesterday, along with two others from our congregation, I was "licensed for the Gospel Ministry" at my church. I didn't have a big investment in the rite itself. I wasn't familiar with it. Felt as though it was going to be something done to me, more than something I was a participant in.

But the experience was more meaningful to me than I expected. In the text of the rite, the moderator of the church says, "This license represents not only our recognition that you are engaged in your theological studies, but also our declaration of confidence in you and our way of assuring you that in your preparations and discernment of a specific area of ministry, you have our continuing blessing and prayers." Then, the moderator asks: "In accepting this License to Minister, do you promise faithfully to serve God and the church both in your study and ministry?" To which we replied: "I do, trusting in God's grace for help."

The pastor then prays a "Prayer of Consecration" as follows:

"Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on J, T, and J. Consecrate them each for the work of ministry. Give them wisdom to discern the mind of Christ, compassion for human need, and love toward all those to whom they are called to minister. Strengthen and nourish their faith. Make their study meaningful and their work in your church fruitful. May God's Spirit be theirs in this day and throughout the whole of their lives. Amen."

Then the pastor concludes:

"In the name of Jesus Christ, and on behlaf of SRCC I declare that J, T, and J are licensed for the Gospel Ministry. My dear friends and colleagues in Christian ministry, let your faith remain strong, your love complete, your hope resiliant, and your compassion pure. And let your commitment to help bring to pass the reign of God's Shalom in this world and to all people be unyielding as long as you shall live. Let all who are assembled here say together, 'Amen.'"

After this, we were each presented with beautiful stoles sewn by a member of the church. I knew ahead of time that we would be given the stoles and worried that it would seem we were doing a sort of mini ordination. But it didn't feel that way at all. In fact, it was the reception of the stole, immediately after the words I've printed above, that made the experience feel real to me. The stole was something tangible for me. A way of feeling the weight of the words--but the weight was comfortable. Like a heavy blanket on a cold night. Just right.

It was strange to go through this rite while I was feeling in between. Only returned from the East Coast a matter of hours, and I am experiencing this. I talked with someone briefly after the service and told her I was feeling dis-placed, not quite anywhere yet. She seemed to immediately understand. "You wonder," she said, "did I dream that world? Or am I dreaming this one?" Yes.

Neither, of course. And I do know that. But my spirit still needed to catch up with my body, in a way. And here I was being integrated and blessed on Sunday morning. Receiving my first stole.

That is one part of it. The other is this--I am anticipating this frightening academic meeting in a couple days. Like I just wrote, I want to anticipate the worst. And yet. I've just promised to faithfully serve God and the church both in my study and ministry. That means Wednesday, too. And in the days leading up to Wednesday.

I think this is what I'm feeling: I thought I would be going into Wednesday's experience mostly alone. My advisor (and advocate) would be there, sure. But for the most part, I would be on my own. Now, I realize I shall go in with a sense of God's spirit and as a member of my church community. I think I am only getting this as I write it now. At this point of my academic career, I have received the blessing of my church community. This means precisely that I am not alone.

I had a strong sense of this through most of seminary because of the strong, long-time support of CBC. But I realize now that this is the first I've felt it here.

How will it change things? The weight of the stole (my burden is light), trusting in God's grace for help, in between, make their study meaningful and their work in your church fruitful . . .

I began writing about shallow roots. It seems to contradict where I am ending this entry. But I sense that both are true, somehow.

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