One true thing about seminary is that we are dragged in about 25 different directions every day. When I went to BTFO (Before the Fall Orientation–get it?) at Yale Divinity School a year and a half ago, I remember our Dean of Academic Affairs, Emilie Townes, warning us that we should not let ourselves get pulled in 25 different directions. We would have to make choices.
But then, YDS pulled us all in 25 different directions! I mean, the M.Div. program has a strong dose of academics, professional preparation (internships, colloquiums, etc.), and spiritual formation. In addition, most people in a seminary want to be involved in addressing issues in the community such as environmental issues, homelessness, hunger, and so on. Even if we don’t take on any extracurricular activities or skip all the great talks and conferences going on, the YDS requirements pull us in a lot of directions.
And that can make us crazy sometimes.
But it also leads to a lot of gifts. I can go from a Morning Prayer service, to a stimulating discussion about how we are to read/interpret the violence in the book of Joshua, to a worship service about the Immolakee Workers and their 10-year fight to improve wages and working conditions of tomato pickers in Florida, to a phone call with a parishioner to help her plan a funeral, to two hours of reading Augustine, to a working meeting of chapel ministers to plan the next services, to a talk by Ambassador Andrew Young….
You get the point. All of these things are gifts, and there are a lot of different gifts in this life, to borrow the apostle Paul’s phrase from 1 Corinthians 12:4.
Even at my internship site, a variety of gifts turn up all the time. This past Sunday, after substituting as a chalice bearer for someone who didn’t show, I returned to my place at a chair next to the altar. Then one of the priests leaned over and said, “Would you go into the chapel and pray with ____? He’s been waiting there throughout Communion for someone to come.”
Communion was over, and we were getting ready to sing a hymn and march out. I looked through the arches of our main nave into the side chapel and saw a gentleman with whom I recently had had an hour-long talk about life in Jamaica vs. life in Hartford, CT. I rushed over, grasped his hands, and we prayed together. “Every Sunday,” he said, “I come here, and someone prays with me.” I assured him we wouldn’t forget next week.
If you asked me, which was the greater gift, listening to Ambassador Andrew Young (an incredible speaker/preacher, by the way), or praying with this parishioner, I would have to say, “Pray with this parishioner.” Many luminaries come through YDS, and I have been deeply touched by the ones whose words I got to hear. I did learn a lot from Andrew Young, but I don’t think it mattered much to Andrew Young whether I was there or not, or whether I idolize him or not (I do).
I think it mattered to this parishioner, though, that I showed up. That encounter was a gift, too, and probably made possible by the hours I have logged running around as a seminarian: hours at this internship, in class, in chapel, at talks, in prayer. I wouldn’t have known his name or what to pray for if we had not had an hour-long chat two weeks before. And without this internship, I wouldn’t have had this random opportunity to hear an incredible life story and to clasp hands in a little chapel while being serenaded by a 40-person choir and organ.
It was one of many gifts–a lot of different gifts–in this crazy time. Okay, off to my next job!