It’s overcast today, with a raw autumnal chill in the damp air. Most of the snow from Sunday’s storm has melted away, save the piles of crusty dirty slush at the corners of driveways, and most of the debris has been removed. When heavy wet snow meets trees and shrubs that are still in full leaf, the result is, well, brush for the bonfire pit and a mess of scattered leaves in the gutter.
The seasons continue turning. The Christian tradition observed the feasts of All Saints and All Souls at the beginning of November, the remembrance of the heroes and martyrs gone before, and of all the beloved dead. The western Pagan traditions observed the turning of the new year, into the darkness, when the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest and the ancestors walk with us in the place that is beyond place and the time that is beyond time. I don’t pretend to understand this strange center from which all is connected. But I know it in my bones to be a true thing.
I will be traveling tomorrow, for over a week, and I am at that point in the pack-cull-repack cycle where I have my snow boots in one hand and the weather forecast in the other and I am seriously weighing “wear the snow boots to the memorial service, then leave them in the car at the airport to save space” versus “wear the snow boots on the plane even though it will be too warm for them next week” versus “leave the snow boots at home, and wear proper dress shoes to the memorial service, in the snow” – and none of these, none of these seem like really good options.
But this world we live in, this holy broken world? It is not made of good options. Not entirely. It has no beginning, it has no ending – it is all messy unresolved middle.
Two years ago, when I started pouring my discernment journey into this blog, a part of my decision to write in public about the process came from my frustration that seminarian blogs – at least the ones I had discovered, at that point – all seemed to taper off to a trickle somewhere about a year or two in. A few sermons and the occasional cat picture, then silence.
In reviewing my posting record it looks like that happened to me about six months ago. And so for the person who may be reading, who is now where I was then, looking for a map to this wilderness, I feel moved to offer some words as to why and how this happens.
First: seminary. It’s graduate level education. Your seminarian blogger might be up to her eyeballs in academic work: reading things that make her eyes cross or tempt her to fling the textbook / e-reader out the window in frustration (either with dense from-the-18th-century-German-translated language, or with respected historical figures who are JUST PLAIN WRONG, OKAY?!) Or she may be rolling up her sleeves and digging around in archive boxes looking for original source material, or hunched over her laptop late into the night because the deadline for email submission of that paper is 6 am in her time zone. There is always too much to read, too much to write, too little time to do it well.
And then there are the extracurricular activities – the conferences, the field trips, the lectures, the learning opportunities not to be missed. Your seminarian blogger may be trying to absorb everything there is to learn about the church and the ministry in only a few short years of exposure. It is an impossible task, but that doesn’t stop us trying.
Second: church. Your seminarian blogger was quite likely an active lay leader in her home congregation before feeling the call. Maybe she is still employed as a church professional – a Director of Religious Education or a church musician. Maybe she spends her Sundays supply preaching. Or maybe she has started internship and been swallowed up by a new congregation to love and serve. But even if none of these things apply – even if she has sworn that she will not serve on any committees this year and has not taken up any professional obligations – she is probably helping out with the pie sale or writing pieces for the parish newsletter. Church will eat your life if you let it.
Third: life. Your seminarian blogger is still a human being. She might have a spouse or partner who misses her and would like to have her attention occasionally and talk about something that is Not Church. Her family might include pets or children or older parents that need her care. And of course she must eat and sleep and attend to basic personal care. Things like laundry and dishwashing, taking the car to the shop and cleaning up the yard debris do not go away because a person feels the call to religious service and starts preparing for the ministry. They just sort of get wedged in around the edges and ignored until they become urgent. It takes awhile for blogging to become urgent.
All of these are perfectly understandable reasons why someone might slow down or stop blogging for awhile, even a long while.
But then there is the other piece, the piece that is difficult to articulate, especially from the messy middle of things. This is that thing we call formation – becoming. Maybe in the Christian tradition you would describe it as the action of the Holy Spirit; in Pagan understanding it would be a sort of initiation process; perhaps a humanist would describe it with psychological terms like self-actualization. Whatever language, whatever paradigm you use to frame it, it is that process of becoming what one was already and could not ever not be. Transformation. The caterpillar spins a chrysalis, and becomes still, and in its own time emerges with glorious wings.
If this sounds like mysticism, it probably is. If it is confusing to read, it is bewildering to experience. I have felt it hard the last few months. Sometimes it means not quite knowing who I am anymore. Sometimes it means not quite knowing who I was last week, but being sure that I am someone else now, in this moment. Sometimes it means knowing, deep in, who I am – but having no idea how to get there from here.
Sometimes it means knowing what to do next and doing, without quite understanding the why or the how, and hoping that clarity will follow. Sometimes it is a feeling in the gut that there will be no clarity for awhile, and we muddle through anyway.
Sometimes it means standing, snow boots in hand, and looking out the window at the gray autumn sky and wondering whether it matters – this moment, any of the moments, any of the work that is done already or as yet incomplete. Sometimes it means wishing for a voice to whisper that yes, in the end, it does.
Sometimes it means talking to ghosts, and listening for the echoes.