Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Day 24: On Slacking Off....

I have been woefully remiss. Lenten discipline fail. Having spring break fall within the season of Lent proved just as troublesome as the first UNC-Dook game falling on Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day falling on Lent day #2 (for those who gave up chocolate). As hard as this discipline has been for me, I also know that writing reflectively has been incredibly helpful and has opened a true lens of introspection that I desperately need. So this is me trying to jump back on the wagon of my Lenten discipline. (Bear with me: though spring break is now over, I’ve picked up another distraction along the way. A 6’3 distraction. Oh dear. )

Though it is in no way the same, here are the highlights from these days I’ve missed:

Day 16 (Mar 2)          
I successfully completed my first 10K! And in the snow, no less! This was a 2012 goal of mine that I rolled over into the new year, but I’m proud for finally pushing myself to do this and knocking it out of the park! I managed to run the whole thing and kept a much better pace than I anticipated. I know if I really commit to a training schedule, I could tackle a half marathon sometime in the next year. (Well wishes to two friends running a marathon this weekend!)

Sunday repost (Mar 3)
An old blog post (from 8-29-10) on the rhythms of running and of life

Day 17 (Mar 4)
Mom was in town for the weekend and we shared brunch at one of my favorite Atlanta spots. Nutella and banana pancakes FTW J

Day 18 (Mar 5)
A delightful day during which I met three friends for coffee/froyo/dinner back to back. I always love being reminded of the wonderful friendships I have built over the past 3-4 years in Atlanta. Also, all three of these get-togethers were with guy friends. I never used to have many guy friends, but post-seminary, I have a lot. Less drama. More honesty. I like it.

Day 19 (Mar 6)
A day at home. Got lots of chores done (amazing how satisfactory this can be!) and then made lasagna for 15 people! My small group came over for dinner and there is nothing more uplifting than a house full of dear friends, food, and good conversation.

Day 20 (Mar 7)
Mobile-bound! Addie and I drove down to southern Alabama to visit my former roommate and Candler bestie, Amanda (and her dear husband). We shared a pitcher of margaritas and swapped stories. I love falling back into the rhythm of a friendship so easily.

Day 21 (Mar 8)
Tour of Mobile’s hot spots with Amanda and Jody! It was a beautiful day and we spent a good portion of it outside. I love these two so much! And Mobile is a pretty fun town. One of the highlights of the day was seeing a movie in a downtown one-screen theater. We got there early enough to get the “good” seats—leather recliners right down front! Add to that a cold bottle of beer and some popcorn, and there isn’t much else I could ask for!

Day 22 (Mar 9)
Amanda and I spent the morning getting pedicures (always a treat) and then I said goodbye. It’s hard to only visit for a short while, but Addie and I had to get back for church on Sunday morning. The drive wasn’t too bad—just looong.

Sunday repost (Mar 10)
An old blog post (from 12-23-09), including another small town theater. 

Day 23 (Mar 11)
Back to school! 6am came early but it’s been nice to get back into the swing of things. I’ve been feeling a little under the weather the past few days, so getting going early on Monday was tough. After picking up some Allegra-D, it’s been a good week! I feel like we’re in the home stretch of the school year, as crazy as that seems. Granted, there is still a lot of time left before June. But our major breaks are over (we do have a long weekend for Easter), so in many ways it is just one big push to the end. Everyone keeps telling me how time flies after spring break. Hard to believe I’ll soon have my first year of teaching under my belt. It’s been quite a year—many transitions, of all sorts, but I am content and thankful as I sit here today reflecting back on it all—and that is a very good feeling J No matter the breakups, no matter the people who still won’t smile at me in the halls at school, life really is pretty good. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Day 15: Fifth Grade Artwork

I'm working on a Stations of the Cross project with my 5th graders. Part of the project will involve each of them drawing their own image of one of the stations. I wanted to share a few of these today because I think they're turning out pretty well.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Day 14: On Fasting

Isaiah 55 is one of my very favorite passages in the entire Bible. So, when I saw that it was one of the lectionary texts for Sunday, I knew I wanted to write this week’s reflection on it, even though I’ve engaged this text several times previously. I wrote my first exegetical paper of my seminary career on this text, and I preached on it a couple years ago, too, when the lectionary paired it with the story of Jesus feeding the 5000. This passage is so rich with imagery that it’s refreshing to return to it again and again.

Here are verses 1 and 2 only. The whole passage is beautiful but today I found enough to ponder in the opening lines:

“Ho, everyone who thirsts,
   come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
   come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
   without money and without price.
 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
   and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
   and delight yourselves in rich food. “

It makes sense to read this passage during Lent. This opening stanza invites those who are hungry and thirsty to come and eat and drink without money. In a season of fasting, to hear this call to come and dine at a banquet table is a beautiful reminder of the abundance God intends for each of us. Yet what does it mean to read this passage when one truly does not have enough food, or enough money to buy basic necessities, or access to clean drinking water? When I read the opening verses of Isaiah 55, I can enjoy the imagery and delight in the promises offered there, mostly because the language is lovely and because it offers an idyllic, pastoral image of the kingdom of God. But I do have food, and money, and water and wine. I want for nothing. What might it mean for those for whom these seemingly rhetorical questions echo in the reality of the present? Is it beautiful or does it serve as a stark reminder that one is hungry?  

These thoughts have led me to the question, is fasting itself not a privilege? The idea of denying oneself, especially from an overindulgence (chocolate/sweets, fast food, soda, etc), implies that there is opportunity to abuse something which one has access to in abundance. What of those whose fasts are not voluntary? What might they make of this practice of giving up these nonessential luxury goods as a means of spiritual practice? There’s something deeply ironic about that. I know the popular practice of Lenten fasting has devolved a bit from the truest intent of the practice of fasting, so perhaps the irony is most at home within our American-Christian manipulation of a meaningful spiritual discipline, but I still think that any form of voluntary fasting might be considered a privilege or serve as a reminder of the blessings one normally has at ones disposal to enjoy.

I think these opening verses of Isaiah 55 shouldn’t just be read with a spiritual understanding of feasting. I believe God’s promises here are very corporal. As such, I think we can find in this passage a call to action. How can people on this earth, those who have no money and no food, experience the blessings this passage promises? It’s not enough to look forward to the “richest of fare” at a heavenly banquet when you are hungry right now. There are enough resources in the world to ensure that all people have just as equal and ample access to material blessings and they do to spiritual ones.

