Should I Cling to Today or Fly Toward Tomorrow?

My last semester has been, without a doubt, a struggle at times. Most frequently, I have struggled to keep focused on the task at hand, to finish undergrad. With so much planned for the upcoming three years, it is only natural that someone would find it a challenge to curb one’s ADD in the moment. But as I look at only a few days of classes remaining before I am able to take several weeks off, I can’t help but commend myself for the amount of focus and attention I have put toward my final semester at Smith. Is this a factor of the fact that I do have three more years of school ahead? Is it the fact that I want to enjoy and savor my last few moments with some of my most favorite professors?

At times, I have most certainly struggled with the demon that is PROCRASTINATION. I can say with some certainty that I am not the only senior on any US college campus who has felt this, but I am not ordinarily the queen of this particular collegiate affliction, so it is to say that my encounter with the visitor is foreign in nature. Lets just say, I didn’t get my shots or a visa in advance. I got dropped behind enemy lines without a warning of what a battle it would be to stay focused and on top of my stuff. But I think that in some ways, having a goal for my life, or at least for the direct future has helped me to remain vigilant against this procrastination monster.

But I think the biggest struggle I have had this past semester was the struggle to be present, to be here at Smith. Or rather, to enjoy the small amount of time that I have left here at Smith. Don’t get me wrong, getting into seminary back in November was just the blessing, the gift, the treat that I needed to keep going, to feel validated that what I have been pursuing for the last few years was the right thing. Getting in before most people have even applied is most definitely an amazing thing. But at the same time, I wonder whether or not I should have waited to find out. For a short time now, I have felt as though I already have one foot out the Smith “door,” that I’m already in the future, rather than in the past, or even the present time. But once I got in, that feeling only intensified. When I got into seminary, and once I had a feeling of where I was going to be, once I could picture my future, the feeling of always being one step too far ahead only got more intense. Frequently, I catch myself imagining what life will be like in a few months when I head off to seminary, and rather than being proactive and getting out on campus, I think of what my life is going to be like when I graduate. Not that this is so much a bad thing in concept, but at times, I wonder whether I have missed out on things because of my focus on the future.

I have always been the type of person who knows what she wants and is focused on what is to come in her life. I have always had a strong sense of self, and further, of what I am capable of doing and becoming. But at times, I wonder whether or not this is always the best mentality to have, especially as my time in one place is coming to an end. Should I be “living in the moment” as much as possible now while I have the chance to enjoy my last moments of being an undergrad? I mean, you can’t go back and be a college student again, no matter how hard I try. I will only be 18-22-years-old once (well technically for 4 years…but who believes in technicalities?), so shouldn’t I be leaping up to get involved in the small things happening around? But at the same time, I feel as though my life is rapidly transporting me somewhere else, as though I am called to be anywhere except here. Its a weird feeling to have, especially when amazing new things continue to happen.

What is a girl to do in this situation? Pack up and move on or cling on for dear life to what is left of my undergrad moments?

I guess the best advice I can offer myself is to take a step back and savor the moments that I have without clinging to them. Smith will not disappear after I leave, and nor will my memories. Rather, I will have my friends to continue to live through, who will allow my memories to continue into the future. After all, it isn’t all about the place that you live; rather, it is about the people you share the place with, the experience with. My friends – the people I have come to call my family – are more important than the place we all met at. They’ll be with me, hopefully, forever!

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So What If It Isn’t Mine?: Finding Value in the Spiritual Lives of Others

Obviously, much of what this blog is about is the discussion of my last few months at Smith and also the months, weeks and days leading up to my entry into seminary. I haven’t thought much about continuing this blog into seminary. Hell, who knows if I’ll either have the time or the material to keep writing. But for the moment, I am perfectly content to write about what I know, what I feel, and what I am going through as it happens.

