Magazine article The Christian Century

Second-Semester Longings

Magazine article The Christian Century

Second-Semester Longings

Article excerpt

IT HAS BEEN a tough first week of classes. On Monday, the temperature never rose above ten degrees. Last night a foot of heavy snow fell on top of the nearly two feet already on the ground.

I wasn't sure how many people I would find at our first weekly Eucharist of the term. Driving was impossible, even if one mustered the will to dig out one's car for the third time in three weeks. I walked over to the divinity school past piles of snow higher than my head.

But a hardy group of students, staff and faculty were milling around in the chapel, listening to the choir of two practice (one of the two had trekked to school in snowshoes). When celebrant Francis Clooney, a Jesuit member of our faculty, took his place at the altar, we organized ourselves into a congregation and stood to pray.

It was hard to hear the readings over the roaring of the snowblowers outside. But when one of our students stood to lead us in singing, her lovely voice soared above the racket. She taught us to sing the response for the psalm appointed for the day. This morning, it seemed as if the psalm had been chosen especially for the beginning of a new semester. "Lord," we sang together between the verses, "we long to see your face."

The first week of every semester is full of longing. Students visit seminars and lectures (during the horribly named "shopping period") hoping to find the books, the teachers, the community of students that will help them see God's face in their studies--or show them a clearer vision of their vocation, or help them illuminate the invisible filaments that connect their studies to the world and its struggles.

I remember that longing and still feel it today, as a teacher. I still look at the stack of books for a class, or at books I've read over and over again, and hope I will catch a glimpse of God and what God is asking from me in their pages.

One of my students told me how put off she had been by all the theoretical texts she had been asked to read when she first came to divinity school. The language seemed obscure, the perspectives did not account for what she thought was most important about religion, and the authors seemed to be having arguments with strangers.

It was only when she decided to approach these texts the way she approaches scripture that she began to benefit from, enjoy and feel challenged by her reading. …

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