As many of us fast during Lent from things we experience in abundance, may we remember the great privilege it is to practice the self-denying exercise, for it means that there are things from which we must actively work to abstain. For those whose fasts are involuntary, we pray, that the promises of Isaiah 55 would be realized in the kingdom of this world. 

Day 13: On "Other" Religions

Okay, no excuses--late again. It's been a really full week--full of good stuff, but I've just been going from one thing to the next nonstop (wait, I think that was an excuse...). So for Wednesday's post, I decided to share the response I wrote to my student whose question I shared a few days ago. I came off pretty darn universalist in my answer, so I'm curious to hear what you think about my response. I think in wanting to encourage his spiritual curiosity and engagement, I decided to leave things open and make things possible instead of drawing boundary lines for thinking about other religions. I think this would likely be his natural tendency anyway, based on the nature of his question, but my hope for him is that he'll be able to engage other religions and enter inter-religious dialogue with an open mind instead of the foregone assumption of "as a Christian, I'm always right" or "as a Christian, my only job is to proselytize those of other faiths." Of course, you can't get into all the finer points of this huge theological issue in a brief note to a fourth grader, but this was my best shot.

Here's his question again: 

"How do we know God is real when so many other religions could be right, and [how do we know] there can be only one religion that can be right because if there was several, someone in the Bible like Joseph would write in the Bible, 'it is not just one religion that's right, there are millions that are right.' PS-I need this answer as soon as possible."

Dear M.,

Thank you for this good question. I will do my best to answer it—it’s not an easy question and many people spend a lot of time thinking about it. Here’s what I think:

I know sometimes we might hear that Christianity is the only religion that is right or is the only religion that can lead us to God. I disagree with this belief. Though I am a Christian and believe that the Christian way of doing things is the best way to encounter God for me, I think there is a lot of truth and good things about other religions. I do not think only one religion can be “right.” I also do not think that each religion is worshiping a different God. I think we all recognize the same God or divine being but we describe or understand God in different ways.

Imagine in your mind a mountain. Now picture God on the top of that mountain. There are many different “paths” or ways to climb the mountain—just like there are many different religions. Each path is going to be a little different and is going to have a different perspective or vision about what God looks like and what it takes to get to the top. But everyone sees God on the top of the mountain and wants to live life in a way that will bring him or her closer to God.

To answer your question about someone in the Bible, like Joseph, writing that only one religion can be right—remember that people in the Bible were just like you and me. Their understandings of God and of religion were not really any different or better than ours. They were people, too, and were trying to make sense of God and religion just like we are. Now the Bible certainly will argue that Christianity is the best religion (and some places in the Bible say this explicitly). Those are some of the hardest verses in the Bible for me to understand, personally. Again, I think it’s best to remember that even the Bible represents only one perspective or “path” up the mountain.

I hope this is somewhat helpful, M. If you would like to talk about it with me further, please feel free to ask. I am always available before or after school, or by email.

-Ms. Pierce


Thank you, Eric M., for the mountain metaphor :) 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Day 12: On Children's Chapel

I wanted to take some time today to share a little about my favorite part of my school week. Every Monday morning, we have two chapel services at school. The first is for grades 1-8. I participate in this service primarily as an assistant to the chaplain. The second service is for our Early Childhood students, who range in age from 3 to 7. In chapel, we are able to pause together and dwell within the wonder, curiosity, and awe that characterize the spirits of young children. Our service progresses through a simple order of prayers, songs, and readings that teaches children how to worship with both quiet reverence and joyous enthusiasm. Students participate in each element of chapel: from serving as acolytes to reciting the lines of a psalm or prayer, from singing joyfully to aiding in the telling of each week’s Bible story. As we learn together about God’s great love for us, our hope is that children will learn not only about God, Jesus, and all of God’s people, but also about their own hearts of worship.

I have more of a leadership role during the Early Childhood. I lead responsive prayers and Bible readings (our kids now know Psalm 100 and the Lord’s Prayer from memory as a result of this weekly service!), in addition to telling the Bible story most weeks. I leave this place renewed each week with the reminder of the great and joyful task with which I have been entrusted. I get to walk alongside these dear young children as they take the very beginning steps of their faith journeys. They are so alive and full of wonder, ready to absorb everything and question everything. To see them gathered together in one space is a beautiful vision of the kingdom—a reminder that Jesus calls each of us to be like little children if we are to enter the kingdom ourselves.

It is my every hope that SOMEDAY the children’s ministry at Eastside can support a children’s chapel of this caliber. It is so important for children not only to learn together, but worship together. It is a good goal to work toward as our church continues to grow. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Day 11: On Communion

There are so many ways we can experience the sacred in this world, even within the parameters of one act, repeated again and again—a ritual. Over the last two days, I have seen God in profound new ways within the ritual of communion.

One of the things I love most about my church is that we celebrate communion together each week. This is somewhat abnormal for Methodists. Even more so for that reason, I think, do I appreciate the time being taken for this ritual in each and every service.

Yesterday, following a sermon on the pure in heart (Mt. 5:8) and a beautiful time of reflection and prayer led by a friend (who happened to be liturgist), I was feeling a little bit worn down on myself. That’s happened several times lately—the sanctuary at Eastside is so tangibly sacred to me and I get this sense of myself that wells up and I become aware of every imperfection, mistake, and regret because it stands so starkly in contrast to the beauty of worship and community and God’s self, there among it all. (This has been a largely healthy in-tune-ness with myself, I think—it’s good that I’ve allowed myself to feel those things). This stark self-awareness was expressed yesterday through the repetition in prayer of the phrase, “Woe to me, I am a woman of unclean lips.” This is a phrase taken from the prophet Isaiah’s call narrative, in Isaiah 6, in which Isaiah approaches the throne of God and thusly bewails his inadequacy to be there. Woe to me, he says, I daren’t even approach the place of God’s dwelling due to my uncleanliness and profanity. How deeply true I felt that to be of myself yesterday. And as this phrase echoed in my mind in the moments leading up to the celebration of communion, I saw in a new way how terribly unworthy I am to be loved by such a holy God. And yet I am offered a place at the table of grace, I share in this holy meal. Me, the woman of unclean lips, tastes and shares in the feast of God. Somehow, the implications of that paradox of grace struck me in a new and mighty way yesterday—this paradox that is always and constantly true.

