This is going to be an odd post for some, maybe for many. Okay, probably for all.
Today, I was struck with the realization of something so profound, yet so simple, that I really should have already known it. I am in seminary. (Now, for those of you who know me, you're possibly saying 'duh!' 'we knew that. how did you not know that?!' For those of you who read the blog, I've mentioned it a few times and you're probably wondering what in the world?!?!)
I will attempt to explain the awakening.
Hello, my name is Debra and I am a seminarian.
It is important for me to say that. You see, I do know that I'm in seminary. I realize that I've been in seminary since 2007, that I've completed a Certificate of Christian Studies, and that I am currently working toward a Masters in Divinity (M.Div.). I can also tell you I'm in seminary based on the amount of books I'm reading, the papers I'm writing, and the amount of money that is disappearing from bank accounts.
But, I really haven't been telling myself or anyone else that I am in seminary. I know. People know.
Yet I haven't really been fully living into being a seminarian.
What do I mean by that?
First, I mean that I haven't always prioritized my life to reflect that seminary is what it is-- a fairly difficult educational journey. I have put it as a priority in my life in that I have guarded most of my time and energy to allow my time, energy, and space (outside of family) to go into studies, but there has been this non-spoken wall or barrier or cloud that has almost seemed like it wasn't truly real.
That may be odd to say now that I am 2/3 into the M.Div. program and realizing I am a seminarian.
Maybe it is because I am 2/3 into the M.Div. program and I have these next two years to finish well (to finish... period!) that I am now ready to be open to the fact that I am a seminarian. I don't exactly know.
What I do know is that during my time with my spiritual director this morning and through our conversation and the leading of the Holy Spirit, there was one of those "a-ha light bulb" moments in which I realized I have not been living into my true self as a seminarian.
When I was on the Asbury Wilmore campus for the first time this past June, I bought a t-shirt that says "Asbury Seminary" on it. I have worn it a couple of times, but I'm hesitant to wear it in public. About as hesitant as I've been to claim I'm a seminarian.
As I've been reflecting on my newfound discovery, I'm recognizing that some of my hesitancy has been due to fear.
Folks may ask me theological questions that I won't be able to answer, much less understand if they learn I'm in seminary. This could very well happen. And, you know what?!!? It's okay if it does. I learned in my years of teaching that it is okay for me to say things like: I don't understand. I don't know. I will be glad to look it up for you. Let's explore that together. Etc. Yet, somehow, what I learned in teaching has taken a while to catch up with me in this context.
Another fear has likely been that of failure. What if I really can't do this stuff?!?! I think I face that almost every semester, to be honest. That's not a new fear. I faced that with my Master's in Spanish. I have shared before that learning doesn't come easy for me. I have to work hard at it. My undergraduate grades were not strong, even though I had strong high school grades. I learned the hard way how to learn how to learn. I learned my learning styles. That is why I taught learning how to learn and learning styles so much in my teaching years. I would say that this fear of failure, though real, is unfounded because I do have a Master's degree in Spanish, from SUNY Stony Brook. I do have a Certificate in Christian Studies from Asbury Theological Seminary with 35 credits of graduate study. Now that I am at this 2/3 mark, it is fairly clear that I can do this. I am not claiming to do this solely in my own strength and capabilities, however. I believe that I have been carried through by friends and prayers and the power of the Holy Spirit as I have asked for strength from all of those areas.
There might even be the fear of 'if I claim to be a seminarian, folks are going to want to know what I'm going to do with this'. Just like in college and in graduate school days, folks would ask 'what are you going to do with foreign languages?' I had my ideas, but I didn't really think I'd teach. Well, not until I started the teaching assistantship in graduate school and loved teaching and saw and felt how that fit me very well. I have ideas. I know some of the gifts and graces I have. I know how I feel called. But, where will I end up? That I don't know. And, truthfully, I'm okay with that. I trust that my gifts and graces will find a place to shine the light and love of God in the Kingdom in the ways that are needed when the time is right.
So, there. The truth is out. The cat is out of the bag, so to speak.
Now you know that I know... I am a seminarian.
And, just so you know.... Yes, I have made changes in my life and schedule to give me more time, space, and energy to focus on my coursework so that I can also have time, space, and energy for family, ministry, and friends.
I learned from my spiritual director that the Episcopal seminarians are expected to put everything else aside and focus solely on studies. They also have regular "ember papers" based on the Isaiah passage of unclean lips where they share how they are doing spiritually, academically, etc. Accountability basically. That sounded like the self-care/soul-care that my former boss and pastor Nathan Malone instituted with us as staff when I was part-time Director of Missions. We reported our self-care bi-weekly to him-- how we were doing in the areas of spiritual life, personal relationships, recreation, and I'm missing one here. In my mentored ministry classes we did something similar. I happened to be on staff and taking mentored ministry at the same time PLUS going through the Academy at the same time, so I had LOTS of accountability for self-care / soul care at the time.
It is my personal belief that we don't take enough time in our lives for self-care or soul care nor do we allow others the authority into our lives enough to hold us accountable so that we can grow. I hope to be an example that doing less can be doing more in the long run when it comes to NOT filling our calendars and plates and that self-care and soul care as a priority IS a vital part of ministry.
It is an ongoing learning process for me. Isn't everything?!?! For me it is.
So, as I started, I will end.
Hello, my name is Debra and I am a seminarian.
What part of your life do you need to claim and live into today?
Blessings on your journey!