Along these lines, I realize how much my faith has grown and changed as a result of my relationships with those who have beliefs and faith(s) that are different from my own. This was especially evident when I ate dinner with friends of mine this past evening. Many of my friends are Jewish, some more observant than others. But regardless of their level of observance or level of belief for that matter, I have perhaps learned more about my own faith and beliefs from them than I have from many of my so-called Christian friends. Why, you might ask? How is it possible to learn more from people who have faiths, beliefs and practices so different from your own? That’s wrong, isn’t it? BULL. That type of attitude that gets Christians into trouble time and time again. It is the attitude that we can’t learn from anyone else, that our faith is above and beyond anyone else’s, digs us into this hole where people just don’t want to hear from us anymore. They just don’t want to listen to our speeches, our sermons, our pleas of “come to Jesus” just to name a few. But in my four years at Smith, my faith has become something that is my own in large part thanks to those who have faith that could not be more different than my own. This was especially evident this evening at dinner, as I mentioned earlier. I was sitting at a table with a bunch of my Jewish friends, who keep Kosher. They were discussing what they had to do to make sure that they were ready for Pesach, or Passover, which starts this coming weekend. Here they were, eating their kosher food, and all they could do was argue over whether or not the silverware was “kashrut enough” for Passover. I have some experience with Jewish traditions, as I am after all a Jewish studies major, but all I could think during this discussion was, THANK GOD that I don’t have to go through this yearly in my faith. Thank GOD that I don’t have to worry about whether or not my utensils are ritually clean enough to touch my food. Speaking from someone who has a food allergy and thereby must avoid certain foods…NUTS…I can understand the pressure to make sure things are clean, but at the same time, it isn’t even the same matter of discussion. I don’t willingly choose to not eat nuts, I don’t because it could potentially kill me. TOTALLY NOT THE SAME THING.

But then I sat down and thought about it. Their faith is so based upon obeying the commandments and tenets as set out by God thousands of years ago. They don’t have to keep believing, but they do. they follow without question, without showing a bit of doubt, because it is what they want to do. I wish that Christians could do the same thing. I have been encouraged to have my own faith because of the faith of my Jewish friends. I have been shown that faith isn’t something that is obligatory. It isn’t something that we have to have in order to survive; rather, it is something that we have because we have a burning desire within ourselves to follow God. Because we have nothing else that we would choose to follow. Many Christians feel as though they have to believe in the saving power of Jesus Christ because they simply can’t go to hell. Well that’s all good and fine, but you have to want it, not just have it because you’re entitled to it. It isn’t a matter of faith as something you are entitled to or you have to earn, but rather something you choose to assume because it means something to you. For a while, I believed things just because I thought I had to, not because I actually believed them, or even wanted to believe them. I’m not presupposing that Christians have it all wrong, or that their beliefs aren’t for the right reasons. Not what I am saying at all. What I mean to say is that we should believe for the same reasons that our other faith brothers and sisters believe – because we want to, not because we have to. Faith is something we choose, not something we are destined to have, or that we have to have. It is something that we grow and develop of our own choosing.

Hmmm…but what does this mean? How does my faith grow thanks to the faiths of my friends? I suppose the best answer I can give to this question is that my faith grows thanks to the faiths of my friends. Because I have friends who believe things that are both similar and different to what I believe, I am able to appreciate not only what I believe (and how it is significant to my life) but also how important what they believe is to them. By seeing other types of faiths and beliefs in action, I have more respect and understanding of exactly what I believe. For me, I have come to understand that I have the choice to believe what I feel led to believe, not what people tell me to. A friend of mine said it perfectly: I know exactly what I believe and why I believe it. No one told me one day that I had to believe certain things, I chose to believe them. If I don’t know where a prayer or a belief comes from, I won’t practice it until I understand fully why it exists and how it is significant to my practices.

I love that. I suggest that we all try that. Why believe something that we don’t actually have any connection to? Why not understand fully why we believe (or don’t) what we do before we preach it to others? Goal for the week. Game! Plan!

The First Step is Taken on a Friday Evening In The Month of April

I took a really big step last week, I thought you all should know. I signed up for my first seminary class. I decided a while back, upon the encouragement and advice of my minister and close friend, Cari, to sign up for summer language at PTS in order to get ahead on my denominational requirements. What are denominational requirements, you might ask? They are as they sound – the requirements of my denomination. Basically, if you want to be a legitimate ordained minister of a legitimate denominationally-supported church, you have to go to seminary, and in the meantime, fulfill certain requirements so that I can be a properly trained minister. That probably made no sense. Ok, in layman’s terms, throughout my three years at PTS, I have to take certain classes to fulfill my master’s degree requirements, and then I have a set of other requirements that my church wants me to fulfill. Those are my denominational requirements. What they are, specifically, I have no idea.