During the communion liturgy, we sing a sanctus hymn that also has resonances in Isaiah 6. “Holy you are/you are holy.” This is my favorite part of the liturgy because, besides being a huge fan of actually singing the responses, I also find something despairingly beautiful about the way in which we, profane beings save for God’s grace, gather together to hymn the ineffable holiness of our great God. We join together in doing so, as the liturgy says, with all the host of heaven and earth—I love that, too.

My experience of communion at church on Sunday was primarily that of a recipient. Today, in school chapel, we had a Eucharist service during I served as one of the chalice bearers. I’ve always been touched by the act of serving communion, and it is no exception to serve hundreds of young children, many of whom are students of mine. I am again humbled to be a part of this great mystery during which God draws so near to us, regardless of who we are or what it is that we carry with us when we come.  

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sunday Re-post #2: The World's Parish

This afternoon at church I attended a membership class with a group of folks looking to call Eastside their home congregation. This kind of meeting necessarily entails a crash course in United Methodism, and my allegiance to the Methodist "tribe" (as Pastor Tim calls it) was invigorated. The whole conversation reminded me of this little ode to global Methodist connectionalism that I wrote upon returning from a trip to Indonesia in 2011. I decided to make that my Sunday re-post for today (Originally posted on Candler School of Theology's admission blog, June 3, 2011)

"Exploring the World's Parish: An Indonesian Journey"

The journeys God takes us on, and the unexpected pit stops along the way, are rarely ever dull, and rarer still are they purposeless. My recent trip to Indonesia with the World Methodist Evangelism Institute reminded me of this. Traveling with four fellow students, Candler professor Dr. Arun Jones, and a stellar team of Institute staff and volunteers, I spent ten days in capital city Jakarta learning about Christianity and ministry in the South Asian context. This was more than just an educational endeavor, however. In the truest sense of the word, travel itself is a process of self-refinement and personal growth.

This process began for me before we ever left Atlanta. I struggled with the conflicting desires of wanting to break out of my ordinary routine and wanting to stay safely within it. School had just ended for the summer and I craved the freedom of lazy evenings, fiction novels, and movie marathons. Instead, I was packing my bags for a seminar halfway across the world. A strange blend of emotions churned within me: the longing for adventure and new experiences mixed with an unsettling anxiety about traveling such a great distance and stepping so far outside my comfort zone.

Indonesia is about as far away in the world from Atlanta as you can go. However, after disembarking in Jakarta and spending ten days there, I came to discover that, in some ways, Indonesia is not so different from our fair southern state. In Indonesia, the air is just as heavy with humidity, the tea is just as sweet (though served piping hot!) and the hospitality is warm and welcoming. Our hosts made us feel right at home, even many thousands of miles away. For example, our host mother made us hamburgers and French fries for breakfast one morning! She also gifted one of us with a package of Kraft singles after he mused that he had been missing cheese. These seemingly small and somewhat quirky gifts of hospitality that brought a piece of America to Indonesia warmed our hearts as much as our later gifts of handmade traditional shawls that assured we would bring something of Indonesia back to America.

Many of my anxieties crumbled in the face of the overwhelming hospitality of my new Indonesian friends. What was left of my defenses toppled as I heard more and more ministry stories from local church leaders. There was the pastor who had baptized a young woman from a Muslim family who now has to mediate between her and her displeased father. Then there was the woman who is pastoring in an area devastated by a recent volcanic explosion; she loves and cares for her neighbors (physically and spiritually) without expecting anything in return. There was also the passionate young pastor with a skill for church planting who has his sights set next on the province of Papua. The challenges facing Indonesian pastors seem daunting to American Christians whose greatest fears in evangelism are embarrassment and rejection; Indonesian Christians work within a majority Muslim context in which Christianity is still considered taboo from its colonial associations. Yet these Methodist pastors are filled with God’s fire and minister to their communities with a zeal that would make John Wesley proud.

Before we left Atlanta, our group was asked to share what our greatest expectation was for the trip—our purpose in going. My answer was that, as an aspiring United Methodist minister, I have a responsibility to engage myself in the work of the global church. No Methodist pastor is an island, to borrow from Donne, and our connectional ties should extend beyond annual conference lines. To be a Methodist minister anywhere implies a bond with Methodist ministers everywhere. The struggles and triumphs of my Indonesian brothers and sisters should be mine, and mine theirs. I found this to be overwhelmingly the case; my greatest teachers were the pastors in my Wesley group (a small group of intimate sharing and accountability) during the seminar. They candidly shared the stories of their ministries and exposed their own vulnerabilities and challenges. Not only will I always remember them in my prayers, but I will remember them also during my studies of preparation for ministry. They are my ‘on-the-ground’ teachers, the ones who have shown me what passion for ministry looks like.

There are great things happening in Indonesia. And it is amazing how God can use a powerful tide of faith in a distant country to impact the singular faith journey of this one seminary student. With one more year of school before me and the looming question of “what’s next?” pressing ever closer, there are as many challenging months before me as there are behind. But I have been renewed in the living remembrance of what ministry is all about: living a passionate, infectious life of discipleship. It has taken a journey away from the familiarity of home to show me how to renew the faithfulness of my life and service. Our home environments can easily become all too comfortable so that even the most stretching of callings—that of the pastor—can ease into dull routine and habit. I thank God for the education that takes us outside of ourselves and shows us the bigger picture in which and towards which we are working: the very kingdom of God on earth.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Day 10: On Privilege

The experiences that started and ended my day were somewhat disparate.

This morning, I had to go into work (school) for a few hours. The school is reviewing new student applications for fall admission and there are two Saturdays in February when applicants come to the school for observation and testing. Lead teachers facilitate these observation days. I was paired with a first grade teacher and we were charged with seven first graders for the morning. This was, perhaps needless to say, my first time doing anything of this sort. Young children applying to school is a totally foreign concept to me, at least in my own upbringing and in that of most people I know. But I was quite impressed with these kids and their ability to play and test-take so naturally in this odd situation in which they are taken away from their parents for a couple hours, sent off with a group of strangers (children and adults) and made to write their alphabet and cut and paste pictures in sequence. All for a spot in a private school classroom. I can't help but wonder about the conversations parents must have with their children before a morning like this one. How do you prep a child for that? Do you prep them for that? I am not sorry to admit that this kind of thing wasn't my experience--I'm thankful that it was not. All the same, I wish only the best for these children and look forward to perhaps teaching some of them next year.

