Journey

This is about my spiritual journey and trying to find what God is calling me to next.

Fallow Lands

After I handed in my penultimate assignment for the summer intensive semester of seminary, a translation from the Hebrew of the first chapter of Ruth, I posted on Facebook about it. A friend and classmate who took the course on Sabbath responded, “Your time of fallow/exhale will be well-deserved”.

It got my thinking of fallow ground. Things still grow in fallow ground, things the ground needs to replenish itself as opposed to things needed for others. Sometimes it might be a volunteer plant grown from the seeds of an earlier plant or that a little bird dropped from somewhere far away.

What will grow in my fallow mind before the next semester starts? I think of my classmates who had it much rougher than I; one who had to take a leave of absence due to a health issue, another who lost a loved one. I wish I could go hang out with them for a little bit.

Others have started posting what they will be doing to celebrate and unwind; trips to Tanglewood and Maine. I wish I could grab my grieving classmate, drive up to Tanglewood to meet another and then the three of us drive up to Maine to gather with a couple others.

I think about my time at the beach. Most years, my family and I head out to Cape Cod for a week. I think of the long walk out to Race Point beach. We would take off our sandals and walk down to the water and I think of Moses and the burning bush.

“Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”

I often quote a piece of Jewish wisdom I heard a couple years ago. The miracle was not that the bush was not consumed. The miracle was that Moses noticed.

As we walk down to the beach at Race Point, we look off across the water. Will we see seals today? Whales? A flower floating on the waves? The miracle is every time we take off our sandals to walk on holy ground, noticing the beauty around us.

My classmates are beautiful. My family is beautiful. My coworkers are beautiful. I am blessed.

I take a moment to look at Exodus 3:5 in Hebrew. וַיֹּ֖אמֶר Qal imperfect third person masculine singular with the vav consecutive of the verb “said”. “And He said…”. My friends who know Hebrew grammar can correct me if I conjugated that wrong. It feels good to read the Hebrew even though for this first word, there aren’t any great insights.

There is a difference between studying something because you have an assignment due and studying something for the love of studying it, even when what you are studying for an assignment is something that you love studying. Now that my classes are over, I can return, more leisurely to topics of interest. I can start preparing for my fall classes leisurely, exploring those areas of most interest to me.

I’m planning on taking Theology 1 and Post Modern Christian Education. I’ve started downloading some of the books for these classes and looking at the prefaces, introductions, and additional resources.

I’ve also been thinking about what I do with my papers so far. Do I put them up online somewhere? Linked to in blog posts? A page of their own? Perhaps a page with papers from some of my classmates, if they’d be interested in sharing? A sort of open journal of my classmates? How much editing do I do of the papers I handed in before making them available this way? Do I share some of them on ResearchGate? I wonder how many of my classmates or professors are on ResearchGate. As I stopped to see what was going on, I found that one of the theologians I stumbled across last fall whom I really like, Musa Dube has followed me on ResearchGate. Maybe I need to up my game there. I find two of my classmates there and see how I can upload my working papers.

Meanwhile, at work we recently had Saichin Jain, CEO of CareMore Health. One of the topics that was discussed was the loneliness epidemic. He spoke about how CareMore was addressing this epidemic. It made me stop and wonder how churches might address this epidemic as well. We talked about it briefly during our dinner ministry last night.

There are lots of other things to think about, read about, and write about, but for right now, I am preparing to be offline for a little bit.

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2018 Summer Intensive at CDSP: Day 1

This morning, I woke up at the usual time of five. In the distance I heard a train whistle, reminding me of the train whistle I often here in the mornings back in Connecticut as well as the train whistle of long journeys.

Unfortunately, it was five Eastern Time. I tried to get back to sleep without success so I got up, did a little work, and then managed to go back to sleep for a little bit more. On the first day, we moved from the orientation to the academics and the daily schedule of worship.

I started off with a walk, playing a little Pokemon, shower, and then breakfast. Morning prayer was beautiful. The chapel was filled with strong faith filled voices. I then headed off to my first class, Hebrew.