But all I do know is that Biblical Greek could potentially be one. So here I am, on a Friday night, signing up for Biblical Greek in the living room of Morris House on Green Street in Northampton, Massachusetts. I expected the experience to be something out of a movie. Picture it: A girl opens her email, and all of a sudden, THERE IT IS. The email she had been waiting for, telling her that she could sign up for whatever it is that she needs to (or rather has dreamed about, and wants to) register for. She opens up the email, and all of a sudden, there is a spotlight, and wind (inside her room, obviously…), and as she clicks on the email, 2001: A Space Odyssey’s theme song begins to play. NOPE. That’s not my experience. It all happened in the matter of moments, very anti-climactic. No epic music, no indoor wind, no bright lights. Just a few clicks, and a few clicks of the refresh button (because I totally fail at the internet sometimes), and it was all over. Just like that.

I don’t know, I guess I expected that it would be epic, or at least mark the beginning of my life – the beginning of the life I have always wanted for myself. But no. It was over and done with in a matter of moments. I was waiting for something to hit me, for something to change. But I’m the same old me as I was before I registered for Greek on that Friday a few weeks ago. But at the same time, I am a little bit different. Each step I take toward seminary, I become a little bit different, or rather, I begin to see the world a little differently; or rather, I see the world through the lens of who I wish to become, or rather someone I hope to become. As I can’t predict who I will be in three years when I graduate from seminary, nor can I necessarily change the passage of time itself, I can make some predictions as to who I will become based upon my fundamental likes and dislikes.

But all that aside, I cannot believe that I have crossed that first milestone already. I start seminary on the 11th of July. WOW. Something about this milestone proves especially striking for me. While I will be there, chapel will be an everyday part of my existence. Each day, 5 days a week, PTS holds a chapel service on campus, and time on campus stands still during this period of our days. On my visit to PTS back in October, the importance of chapel in the lives of the PTS students was extremely evident. In the morning, students filed in from everywhere on campus, leaving their “worldly possessions” on the front steps. I thought this to be a strange custom – not only that chapel happened, and that many of the students attended, but also that they all left their bags outside for the world to see. My guide, who was such a blessing on that day for countless reasons, told me quietly that the purpose behind this act was to symbolize leaving our burdens and worldly possessions outside the house of the Lord while we worshipped. WOW. What a thought. I never thought about it all this way. How I had brought in my worldly baggage with me to church for countless years. But forget that idea, it was just interesting that for so many of the seminary students on campus, the act of going to chapel daily shaped their schedules. In fact, the seminary doesn’t schedule anything – classes, meetings, meals, ANYTHING – during chapel so that students don’t feel as though they have to skip their worship time with God.

For me, this whole concept is mind blowing, as never in my life has chapel been a daily presence. I wonder. Am I going to embrace this daily opportunity to praise God for all the blessings in my life, or am I, as time goes by and my time at seminary draws slowly to a close, going to abandon this daily ritual in favor of, say, sleep, writing a paper, or my seemingly endless CPE requirements? I have so many times adopted these more rigorous religious plans with the hopes that it will become a part of my daily devotional life, only to give up a few days later out of complete frustration or pure exhaustion. Will this be the same thing as my Lenten project for this year? (BTW, I tried to do twice daily  devotions and listen to a sermon in order to glean something sophisticated about my faith. After 4 days, I totally gave up. Can’t tell you why, but I just did.) Will chapel go the same way that my devotions did? (And so many devotions before?) I hope not, and part of me knows that it probably won’t, as it will be a part of my education, not simply something I’m trying to do without much motivation. And also, this time, I won’t be going at my devotional life alone. There are approximately 125 people in my incoming seminary class, and most of them will be joining me in the pews of PTS’s chapel at least once a week. And knowing that I won’t have to be going at it completely alone makes it far more sustainable. It also makes it far more fun! I will be able to express my faith and how much I love God with people who feel much the same way.

But who knows how it will all end up. Right now, it is just speculation. But as I like to say, it all begins with a simple click of the mouse – when I registered for Biblical Greek on a Friday evening in the month of April.