So, that's experience 1. Experience 2 was a documentary screening at Eastside called Traces of the Trade. It is the story of one woman and a group of her relatives who explored their family's involvement in the slave trade by traveling from Bristol, RI, to Ghana to Havana and back again.. The historical discoveries they make and they experiences they relive lead to, of course, the question of, "so what do we do now?" The film moved toward issues of racial reconciliation in the United States today and how we might grapple with our past in order to heal our present and shape our future. While this documentary presented an overwhelming array of topics worthy of discussion, many of us present at the screening were affected by the question of privilege. There was a scene at the end of the film when the family members had gathered together for conversation after their journey. Out of about 10 people seated at the dinner table, only one had not attended an Ivy League school. One of the men who, like his father, was a Harvard grad, repeatedly claimed that his admission to Harvard was not based on family or privilege but on work ethic. In our discussion after the film, the group almost unanimously saw this as one example of the blindness many people have to their own (white) privilege. There was so much more than hard work that affected this man's college trajectory--social location, family resources, quality of primary/secondary schools attended, etc. What about those who do not have these privileges? Are they truly given equal access to a school like Harvard? To any college  or university?

Of course, as this morning's experience shows all too well, I am in the business of nurturing and grooming the children of white privilege. And despite the change of perspective I've taken on my job recently (as described in my post a couple days ago), I cannot ignore the fact that I teach in a school that serves a very particular demographic and focuses primarily on making itself and only itself better. That is a culture in which I don't think I can healthily dwell for a long time. My career, my life's work, will be elsewhere, I feel sure of it. It seems, though, that I have decided to ignore the tension and dwell there for a time. I am left questioning, yet again, whether that is okay--whether it is okay to spend a season immersed in white privilege when there is so much more in the world to work for than a self-perpetuating system. What am I perpetuating by staying put?

Of course, films like this one raise many questions that quickly become overwhelming and have the capacity to render us incapable of any action because there seems to be simply too much injustice and too much work to be done. Our conversation shifted into the industries of modern slavery, and it is chilling and somewhat numbing to consider how almost everything we use/wear/eat/buy has some association with production involving unfair wages and/or slavery. Yet inaction cannot an option. The challenge, I believe, is in determining the small steps one can take towards justice--as one friend described tonight, it is important to decide each day to take one small action of change, to do one thing that will shift the tide of justice in the world. Asking oneself each morning, what is it I can do today to live more justly? To walk more humbly?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Day 9: On Questioning

In my classroom, I keep a question box on the bookshelf. My students know to write down any unanswered questions (from class, from church...anything remotely related to the subject of God/religion/Bible) on a slip of paper and drop it into the box. Before the next time I see them, I write an answer in return. The purpose of the box is two-fold, the first of which being that I can redirect tangential but important questions to the box and therefore stay on-task during a lesson. More importantly, though, the box is my chance to interact individually and directly with my students by responding to the deep spiritual questions that many of them harbor. I love engaging my students' real questions--I love that they are willing to ask difficult things and I love both the challenge and the ministry of answering.

Here's an example from today:

"How do we know God is real when so many other religions could be right, and [how do we know] there can be only one religion that can be right because if there was several, someone in the Bible like Joseph would write in the Bible, 'it is not just one religion that's right, there are millions that are right.' PS-I need this answer as soon as possible."

Y'all, my kids are asking this kind of stuff! 10 years old and thinking about inter-religious issues! That gives me such great hope for these children as individuals and as a generation of (faith) leaders. The boy who asked this question will not be content to let anyone else dictate what it is he is going to believe or support or rally behind. He wants to know why for himself.

My goal of nurturing critical thinkers is one of the things that I am most sure about in my teaching (with my older students particularly). If my students leave my classroom with nothing else, I want them to feel emboldened to ask deep questions--of the Bible, of religious tradition, of themselves.

What a deeply sacred thing I am privileged to be a part of as my student seeks an answer to this question My prayer is that I might answer faithfully. So, what would you say to him?


Then, of course, I do get the occasional question that reads more like this:

"Hi, ok next week can we watch the rest of the movie and where do you buy your clothes?"

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Day 8: On Perspective

This week has been a surprisingly good one. Might have something to do with the fact that there are only four work days that make it up. But I also think I feel better after unloading what I did in yesterday's post--both in writing and also in conversation with my supervisor. Putting those thoughts out in the universe have somehow given me some peace and clarity about what it is I'm doing. I feel like I might have finally started to climb out of the rut I have been sitting in for the last month or so. I am trying to change my perspective and begin to enjoy again the work that I do. To find joy in it.

For example, today I created the outline of a boat with masking tape on the rug in my classroom. Two classes of four year olds climbed aboard and we told the story of Jesus calming the storm (rain stick and wind/thunder sound effects included). Now, granted that is a little silly and absurd, but given the right perspective, it also kind of awesome. The kids had fun. I had fun. They understood the story by stepping into it.