Hebrew is a small class and everyone was feeling a bit overwhelmed with what we had been studying so far. The professor talked about different approaches to the class. Some people are talking it to check it off the list. They may not remember use much Hebrew ever again. Others may be taking it to strengthen their exegetical skills. I’m aiming for that, as well as trying to use Hebrew in my daily devotions.

We did have some good discussions about theological implications of how different texts are translated. We also managed to have some fun. All in all, it was a really good first day of Hebrew. I arrived expecting Hebrew to be the more intellectually challenging class. It currently feels like a large but manageable challenge.

Like Morning Prayer, the noontime Eucharist was also wonderful. The food and fellowship at lunch was very good. Not much more to say about that.

My afternoon class, Foundations for Ministry, is going to be much more challenging spiritually. I believe I am the only person in the class that is not a postulant in the Episcopal Church. I am also, perhaps, the person most inclined to challenge underlying assumptions, especially around binaries, hierarchies, boundaries, etc. We also talked a bit about intercultural issues and ideas about adapting to different cultural contexts.

All of this fits together for me in terms of living in liminal boundary spaces. There is something about welcoming and accepting fellow travelers into these spaces. I remember something the Dean of the Chapel said on Sunday about creating and holding a space for worshippers to experience the divine.

There is a tension between welcoming people and holding space for those welcomed to experience the divine. We talked about this around issues of Baptism and Eucharist. There is a lot more to explore around this.

Evening prayer was also wonderful and then I went and had dinner with some of my classmates. I have spoken about some of my struggles and others are sharing parts of their struggles as well. It is a wonderful group of people I look forward to travelling with.

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2018 Summer Intensive at CDSP: Orientation

My dear Theophilus, it is Monday morning after my first day on campus for my summer intensive at Church Divinity School of the Pacific. I am awake early as I try to adjust to Pacific Time and I have been struggling with the best way to write about my experiences so far. I have chosen to write my initial thoughts publicly in my blog and send it to various people who have been important in my journey here. I have chosen to start with the greeting from Luke by addressing it to Theophilus, or beloved by God, since it is a wide range of people who are with me in spirit while I am here.

Part of writing in this blog format is that I’m mostly going to just write what comes to my mind, with minimal organization beforehand or editing afterwards. Tomorrow, I will see what I have time, energy, and calling to write.

I arrived on the Campus of CDSP Sunday morning at around 1:30. The flight was uneventful, and I took an Uber pool from the airport. I had a good discussion with the driver and another person in the pool about travels.

When I arrived on campus, I followed the instructions on where to pick up my room key and how to get to my dorm. I was a little worried about the details of an arrival in the middle of the night, but everything went without a hitch until I got to my dorm room. I tried the keys but could not get them to work. I called the afterhours number. They directed me to the dorm captain whom I had met in the fall in Old Testament and who would be taking Hebrew with me this summer.

I managed to wake her up and apologized for doing so. She had a master key and unlocked my room. I got in and went straight to bed.

A few hours later I woke up and went to All Souls Episcopal Church. Those who know me are aware of my struggles with the Episcopal Church. I have, what feels to me, an undeniable calling by God to the ordained priesthood. I don’t fully understand the whys, whats, whens, or hows of that calling just as I do not fully understand the inner workings of the Trinity, but it is something I know deep inside of me.

Unfortunately, the commission on ministry at my local diocese has not affirmed that calling, so I have been exploring the possibility that God is calling me to other diocese or denominations. I have gotten so much from my more congregational friends at Andover Newtown Seminary at Yale Divinity School and have wondered to what extent I am being called back to the faith of my childhood. I have started attending an Orthodox church on Saturdays and have developed a great love for their liturgy, traditions, and community. I have spoken in my latest Ember Letter about how if God would grant me my greatest wish it would be to be ordained both as Episcopal and as Orthodox. I have problems with both organizations but I also have great love for both organizations. I don’t see how that could happen, but a year ago, I didn’t see how I could end up at seminary.

