In just over two weeks, I head down to the city to begin orientation at Union Theological Seminary. It’s been so far away for so long, it is surprising to realize how close it is now. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been resigning positions on boards, finishing terms on committees, closing up projects, generally putting my house in order so that once classes start, I can concentrate on work and studies.
A few weeks ago, I first identified a certain good melancholy – a bit sad to be no longer seeing these people on a weekly or monthly basis, but knowing I am leaving on good terms and heading for something more.
But the last week or so, I’ve been sad in an unsettling, unclear way.
Now I have tied some of the sadness to a particular fear I carry with me – an odd academic fear. I’ve always been good at school when I put my mind to it – I grasp things easily, see connections, know, and excel. But since the surgeries in 2007-08, I’ve noticed that my memory is compromised – it is a strikingly noticeable effect of the pain meds and thrice-in-one-year doses of general anesthesia. And I know, once I get into it, I’ll likely see my strengths come back and add more tricks to those I currently use to get by with a diminished short term memory.
But even with that nagging worry, and recognizing the loss associated with ending certain activities, I’ve been sad. It became sharpest last night, when Carl and I were talking. I was telling him about my day – the many good things that happened. Normally, I’d be smiling and triumphant in the good stuff (finishing a hard project, getting a new one, having a great experience with an author, etc.). But I was still terribly unsettled and weepy. When we hung up, I should have gone to sleep, but I was left wondering WHY the things that would normally signal a good day didn’t have the same effect.
And then I remembered the Edward Hays poem:
Don’t make friends with an elephant trainer unless you have room in your home for an elephant.– saying of the Sufis
O Blessed one, you whose voice calls me
to the sacred path of the pilgrim,
I wish to seek you with all my heart.
Yet I am often half-hearted in that desire
when I realize the cost of such a quest.
My life is rather comfortable and well-ordered
and fits me like an old shoe.
I fear the knowledge that if I romance you
I may lose what I hold dear.
Be compassionate with my hesitation
as I measure the cost of loving you.
I have read in the holy books
and know from the lives of the saints,
that you, my god, come as purifying fire
to burn away all that is not true.
I tremble at the thought
of you consuming those things that I love
and even my prized image of who I am.
Yet, I also want to know you more fully;
help me to embrace the awesome implications
of my inviting you to enter my life.
Enlarge my half-hearted love
with the ageless truth
that if I seek your kingdom first,
seek to be fully possessed by you,
everything I need shall be given me,
and happiness beyond my wildest dreams
shall be mine.
Come today, Creator of elephants and saints,
and be my friend.
And I realized that there is a lot more going on.
I realized that I’m not just giving up or changing parts of my life, nor am I intentionally making changes to my life. Rather, I am giving myself over to a change, giving myself over to the service of God. I am stepping into a role that carries a holy and sacred calling. I am saying Yes, I am willing to be different. I am allowing the reality of God to change my reality. Like a magnet being wrapped in copper coil and run through with electricity, my very polarity is changing. Like a length of iron being heated up and hammered into a sword, I am being strengthened. Like a piece of wood burning in a fire, my chemical makeup is altering.
And as hard as I have worked to change myself for the better, God is taking those things and changing me for good.
The change is indeed unsettling. And I don’t know if everyone who enters seminary goes through this – maybe others have always just known, or have had an easier time letting go of control, trusting God. I know it’s been hard for me to put my weight down on the “trusting God” thing; I’ve been angry with the Divine for many years, and I’m unsure of my footing.
And that in itself is a little sad.
But as unsettled as I feel… as sad and unsure… I know that even this is a good sad.
Thanks for this. As I complete CPE and return to school, I, too, am thinking about what we leave behind and how we abandon our comfortable “shoe” of a life every time we take a risk for God, for other people, for our own hearts’ deepest longings… Thanks again for writing.