I have had a topsy-turvy start to my third and last year of seminary, and here’s why: I was returning from Northern California to New Haven, thinking about how much I missed California and how much I wished I could be back there, in that place and with the many communities of people I know there. Then I landed back in New Haven, and I felt excited about this third year of seminary starting, and all my fellow seminarians coming back to New Haven. I have my favorite haunts in New Haven, my favorite subway stops in New York, my favorite quiet corners of the Yale Divinity School Library. This too is home, and I know it well. I am a senior! I know the ropes! I know who I am, I know what I want, I know what I need to do!
That lasted for about two weeks. And then, everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, started asking me, “So, Janine, where do you think you’re headed after seminary?”
And I started babbling. I mean, I do have plans, and I am actively working toward them. However, I have absolutely NO idea where I will end up. In the academy? In the church? On the East Coast? On the West Coast? In the South or Midwest? And so, after about two weeks of people asking me, “So, Janine, where do you think you’ll go after this?”, I just wanted to say, “Don’t ask!”
Because I don’t know. All of a sudden, that sure-footed senior year feeling turned into a walk in deep, hot sand: there’s sure ground beneath me, but I’m sliding around a lot at the moment. It doesn’t feel all that secure. I would prefer that solid feel of wet, smooth sand beneath me, where my footprints behind me are clearly discernible, leading in a nice, straight line somewhere, and if I just follow that trajectory, I will be further along somewhere–somewhere predictable and sure.
However, predictable and sure are just illusions. If there’s anything I have learned from the twists and turns of my life, it is that there is no simple, straight trajectory in this life. In my own life, there have been so many strange twists and turns of fate, apparent detours, sudden and delightful surprises, etc., that I have come to recognize this as the rhythm of life, at least in a life that is open to change. I experienced a clear call to priesthood just after changing vocations from Silicon Valley business development manager and director to English instructor at a community college. At the time, it seemed impossible to me that God would call me only a year into a new career–one that I liked. Why not let me know before I changed careers?
C’est la vie, as my mother loved to say with a big, encouraging smile on her face. I have learned a great deal about unpredictability of life, not only from my own life, but from the lives of the poor and the sick that I meet at a local food pantry and at the hospital where I serve occasionally as a chaplain. Peoples’ lives change suddenly when both parents lose their jobs in the same week, or when someone receives a diagnosis of stage 4 cancer, or when a child dies suddenly.
In comparison to these things, the slippery sands beneath a senior seminarian are nothing, really, but a warm walk upon the beach of a loving God. Or so I keep telling myself.