On the night the newest degree-seeking students at my seminary were formally enfolded into the community, the president pointed out that a seminary degree is not for an individual’s edification, but for the enrichment of that person’s community.
This stung. Frankly, I hadn’t looked beyond the hunger of my mind and heart for the nourishment this seminary can provide. Me: hungry. Me: getting fed. Me: consequently a better human in society than when I’m cranky from hunger… sure, but that’s a weaselly way out. As is conforming to his technical definition—that is, I’m not seeking a degree at this time, and as of press time I’m not going to be during next term either, so that stricture doesn’t technically apply to me.
Except I know that it does.
While discussing Hebrews 12:1-3 last week, one of my [classmates? friends-to-be?] S. said, “You know, I’ve always read this passage as if it were about my race, my weight, my sin. But it’s not. It says ‘us.’ ‘[L]et us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us….’ We’re in this as a community. We’re not running by ourselves.”
As a writer—as someone with the habits of mind, spirit and emotion that writers often carry—I don’t visualize myself as part of a collective. Right now I’m writing in the guest room of our house, which is about as far from the peopled hub of our home as one can get. My Sweetie routinely loses me when I sit in here, which no doubt is half of why I nested here last night. (That, and it’s hard to hear the TV in here.) I Am By Myself, back leaning on the wall. I write for myself. I certainly write my poems for myself. I read, and study, to feed my writing—which I just said is for myself. A hermetic, if not closed, loop.
My sin, my race.
I went looking for a Eugene Peterson quote that I keep on the big desk in our office. I didn’t find it. I found this instead. (Naturally-!)
And as I also absorb the resources, wisdom, and energy gathered together by my denomination for the benefit of those attending our seminary, I concede that what was true for me before (thank you, Rev. Dr. Peterson) is doubly true for me now.
If I am woven into the seminary learning community, I am there, learning, in order to enrich the communities where I’m embedded. If I am learning in order to write [more | better | whatever], then somehow my writing/my faith is even less the private work I thought (assumed?) it was. Is destined as overflow into the lives of others, in Peterson’s phrase.
I don’t see this. I am shaking my head, because my writing/learning “destined as overflow into the lives of others” seems as unlikely to me as my making a standing broad jump across Barton Creek. (I did shot-put in middle school track & field, not the jumps.) I know how big my following is (hugs to each and every one of you!), and since I can reach out and hug every single one of you, this isn’t any more public than us talking over beverages at Starbucks. I follow several respected digital platform teacher-persons; I am sharply aware of the gap between where we are and what they describe.
It’s the wideness of that seminarian responsibility that has me dumbfounded, I think. My faith overflowing into the lives of others in my congregation, of my friends? Absolutely; we’ve been doing that to/with/for each other for years. But seminaries, historically, prepare one for wider fields—bigger platforms, in the modern argot. See me disbelievingly shaking my head some more?
S. today quoted (we’re in two groups together!), “God can do through me that which is not in me.” (She couldn’t remember the source; I haven’t found it yet either, though I’d really like to.)
I asked God for something big in the language of a story that involves a race. When I crafted my request, I tried very hard to surgically remove the race-part from my asking… but today I suspect I was naïve. Just as I’m likely naïve to cling to my idea of writer-as-alone… am I not also forever pointing out that writing without readers is incomplete? There’s a race, in faith, that I along with you are running together. Maybe you can see a finish line, though I can’t. Maybe this race is like Old Man Kangaroo’s, and is more about the running than the reaching.
Maybe that I have no clue where these responsibilities born of learning will lead is a good sign: that particular knowing’s not in me, so it could be through me.
Perhaps as I fill up with learning, I can keep emptying out any certainty, and leave myself ready for God to pour into—