Today I also started a new unit with my fourth grade classes on Psalms. For the past two years, during Lent, I have taught an adult Bible study on the psalms of lament and on the ways in which these psalms can be used as a point of access to the sufferings of Jesus and to our own human condition. Since my fourth graders are studying the Hebrew Scriptures all year anyway, I decided to adapt this Lenten study to their age level by letting this be our primary means of studying the psalms. This morning, after teaching the first fourth grade class, I realized how much I truly love this topic. I suddenly considered the possibility of writing it down someday in more systematic fashion...i.e., letting it be the inaugural edition of a Beth Moore-esque empire of b-stud curricula I will one day pen (one of my many life plans). It feels really good to believe so strongly in something that you are teaching. And it is a good reminder for me to note that everything I'm teaching to my kids, be it through an imaginary boat ride or an in-depth look at the darkest of psalmic prayers, everything I teach (despite myself, more often than not) can be a point of entry for these children to know God and themselves a little better. And that may not be world-changing. And there may be more important work to be done--that I could be doing. I don't doubt that one bit. But I do have my whole life to discover what that is and to go do it. For now, this is where I am. I am so thankful and privileged to be the teacher of all 300 of those stinkin' kids I see each week. And there is some good being done in it. Perhaps a great deal of good for some. This is the perspective I want to maintain.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Day 7: On Community

This morning, in a one-on-one department meeting-turned-confessional, my supervisor asked me if I was happy with my job. I opened up to her about some of my first-year struggles at the school where I work. It felt good to get some of it off my chest with a person who is within the same community and has the additional wisdom and insight of years of experience there. What challenged me about our conversation is this tension I have between wanting to be a part of my workplace community while not wanting to be a part of it because I find it unhealthy. I want to be a part of it because it is where I spend much of my time during the week, and because I value people and collaboration and relationship. Yet I have grown increasingly wary of the worldview this community promotes and the people who so clearly live within that mindset that I want to push against.

I’ve talked with a number of friends and confidantes about how I feel at odds with the culture of this school. I think that has to do with its geographical location, the demographics of the population it serves (which in many cases is also that of its employees), and its identity as a private school. This is not a world with which I’m familiar, and it’s been a difficult culture to break into as a first year teacher. What I’m questioning is, how much do I want to break into it? How much effort do I make to nudge my way in? The real question is this, why should I change myself to fit in with a place and a people that I would otherwise avoid? That sounds really harsh, but, quite frankly, I’m not into the exclusivist, elitist, narcissistic mentality that permeates this place. I don’t even want to pretend to be someone like that (and even if I tried, I know I would fail), nor do I want to promote that kind of living and lifestyle. Everything about it seems to run contrary to kingdom living, which I am far from “having down” but am at least on a lifetime journey of working toward. With my students, I’m doing my best to offer the proverbial yeast of the kingdom that subverts these dominant patterns of thinking and living, but with myself? Staying true to myself and not “playing the game” has led me to feel rather isolated. I miss being in a place where community is valued and people aren’t afraid to share real, mature conversations. I miss being in a workplace with people I love, even when personalities grate against one another or disagreements are had.

It does make me wonder, though—the other communities in which I have been and am currently involved, are these truly inclusive communities, or do I just “fit the mold” in those places, whereas I don’t at work? And in those communities that feel so healthy and good to me, who might be feeling left out? I’d like to think that no one is made to feel that way within the communities that I proudly call my own, and I think of myself as someone who works hard to include everyone. Yet I do want to acknowledge the capacity of all communities (and the people that make them up) to foster in-groups and out-groups. Hopefully my negative experiences of community at my current workplace will lead me to work even harder to build healthy, inclusive communities in the places where I do thrive.

But, the pressing question is, how do I make the most of the workplace in which I find myself? It is what it is (one of my favorite quips), and I’m going to be here for a little while, at least. I’m definitely not going to be untrue to myself in an attempt to befriend people who don’t really like me (and the feeling is mutual), but I also don’t want to be a standoffish bitch or self-isolating loner. It’s hard when being yourself, which in my case normally does enough in the way of making friends (i.e., being friendly, kind, a good listener), has proved somewhat futile. It all has felt very adolescent, a place where you feel pushed to be someone you’re not in order to fit in with people who will probably reject you anyway. I don’t want to play those games. I’m a 27 year old woman, for goodness’ sake. Perhaps my most productive moves will be to work harder to cultivate relationships with those people who are kind and genuine here. They certainly are present at this school, and too often I allow the negative experiences to cloud my perspective on the people here as a whole. I could do better at investing in those relationships that show potential. I know there has come a point when I’ve wanted to stop trying at all because I’ve been so wearied by it all, but I know I need to push myself past that and find the good that is here.

At the end of this reflection (rant?), I must give pause to say how much I deeply love and cherish each of you that I call friend. You make my days so rich and I am so thankful to share life with each of you, in small ways and in big ways. When I have hard days at work because people are mean, I look forward to the renewing community of fro-yo dates, one-on-one conversations over coffee or beer, girls’ nights, small group meetings, lunch after church, heart-to-hearts and soul-searchings. I could not get through this thing called life without you, and I am so thankful to know that I can expect something better than crappy community because I know genuine community exists. Thank you for upholding my faith in the loveliness of people and in the capacity people have to truly care for one another. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Day 6: On Jesus' Lament over Jerusalem

Last night, I visited a small group meeting with friends from a previous church. I used to attend this group more regularly before I started working at Oakhurst and became involved in a fellowship group there. Thankful to be among good friends, I was also reminded of the importance of the lectionary cycle. We discussed together the story from Luke 13 in which Jesus laments over Jerusalem. At first read, this is a fairly strange text. It’s not one that is particularly memorable, nor is it easily understood. I struggled with it initially, and at first rather resisted pulling for myself something meaningful from it. Herein lies the value of reading (and preaching) based on the lectionary—a text that I would have otherwise passed over became the focal point of a group discussion and proved to be quite a fruitful passage. I was thus reminded also of the value of conversing over the biblical texts—multiple perspectives add much value and insight to challenging and straightforward texts alike.

The text: (NRSV)

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’ He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox for me, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.” Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” 

We have here an odd little exchange between the religious leaders and Jesus. The Pharisees prod Jesus with a veiled threat of death, and Jesus responds rather snappily. It’s somewhat startling to find the insult of “fox” in Jesus’ speech; here we have the righteously indignant Jesus who liked to flip tables and curse unsuspecting fig trees. To Herod the fox, and more pointedly to his Pharisaic messengers, Jesus offers another foretelling of his death. He speaks strangely of his ministry that will happen for the next two days, which on the third day will be finished, or, as rendered in the Greek, will be perfected. Again, he (or, more properly, Luke) repeats the three day motif, this time referring more directly to the propensity of Jerusalem, the holy city, for killing prophets.

