Monday, December 12, 2011

Advent Three...

... and suddenly I can't wait for Advent Four. The semester ends on Friday, with two large papers due. One in Greek and one in History of Christianity, and both fighting hard to make themselves difficult to finish. The weather is conspiring in my desire to hole up inside with my immense pile of books and my computer by being dark and rather gloomy, but today is the day I am out nearly all day. I start with a meeting at 9:00 this morning and have classes that run until 9:00 tonight. Perhaps the weather will oblige and hang around for the rest of the week so I can curl up with a pot of tea and a blanket while I finish whipping these papers into shape. My goal is to have all but the final touches done by Thursday morning, but since each has already managed to change themselves entirely at least once already I am feeling a bit discouraged about that timing.

With the end of the semester looming, suddenly so is Christmas. Being in seminary has certainly forced me to focus on the preparation and waiting aspects of Advent this year, but I almost feel as if I am missing out. I have watched decorations going up all around me and not done anything here. Finally this weekend we broke down and brought up our boxes of Christmas, and I spent an evening merrily unpacking, making a few repairs, and flinging stuff onto a shelf for later distribution. But our mistletoe is up (careful, you might hit your head on it) and looking festive; the nativity is prepared (all the figures are scattered to the four winds until it is the appropriate time to show up); and All Souls' mice have taken over the china hutch (with a surprise popping out of a nearby basket). There is still so much I want to do, but in a cozy space there isn't a whole lot that can be done until I have time to finish straightening the bookshelves and have made nooks and crannies for our other beloved decorations to adorn. Not to mention the tree debate. We'll have one, but where do we put it and how big (small) will it be?

So while I continue to wrestle deeply with Julian of Norwich and John 14, Christmas is sneaking on to the scene to distract me with anticipation of relief and celebration. It is all about the balance, and not forgetting the sparkles of joy in the midst of the work.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Second Advent and Counting

Two weeks left. In some cases only one class meeting remains, though for others there will be more. Even as I am deep in the heart of writing my final papers I seek to stay open to the small voice of God in my heart, living into the Advent season of preparation. It is all too appropriate to be hearing about "Last Things" in the Sunday readings as this first semester of seminary ends and I wonder how insane I must have been to select the independent research paper option for my History of Christianity final... but even there, as I stumble through piles of books and challenge myself deciphering the original Middle English of Julian of Norwich, there is a sense of peace and knowing that I am here at this time and in this place for a purpose.

It is all too easy to focus only on class readings, to sink myself into the academic world I know so well and am so comfortable in, but my challenge to myself as I approached seminary was to be open to the formation that this experience brings to me. To allow myself to be challenged and changed by what I encountered within the community and within the readings. In preparing my final paper for Anglican Traditions and Life I am seeing a small part of the fruit of this awareness. We are reading and discussing the current church (many readings on all sides of the current debates/issues), and I find that I am truly struggling to remain even remotely objective while reading the Jerusalem Declaration and other GAFCON documents. I find that there is a place in me that becomes defensive, that physically hurts, reading some of the words that the conservative side of the spectrum are speaking.

Unlike many of my classmates I have been on both sides of this issue, and have been deeply wounded as it has played out within my own diocese. I have lost the church I knew as home for the majority of my life and have been cast out of that same fellowship for having the audacity to question why it was wrong for me to feel that God was calling me, a female, to serve in a way that meant being set apart and consecrated to God's service. Not only am I rejecting the idea that was planted in me from childhood that as a female I am inferior and unworthy to approach God, I am seeking healing for the relationship between God and all people; I am choosing to believe that God loves all of creation and has a merciful and loving heart that aches to embrace everyone. I am refusing to step into God's place by judging whether or not a person is being faithful to the unique life God has called them to live. My parents and I have been informed that we are no longer welcome to even socialize with the parish that, deep in my heart, was still home even as I made a new home in a new parish.

As I read the documents that my childhood parish supports, I find myself grieving again for the loss of that family and the closing of the door in my face even as I had hoped for reconciliation and peace. But I also know that by the very fact that God is continuing to call me further along this path of dedicated service I cannot go back to the days when I truly belonged within that family; I am called to journey onward even as I must embrace the endings that journey brings.

So I struggle with this last paper for Anglican Traditions and Life, letting myself grieve for the past while wading ever deeper into the hope for the future and being formed not only by my experiences but also by my own reactions to the reality of the now. And I am leaning harder than ever into the awkward spaces of praying for my childhood parish family even in the face of rejection, and seeking the loving embrace of God where all hurts are transformed into grace and all sorrow to joy.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Advent Begins...

... And so does the frantic feeling of the winding up of the semester, which officially ends December 16. With three major papers, a synthesis project, and several smaller reflections due throughout, I am suddenly very aware of the passing of time and how fast this first semester is moving to a close.

I am watching the leaves on the Japanese Maple outside of my window toss in the wind this morning as we are in the midst of wind advisories and a rather strong Santa Ana condition, and feeling quite thankful that it waited until we were back here before it arrived. We had a lovely visit to my parents for Thanksgiving, which was delightful and provided me a much-needed break from paper writing, Greek translating, and general nose-in-book syndrome. We visited All Souls' for the Thanksgiving day service and enjoyed catching up with friends and church family before settling down at my parents house for a quiet feast.

There is so much to be thankful for this year, not the least of which is even being in seminary at all and having this chance to live into the place where God is calling me to be and to serve. If you had asked me last Thanksgiving if I could see myself here in a year's time I probably would have looked at you quizzically and laughed. But when God decides that it is high time something happens, well... just hang on and follow faithfully.

I want to participate in a question that was brought up on another blog: Dream Life Wellness Studio. Lori-Lyn is looking back over 2011 and celebrating it over the next month. Today's prompt really struck me:

Loving 2011: Day One - What surprised you this year and what gift did you find in that surprise?

What surprised me most is the redemption of sorrow and fear that has come out of this year. My husband officially lost his job January 1, 2011. I was only working part time and earning just slightly above minimum wage, and he struggled to know how to proceed in finding another job that would be able to support us. A chance conversation with a neighbor who happened to drop a brief comment about something heard on the news led him to contact a recruiter to find out about returning to the US Army, something he had wanted to do ever since leaving it many years ago. Within six weeks he signed, and the next day the age limit was adjusted again to the point where he would not have been able to return to service. At the same time, he encouraged me to speak to a chaplain recruiter. I humored him, feeling in my heart that after so many tries and denials in formal discernment processes that perhaps my call was either dead or I and my communities in which I had discerned a call to priesthood and service had misread God's direction for me. I made the call to the recruiter the last week in January. I spoke with my rector and diocesan bishop the first week in February. By March I was accepted into seminary and well on my way to doing what needed to be done to be ready to join the Army myself.

Out of this flurry has come a multitude of blessings and reminders that it is not only not in my hands, but also not in my timing. God is truly in control. I am learning so many things about who God is calling me to be, and who I truly am at my heart's core. The biggest gift of all has been the chance to rediscover who God created me to be and to live into that developing knowledge while leaning hard on the unbreakable silver strand of love that ties me irrevocably to my Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.