There is a story about the foundation of the Russian Orthodox church when St. Vladimir sent emissaries to Greece who wrote about the Orthodox service saying, “we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth”. In many ways, I felt that about being at All Souls.

Walking down the street to the church was a beautiful view of the church and the bay in the distance. At the church I saw their prayer request board in front of the church. I saw a sign talking about how not only are guests welcome, they are expected. Yes. It felt like I was expected, like they have been waiting for me. I glanced at the welcome area in the narthex and saw some of the materials they have for younger guests, including copies of The Sunday Paper written by a good friend of mine. I heard a woman introduce herself to another talking about being here for the summer intensive. It was one of my classmates introducing herself to one of the CDSP instructors. Before I knew it, I had met innumerable people and was sitting with four other newly arrived CDSP students.

I was also struck by elements of the Orthodox service that had been incorporated into All Souls. They dropped the filioque from the creed. They sang “Many Years” when they celebrated the birthdays and anniversaries of parishioners. They used a modified version of Eucharistic Prayer C, chanting “Glory to you for ever and ever” at key points. They sang the Rimsky Korsakov setting of The Lord’s Prayer. They gave a departing staff member an icon of St Cecila.

The adult formation group at All Souls is starting Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber. I would have loved to stayed for that, but instead of reading a book about people that God puts in our lives I needed to live it so I went out to breakfast with my four new classmates. I checked in on Facebook at the coffee shop saying, “eating breakfast with fellow pilgrims in my tribe”, or at least that was what I wrote before autocorrect mangled it.

As is the case with so much of my journey, I don’t exactly fit in. The orientation was for new students. I am a new student in that this is my first time on campus, but I’ve been taking courses at CDSP since the fall, so I’m not really new. I was told that I was welcome to sit in on the orientation or go do other things as seemed best to me. At a later point, the new students broke into groups, one for CAS students and one for M.Div students. I’m a CTS student so I don’t really fit in either category, but I am looking at transitioning from CTS to M.Div and I was told I was welcome to sit in with the M.Div students.

When I started at CDSP, one of the books I was told to read was Radical Welcome by Stephanie Spellers. I heard her speak at Missional Voices a couple years ago as well as Christ Church Cathedral in Hartford a year or so ago. Radical Welcome is a very important book to me. After one of these events, I sent her a friend request on Facebook. Yesterday, she accepted my friend request as I thought about how radically welcomed I have been by the folks at All Souls and at CDSP.

One of my spiritual disciplines is that I wear a prayer bracelet and seek to pray without ceasing. Often I pray the Jesus prayer or the Trisagion. At one point during orientation, we were talking about people who had brought us, spiritually, to CDSP. I thought of my new classmates and as they introduced themselves, I prayed for each one, thanking God that God has put these people in my life.

I also spent a lot of time thanking God for everyone who has helped me get to where I am right now. For my wife and family for giving me space to purse this calling. For those at work giving me similar space. For those who have walked along side me and encouraged me as I faced what seemed insurmountable odds.

Orientation ended with a cookout and with the students from all the cohorts, including many friends I’ve met online and were now meeting for the first time face to face.

As I prepared to come out here, my spiritual director and I spoke about how full my time has been recently, and about “the fullness of time”. I arrived on campus full of hopes. I know that I have a lot of work I need to get done over the next few weeks so I don’t know when I’ll have a chance to write again personally about my experiences, but for day one my hopes have been fulfilled and I am incredibly joyful. Thank you to everyone who has helped make this happen.

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Late Night Spiritual Wrestlemania

It's the middle of the night
Near the Indiana line
I'm pulling in a Christian station

The words of Richard Shindell’s song Next Best Western come to mind as I try to pull together some of my thoughts. Yesterday, I spent time going over some of my school work. I’ve been reading commentaries on the Gospel of John and about Christianity in the United States between the Revolution and the Civil war.