He weeps for the city, as so many of his prophetic forebears did, and for the people it represents. Then we have this beautiful image of the mother hen, the second animal metaphor in the passage. Jesus as hen contrasts sharply with Herod as fox. And despite the warm, feathery pleasantness of this image Jesus offers, the truth behind it is that chickens (read—us! The Pharisees, the people of Jerusalem) resist the comfort and protection of the hen’s wings. As Ashley (last night’s discussion leader) described, chickens tend to scatter when mama tries to shelter them from the rain. And though their downy feathers absorb water while a hen’s feathers repel it, they know nothing better than to scamper about freely, soaking wet and alone.

As Ashley described these poor chicks who just don’t know what is best for them, I was reminded of my Ash Wednesday discussion with my fifth grade students last week. I asked them if they knew from where Ash Wednesday ashes typically come—and most of them did: from Palm Sunday’s palms. But fewer of them could articulate why this is a traditional practice (and fairly so, it’s a difficult concept). My best description of it was this: that using these celebratory palms in is a reminder of the cycles of life—birth and death, joy and sorrow, forgiveness and penitence. The Palm Sunday ashes also allude to the capacity that lies within each of us to love and to hate, to worship and to crucify. My students understood, of course, that we can make both good and bad decisions, that we are people who are neither perfectly good nor perfectly bad. Burning the triumphant palms into penitent ashes reminds us of our humanness, our imperfections, our hypocrisies. We at once can see the merit of drawing under the wings of Jesus, our mother hen, while also desiring the freedom of running free in the rain, no matter what discomfort or harm it will bring to ourselves.

And isn’t it something that Jesus weeps for the very city—the very people—that will soon take his life. He mourns their rejection, their blindness to the greater truth that his resurrection will reveal. The persecuted one laments the persecutors. I believe he weeps for us still. We are too stubborn to see the one God has sent, still. The good news, of course, is that we will get to see Jesus with fresh eyes on Easter morning, once again given the same chance, like the people of Jerusalem so long ago, to see what it is we are foolishly missing as squawk about in the rain.  

Monday, February 18, 2013

Day 5: On Re-prioritizing

I had the day off today, so I have no excuse for it being 10:20 (bedtime!) and I'm just now sitting down to write this blog entry. I had, of course, good intentions to write it earlier...but then didn't. I think I'm realizing this project is going to be a little harder than I thought. I am actually going to have to work to make changes in my daily schedule to have time to write. Today, I had plenty of time. Sure, I had things to do--errands, church work, small group, exercise--but I didn't use the free time I did have productively.

I think I'm still in a post-grad school rebellion phase where if I don't "have" to do something, then I'm just not going to do it. I'm going to read, or waste time on the computer, or doze in front of CNN while making a grocery list. I need to rediscover the intrinsic motivation of prioritizing the healthier, self-edifying, productive behaviors over the lazy and relaxing ones.

Tomorrow, a lectionary reflection--promise! And I still have several stories from my students piled up from last week that I haven't yet shared (involving sharks and zombies, among other things). Better blogging to come--this discipline will get better!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sunday re-post #1: God Our Mother

Today's Sunday re-post is brought to you from February 23, 2010 (I struggle to believe 2010 has already been three years ago!). This is one of my favorite entries from my first year of seminary because it captures, with the fresh excitement of new insight and possibility, that moment when I first encountered a theological idea that has since grown and developed into something that is foundational to my understanding of God--namely, that God is not a man and our male-saturated religious language is both idolatrous and potentially harmful. Language and words are so powerful, and what we say has deep implications for all those who hear it--especially in something like liturgy that is repeated and internalized. I have enjoyed the process of rethinking the language that I myself use (and am thankful to be in a church where gender-inclusive language for both God and collective humanity is intentionally spoken and sung). As a religious educator, I know the most consistent lesson I can offer my students is to speak with intention about who God is. It is fascinating, though, to hear even the youngest of my students (3 year olds at St. Martin's) call God "man." At times, I am exasperated with how innately ingrained this image of God seems to be--it is a true testimony to the pervasiveness  of patriarchal language and imagery within our culture's religious imagination. If I can influence even ONE student to consider God as something more than just "He," I will consider the endeavor well spent--and not because I just want to be some bra-burning feminist who rages against the patriarchal machine for the sake of it, but because I want my students to know a God who is bigger than anything we can understand or imagine. I want my students to know that God is not limited by gender or family roles, God is not contained by our metaphors or explanations.

And now, the original post:

"God Our Mother" --February 23, 2010

This weekend, in the middle of a two week discussion on God and gender in my 'Images of God' class, I attended church on Sunday morning at Haygood UMC, which is where I'll be serving next year for my contextual education internship. As we progressed through the traditional elements of the service--the Apostles' Creed, the doxology, the gloria patri---I was starkly aware of the proliferation of God-language as father. I mean, this should have been pretty obvious (even in the title of one...gloria patri = dead giveaway) and this is the language that I've always heard and been perfectly comfortable with. But it's funny how focusing on the overuse of masculine language for God in classroom theorizing will immediately highlight the reality of it in practice. My question on Sunday was why? There's no real reason for the creed to say, "I believe in God the father, maker of heaven and earth" instead of, "I believe in God, maker of heaven and earth."

Where does this imagery come from? Certainly it's legitimate--I'm not questioning that. Jesus called God, "father,"  and in our traditional Trinitarian understanding, God is father to Christ the Son. Yet a deeper look at biblical imagery will certainly reveal a God that is not all male. For just a few examples, consider Wisdom-Sophia, consider the maternal imagery of second Isaiah, and of course consider both male and female as the imago Dei in the creation account.

The key point is this: all these images for God are just that--images, metaphors. God is beyond comprehension, beyond definition, beyond gender. When we assign these roles to God--father, mother, and so on--we are only trying to conceptualize the inconceivable. The danger comes in focusing too heavily on any one of these images. Recall the second of the ten commandments: you shall not make for yourself an idol. What else are we doing when we focus exclusively on one image of God, which is, again, a mere means for representing the divine--what else are we doing but creating an idol? God is father, yes, but not just that. God is so very much more. We are limiting God by calling God only father. It is an idol of our understanding, of our tradition, of our patriarchy.

I willingly admit that I have trouble with this. I am extremely comfortable with calling God, "father" and have never had problems with imaging God as male. I find it challenging to picture God as female, to call God, "her" or "mother." But it is this very discomfort that awakens me to my own idolatry of God as male and challenges me further to enlarge my understanding of God, to draw closer to the holy mystery by exploring other metaphors and images of God.

