The last few weeks have felt especially reminiscent of my first spring at Smith College, perhaps because they are, in reality, among my last. While I am not currently in Northampton (I’m at home in New York), I could feel that spring was on its way; the typical snowy days were replaced with rain, and the skies stay lighter into the early evenings. But what is even more than the change in weather is the fact that I have changed so much in the course of my four years at Smith.
Three years ago, I was nearly finishing my first year, still filled with zest and enthusiasm for college life, while still feeling as though I could do anything with my life. At this point, I was just starting to develop my sense of “self” in terms of my faith and belief in Jesus, and to be brutally honest, I miss those days. I don’t miss the level of insecurity socially – being a first year to begin with, let alone at a Women’s college, you are still trying to establish where you belong on campus, and who you are to hang out with, potentially for the rest of your college career. (Obviously excluding the fact that socially, you are at the bottom of the food chain, with seniors as the sneakers, and first years as the troublesome gum on the bottom of the senior “shoes.”) I miss the days of having a simple faith – not a simple outlook on faith so much as a view of faith through baby steps toward a finish line, rather than complicated by various ways to pray, worship, etc. Before I came to college (and this would have happened regardless of where I went…), I only knew of one worship style – traditional and liturgical. In my childhood church, there was no rock band or rock music, no spontaneous praying out loud, no radical message of how our “saved” status made us completely “sin-free”, no immersion baptism, and absolutely no discussion of being a “Christian,” whatever that really means. It was just about praying to God for the forgiveness of our collective sins, recognizing that no matter how hard we try, we will never be able to fully repay Jesus for his sacrifice; but if we truly make an effort to serve God each day, we will make a dent in that debt, always taking one step closer to the finish line of our faith journey – that is God/Jesus.
Three years ago, I was still looking for my place on campus – not only my social, physical and academic place, but also my spiritual place. Coming from a fairly low-profile spiritual community, where the two major happenings during the year were Christmas and Easter, with a nice lull in between. The church’s attendance dies down during the summer, as families head off to their summer homes in the Hamptons, Nantucket or “The Vineyard,” or kids venture off to resume-building summer camps. (To ensure that their 7 and 8-year-olds will get into Harvard or Yale 10 years down the line. So coming into an environment completely different as Smith was a shock to the system, to say the least. For one, I was raised to not openly discuss faith/religious affiliations, but even at Smith, no one talked about religion, except to comment that “religion is the government’s way of having us conform to its mind-altering/mind-melding ideals.” So obviously, finding a spiritual home on campus was going to be more than challenging.
Three years later, I’m applying to seminary, trying yet again to choose a spiritual home for a period of my life. Three years ago, I wasn’t doing this so much consciously as I was out of habit or necessity. But this time, I am making a conscious choice, as I am making religious obligation/spirituality my future, my life. Three years ago, I was somewhat choosing to find a spiritual home on campus (or off) at Smith, because I had grown up in a church that was very welcoming and laid back (I would later learn simply how open and welcoming it really was in comparison to my church experiences in college…MERCYHOUSE…**cough cough**) Or perhaps, three years ago, I was looking for a spiritual place to belong because I needed to belong somewhere, having not truly belonged anywhere for more than 4 years.
Now, however. Three years later, I have found a place that I truly believe will become my home, perhaps immediately, perhaps in time. But I have this confidence that Princeton Theological Seminary will be the place (and the period in my life) I always hoped it would – a place where I can grow as a person, earn how to be the best minister I can be, but most importantly, take the next step toward being the person I only dreamed of being only a short three years ago. Obviously, Princeton isn’t the place that is going make all this happen, but it most certainly is the catalyst that will get the whole process started.
Why blog about changes in the first place? What is so important about any of this anyway? I was thinking in the last few days about what I must have been like as a first year. Before I didn’t think that I had changed that much in the last three years, but in the past few days, I realize how much I have changed and who I have become. Three years ago, I didn’t necessarily have a faith that I could call my own. I had the faith that my parents had raised me on, but I didn’t have a sense of my own flavor of it – a unique idea of what I believed, where I thought I was int he grand scheme of faith, etc. I also didn’t know specifically what I believed, or even who I wanted to become as an adult member of the world. I began as a girl who knew some stuff about faith, or rather, a girl who knew some stuff about church; a girl who wanted to learn more about this Jesus guy and his daddy, God, but who had more or less outgrown what her church resources could provide her with.
So I went to college, hoping that I could learn something about faith. And without a doubt, I can say that I learned more than I ever thought I would about faith; I have learned what kinds of faith there are out there in the big, bad world, and more importantly, what kind of faith I want to have – what kind of faith I need to have in order to be a productive and helpful person in my society. More importantly, I have learned what kinds of faith and beliefs are not going to help me give back to the people I love most. But what does that mean? I have learned how to make my faith last a lifetime, not just a month, a year, or five years. I have been given the gift of a lifetime supply of belief and faith. It has been a long and at times, bumpy, road, but thank God that it has been what it has. I love the person I have become, with much thanks and gratitude to God, my parents, and the people I call my friends. I cannot wait to see how I grow and flourish in the year to come!
…Seminary…HERE I COME!