I received an email from a friend in the Episcopal Church about The Executive Council Committee on Anti-Racism seeking feedback on anti-racism and racial reconciliation training document. I shared it with my classmates. The email reminded me of my many struggles with the Episcopal Church.

In the evening, I went to Vespers at the Orthodox Church. I love the Orthodox Church and the services have been very meaningful. It feels like some would like me to join the Orthodox Church. Others want me to remain in the Episcopal Church, and others just want me out of their hair.

In Christian History, we’ve been talking about the period in the United States between the Revolution and the Civil War. This has included how various churches dealt with slavery which is one of the reasons the racial reconciliation document was so pertinent right now. We also have been talking about how religious plurality helped shape American Christianity.

This led to a discussion of “Church Hopping”. People talked about the importance of making newcomers feel welcome. I am very aware of this as I look at my own experiences with different churches and ecclesiastical organizations. It also relates to a topic in New Testament, but I’ll save that for another time.

On Church Hopping, I wrote

It seems like the phrase ‘church shopping’ has a negative connotation, to use [one of my classmate’s] phrase, something that happens at the ‘surface level’. We talk about the importance of welcoming new comers, without being too aggressive.

Yet I wonder what it would be like if we thought of our visitors not as people ‘church shopping’ but people in a spiritual discernment process, for in truth that is an important part of what is going on beneath the surface when someone church shops.

In the middle of the night, I woke up from a strange dream which involved various employees of the Episcopal Church. It was unsettling and when sleep would not return, I got up and started writing. I wrote down my dream. I wrote some responses to the discussion forums for class. I wrote part of an email to a priest in the Orthodox Church about some of my struggles and I checked Facebook.

In a group of people struggling with their discernment journeys, a member posted about a challenging thing that recently happened in her life. She posted it in the middle of the night as well. In a group of Episcopalians another person posted about struggles with their discernment journey.

My mind drifted to Jacob wrestling with an angel. It feels a little bit like Wrestlemania this evening on Facebook for those of us on spiritual journeys.

In a different group, a member has been posting short videos as she starts her second Camino. She has large blisters. Jacob has an out of joint hip. As I head back to bed and see if sleep will return, Richard Shindell’s words come back to me.

At four a.m. on 80 East
It's in the nature of the beast
To wonder if there's something missing
I am wretched, I am tired
But the preacher is on fire
And I wish I could believe

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Who’s in your mystical prayer group?

Years ago, I lived in New York City and went to a church where prayer groups met every Wednesday evening. We would have Eucharist together, then eat our brown bag dinners together, and then head off into small prayer groups of about half a dozen people each. They were a very important time for me as I tried to figure out how to live out my faith in a large city in my twenties. Today, I still seek out people to pray with this way.

Recently, I went on a silent retreat at Holy Cross Monastery in New York. One of the retreat leaders share an idea from her seminary days during one of the reflections. She spoke about how one of her professors had encouraged her to find her companions on her journey; not only fellow seminarians but also important religious leaders and thinkers from throughout the ages.

It was an idea that echoes in a place like Holy Cross Monastery, where you can a sense of the great cloud of witnesses that transcend time and space. It is a similar feeling you might get sitting in an Eastern Orthodox Church or kneeling at the communion rail in an Episcopal Church.

In a formation group of seminarians I’m part of, which has a bit of the same feeling as the prayer groups of years ago, we recently talked a little bit about that sense of the great cloud of witnesses, and it seems like all of this leads to in an interesting spiritual exercise.

Who is in your mystical prayer group, drawing in people from the cloud of witnesses across time and place?

Right now, I would chose Mary, mother of Jesus, Aelred of Rievaulx, Frances of Assisi, Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, and Brother Lawrence. An interesting variation on this might be the unrecognized acquaintances of these people, one of the monks who learned about Spiritual Friendship from Aelred, one of the nuns that prayed over St. Frances, or a woman who came to Julian for advice.

Who’s in your mystical prayer group?

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