The practical question is this: how, as a future church leader, can I bring this notion into a congregational setting? You can't just up and pray in front of a roomful of unsuspecting parishioners  "God our mother" or repeatedly drop "She" as the divine pronoun. I think it would be healthy for us to get to a place where we do feel comfortable making those adjustments, but you can't make such a drastic shift without losing everyone in the process. Pushing these boundaries of our understandings of the divine can't happen overnight. I wonder where to start though--I imagine it will be in one-on-one conversations or smaller group discussions. There's plenty of things I would want to do if I were to go home and plan/lead a service at my home church, but I might be chased out with torches and pitchforks and dropped into the lake with a stone around my ankles. We discussed this particular challenge at a recent religious education retreat I attended, and one solution is called innovative traditioning. You've got to start with what people know, and then tweak it.

I may not probe too deep into this next issue right now (I've got OT midterm studying to do that I've been expertly avoiding thus far), but another big part of this discussion is how exclusivist male imagery for God has become oppressive and subordinating to women. We are cast as the 'anti-image' of God and cannot know fully what it means to share in the divine being if God is father. I do not think this is a biblical intent, but it has certainly become a historical reality. And while we explore different metaphors, images, and language for the holy mystery, the divine other that is God, I hope, too, we can return to Scripture and look at it with new eyes, with the lens of patriarchy removed, and find in its pages a God who deeply cares about all people, not just white males. I say this because a couple of weeks ago, someone in our class suggested wishfully that we should just rewrite Scripture as a means of correcting these gender imbalances. It was almost funny how my body instinctively reacted to this proposal--I got hot and my face turned red and I had to take a few deep breaths! I don't think we're in any place to rewrite what has been given us. We just need to start treating it as the holy word that it is, instead of as an instrument of exploitation and oppression.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Day 4--On the Joys of Babysitting 40 Kids in an Evening

Good news: my Valentine's Day karma has been restored after the gripe-fest of my previous post. I stopped sulking and put myself to good use by helping others enjoy a Valentine's date. Earlier this evening, the church formally know as Oakhurst hosted a Parents' Night Out event for families in our community. Our church space was filled with 40 kids, ages 1-10, many of whom were not members or attendees of the church. This was the first special event I have planned as Children's Minister at Oakhurst, and I am so thrilled at the success of the evening, which is owed entirely to the fabulous team of volunteers who wrangled kids for 2.5 hours, and then stayed to clean up and reset the church for tomorrow morning's services.

I saw community emerge on so many levels tonight--in said team of volunteers, in the groups of children who are so quick to make new friends, in the core group of our church's parents who dropped off their kids and invited their neighbors to participate, and in our church's larger place in the Oakhurst community. It is such a rich blessing to stand at the intersection of all these communities and to just be a part of each one for at least an evening.

I think I was most moved this evening by witnessing one of Oakhurst's core church members sharing with visiting parents his love for the worship community he had found at the church. He invited them to join us for worship on Sunday mornings with such moving authenticity, apparent to all involved in the conversation--his motivation was only for others to experience the renewal and rebirth he himself had found with the walls of Oakhurst Church. It reminded me that "outreach" doesn't have to be tainted with this baggage of proselytism and agenda-keeping that I, for one, so often attach to it. Outreach is about being a genuine participant in more than one community, and by inhabiting these spaces genuinely, the movement between and among them-- church and neighborhood, for example-- is seamless.  I am thankful that the name and presence of our church was shared this evening, in the hope that we can grow in community with more and more of those who surround us.

Day 3: On Things Lately (A Little Late)

Well, only three days in and I'm already late with a post. I'm going to cut myself some slack because, (1) between waking and sleeping, I  was only home for all of 15 minutes yesterday and, (2) I think the addition of a Lenten discipline is something one has to grow into. Unlike a fast, where stamina and perseverance are stronger at the beginning of the forty days, a new discipline is a practice that has to be adopted, put on, broken in. I think it's going to take me some time to step back into this practice of writing , and hopefully I'll get better and more disciplined about it as Lent progresses. But, despite the lateness of this post, I can honestly say that my daily writing is already something I'm thinking about consistently and looking forward to completing. I'm excited again to sit down and share my thoughts. So for that reason, I think I'm on the right track.

But, because this is indeed a late post, I've decided to challenge myself in an additional way in writing it. These last two days have been difficult for me and I want to wade into why that has been so.  I'm nervous to do so because these forthcoming thoughts betray things about myself that I'd rather prefer to keep tucked away. However, I intend this writing project to be an outlet for my thoughts, my musings, my frustrations, my questions--I want these things to flow freely out of myself instead of remaining bottled up inside. So here's to the version of myself that doesn't have it all together, that isn't tied up with a neat bow. Here's to that person who still lacks much of the confidence and surety of self and purpose that she so strongly desires.

I'm almost embarrassed to admit that my most recent undoing has been a result of Valentine's Day. No, make that a definite embarrassment to admit that. I would fancy myself stronger than one who is emotionally subject to the practice of this odd cultural phenomenon we deem "holiday." I do think it's nice that we have a day to celebrate love and one another--to honor caring relationships of all sorts. But I don't like the pressure that accompanies it all, this forced definition of self based on one's present engagement in relationship.

To me, Valentine’s Day without a Valentine is like public speaking—it’s not something that I fear or despise with any rational part of my being, but when the moment is upon you, some innate instinct takes over and you find yourself with sweaty palms, churning stomach, and pounding heart without really knowing why. In the same way that the idea of standing up and speaking before a room full of people doesn't intimidate me until those awful moments right before beginning, neither does Valentine’s Day—in theory--challenge my sense of confidence, poise, or self-hood. However, once the day is upon you, some psychosocial compulsion creeps in to say how unlikable you must be if you are not receiving flowers and candy from an ardent admirer. Ridiculous, nonsensical. Stupidly true. 

On Thursday, I found myself slapped with thoughts and memories about the man with whom I spent the last two Valentine's Days. Emotions that I considered put to rest resurfaced--and though this was somewhat difficult of a process, largely because I wasn't expecting to go through it, it did reaffirm for me that I had something good for a time. I can look back with a removed contentedness that does honor to the time we spent together and to the deep goodness of that person. But at the same time, I know that no matter his goodness or the fondness of the memories, we were all wrong together and are both healthier people apart from one another. 

Then I have these feelings in which I dwell less contently. Over the last two days, I've realized that I'm still harboring a good deal of anger and hurt from the way a more recent dating relationship ended. It feels so polluting to find this anger still within me. I want so badly for it to be purged because it's not worth any more of my energy. Yet I have been forced to face the fact that it's still there. I think what I'm struggling with the most is the continued power I let another person have over me. I hold on to the hope that some healthy resolution will still be made, but by so doing, I permit myself to be angry until that point when wrongs are righted with an apology or an explanation or some show of remorse. But that's nothing more than a continued submission of self to waiting on someone else's choices. That point of resolution may never come. I think one of the biggest things I learned from my  two year relationship is that you simply cannot control another person. Even in relationships, we are all individuals and have the power and the right to make our own decisions. 

Enough wallowing in things gone by. This is me right now--confidence marred, fearful of being hurt, weary of anger..yet still desiring the relationship that one day that will be good and mutual and right. I think that's one of the beautiful things about being people of a God who desires relationship: even when the muck of failed relationships (of all sorts) swells up, we have hope and promise and knowledge that there is something truer-- between one another, in community, and with God. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Day 2: A Few Thoughts on Ash Wednesday

This week has been one chock full of holidays and important events. Fat Tuesday. State of the Union. Ash Wednesday. UNC-vs.-Dook Day (yes, that counts). Valentine’s Day. Presidents’ Day. I’ve found it funny because these holidays are colored by such different outlooks on life, such different ways of living and being in the world (though not completely disconnected from one another). The sobering transition between Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday is, of course, yearly and intentional. The others aren’t always juxtaposed quite so. For example, last night, I really did struggle to return home from an Ash Wednesday service and from a day of talking to my students about penitence and solemnity, to suddenly shift gears into a smack-talking, screaming-at-the-TV, my-happiness-depends-on-the-outcome-of-this-game persona. It grated on me to let that Dook-hatred, all in good fun as it may be, to seep into the contrite and repentant spirit with which I had only so recently adorned myself.

And, after a great first half, UNC-Dook day proved as disappointing as Valentine’s Day will be this year (hey, I’m not ashamed to admit that I rather enjoy the attention of flowers and a well-planned dinner date, and I’ll miss it this year). Add to this mix the Lenten contemplation of one’s mortality, and it’s turning out to be a real downer of a week.

I’m kidding, of course. I actually find Ash Wednesday to be strangely uplifting. Yes, it is a reminder that we will all die one day—that are lives are but flowers that will flourish and then wither—but it is, at the same time, a reminder that we’ve indeed been given one precious life. Since there is an end to contemplate, how much more so should we be motivated to live in a way that is rich with compassion and relationship and kingdom-building? And, not to sound like one of those people (my past Lenten selves included) who uses Lent as a 40 day excuse for a diet—but this time of Lent does offer an intentional period in which we can practice living as better versions of ourselves. Healthier, kinder, humbler people. We can embrace patterns of behaviors and ways of living that are more just and life-giving to ourselves and to those around us. And, most importantly, we are afforded the opportunity to crawl through the dust and dross of our own making and to draw closer to the heart of God through repentance, prayer, fasting, study, and contemplation. The embrace of this kind of spiritual rejuvenation is, of course, an invitation that God continually extends to each us. But there is something about coming to it as a Christian community, about together marking a day of returning to the Lord, about sealing it with a smear of ash on one’s forehead, that compels us to live differently and to know God more fervently. I am thankful for the communities in which I found myself yesterday and for those fellow “children of dust” that gathered together before God our Maker. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Lenten Writing Project: Day 1

Two years. It has been two years since I've written a post for this blog. That's not to say that I haven't been writing elsewhere--seminary papers, lesson plans, guest blog posts here and there. But I have not been writing in a disciplined way--in the way that I know feeds my soul and unlocks that hidden creativity buried deep within me. I have not been writing in the way that I know connects me to myself and to God.

Recently I sat down with a friend and he (like many others of you) was kind enough to listen to my rantings and ravings about some stuff I've been wrestling with lately--vocational questions in nature, primarily. One of the helpful things he said to me, pointedly, was this: "What do you love? Make a list of the things that you love to do, and use that to figure out what you should be doing vocationally." I started to make a list aloud right then, and one of the first things I said (if not THE first) was that I love to write.

I love to write and I just haven't been doing it. I lost some of it in the madness of seminary. Lately, I've been losing motivation to do much of anything creative or productive as a byproduct of the rut of lethargy into which I've recently dug myself (again, related to my vocational drama--details on this to come). And if I'm honest with myself, I know I've also stopped writing because for me, writing necessarily involves an intimate examination of the self, which necessarily includes an examination of the self's spiritual well-being. I've been shying away from that kind of introspection and self-care, I know I have---intentionally and subconsciously. So when my friend suggested to me that I consider writing as a Lenten practice, the thought excited me and challenged me at once.

So here I am, on Ash Wednesday, reopening this outlet--this blog--that captured so much of myself in my year after college and my first year or two of seminary. I am here to write again. I'm not sure what I can promise you to expect. I'm committing to 40 days of writing. I think you'll hear about my students, my vocational woes, my church and my budding part time work as Children's Minister--faults and all. Some things will be lighthearted, others serious. Some posts will be long, and others short At least once a week, I plan to write a reflection on a lectionary passage from the week. On Sundays, the "off" days of Lent, I think I'll re-post an old blog entry or paper to see if any new conversations or revelations might be had from revisiting past musings. Some days I may just pose a question, and hope that there are readers out there willing to respond and engage. Because as much as writing is a practice of self-reflection, I think it is also very much a tool for collaboration and discussion--a medium for communicating ideas and sharing perspectives. An opportunity to challenge and be challenged. For this reason, I also plan to publicize my posts on facebook--as self-aggrandizing as that feels to me!--in the hopes of fostering more conversation.

So this is it--day 1. A cop out of sorts, as I am just introducing my Lenten project. I've got to ease myself back into the deeper, self-reflective and soul-baring thoughts This is my Lenten journey--a pilgrim's walk into the labyrinth of the self, knowing that God, too, will likely be found along the way.