Tuesday, January 26, 2010

settling in and an unsettling call

I am at my new writing space this morning.

It is only about two feet from my old writing space, but my old space was really the dining room, and this is my office. The dining area is now part of the living room. Bookshelves have been moved, the pantry cupboard has been moved, file cabinets are rearranged, and the 8-foot piece of Formica counter top that serves as a desk is now 7 feet, 9inches long and fits where I want it to be: up against that nice big window that faces into the back yard.

A full day of rain and warm temperatures has melted that pretty snow I wrote about last week. There are no footprints visible now - just misshapen lumps of snow, with little specks of dirt and the dried bark and crud that blows around during a storm. Crumpled leaves protrude from the snowbank at the end of the driveway. It's all soggy. The thermometer that perpetually registers 40 degrees blew off its peg in the storm is lying face down in the snow, no doubt indicating that the snow pile is a mild 40 degrees.

This was one of those post-break-up rearranging projects. Laura and I had lived here for five years, I think, or something very much like that. It was our space. I needed to make it my space. A friend offered to come help, and bless her heart, she did. Undaunted in the face of too much furniture and stuff in a very small house, she set to moving things around and setting up spaces that would work better for me. My writing area is best right here at this window. The sun rises here. In the warm months, I can hear the brook at the edge of the yard. Hummingbirds come to this window and amuse me with their aeronautic antics and daring-do. It is a writing place. Pretending that it is an eating place for everyone and a place where I also work and write was not working for me, or for the space.

The dining area is now taking up about a third of the living room area. The big pantry shelf I built last summer is also out there. I don't know if I like it there, but that's where it is for now.

The couch moved around to the other side of the living room, the TV is on a small table now, with the wii and associated movie-watching bits of electronics on a shelf underneath. My cookbooks are temporarily on a bookshelf in the bedroom, and one of the bureaus has moved out onto the back porch until I can figure out the rest. I have some boxes of books that I will donate to charity, I cleaned out my closet last week and gave away a ton of dress shirts and fancy clothes that no longer fit me to a couple of guys who can make good use of them.

This is about settling into my space. It is about creating new feelings around and uses for spaces and things that have been part of a joined past and making them my own present and future.


I suppose I could read something into this weather we're having. It's an old-fashioned January thaw. Rain is pouring down, snow melting (this makes room for the snows of February and March) and now the sun is peeking through the clouds that are still pouring down rain. The sun through the rain is sort of how I feel lately. It's been an odd weekend. Let me explain.

As you know, I have been doing a lot of spiritual exploration. It is part of the 11th-step work that I am doing, which states: "Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for the knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out."

I figured that it might not be a bad idea to figure out just what I understood god to be before I tried to improve my conscious contact with him. I dunno. Just seemed polite, I guess.

So I have been doing this exploration of spirituality. It has not happened in a vacuum. I have been learning and actively seeking this kind of awareness for a while. That's part of what this blog was about - to put thoughts and ideas down where I could see them and to get feedback.

Leela, my friend/minister occasionally would suggest a course or two being offered by a seminary - even some on line study places, but it seemed not my thing. I like to preach, I learned that over the course of the campaign and that one time I stood before a congregation in November just before the election, but seminary seemed like an awful lot of work to be a part-time preacher who get called in to rile people up. Somehow, I could not make the mental jump to seeing myself working with a church board of directors or trustees or whatever. Committees have an unpleasant habit of sometimes being quite idiotic, and with my low threshold for bullshit, well, it just didn't seem like that would be a wise career path.

So I kept up this spiritual search - I don't call it theology, although my minister friend does. I read and I write and I pray a little and I don't really know how to meditate, but I try to be quiet sometimes and that kinda works for me.

A few weeks ago, I looked at the website for a seminary here in Maine. Nothing jumped out at me but the $12,000 a year tuition. I already have $30K in student loans, thank you very much, and I shovel snow. No thanks. I can't pay for the education I am not using now.

I mentioned the idea to my aunt - always a reliable source of support and affirmation, particularly when it comes to education and church things - and I got a lukewarm reception at best. Maybe a small church will pay for seminary if you agree to be their minister for a period, she suggested. Translation: she is not going to finance this adventure. She wished me luck, but that was all.

And that's fair. Right now she is helping me out with my old student loans. I can understand her lack of enthusiasm at the idea of me accruing even more debt that I cannot pay for an education I might not use.

But somehow the idea kept hanging out in the back of my mind. Whatever. Can't afford it, can't afford more debt. Story over. Checked in with my new sponsor, and she said that many people doing 11th step work like me often consider the seminary. Doesn't mean I have to go. OK, well, that makes sense.

It seemed to relieve some of the internal pressure. It was logical, then, that I would be thinking about such things while I am doing such heavy spiritual stuff. This train of thought was a natural offshoot of the work I have been doing. Good. Now I can relax a bit.

Sunday was our regular minister's day off, so we had a substitute. Nice guy, Director of the Religious Education program at church. It's got a much longer, very inclusive name, but my brain seems incapable of remembering it all. He's the DRE. I like this guy. Which is weird for me. Straight white male ministers have not ever been a favorite of mine, but I met Tom in a class on the UU principles that some of the members were leading. I found him to be thoughtful and cool, not at all "well I just graduated from seminary, so let me tell you how it is." Not like that at all. He had as many questions about the principles as any of us, and he had some good things to say as well.

So I come to church on Sunday not for the sermon (I had no idea who would be preaching - I forgot to check the email) but for the last of the series of classes on the principles. I figured I'd nap through the service. It's harsh, I know. But that's where my head was.

Tom did a nice job of selecting hymns, although he tried to make us do one with some tricky repeats. That was a bit grim. We were much better with "Come And Go With Me" and "This Little Light Of Mine." The reading was from a guy I had never read, but I kind of liked it. Nothing ground-breaking or earth-shattering there.

Then he began to preach.

Disclaimer here. I may have this all backwards. Tom, if you're reading, I am sorry for any errors or misinterpretations. This is how I remember it. I hope you don't mind.

But it wasn't a sermon so much as it was an introduction to the congregation. This was the new DRE's first chance to be in front of the whole congregation with a microphone and some time to spend. He told us a little about himself, how he grew up Catholic, in a home beset with some of the stuff that besets homes: sickness, addiction, dysfunction, the normal things. He talked about how he had a strong faith in GOD as a child, but how it faded as he grew, eventually setting him adrift spiritually and theologically. He spoke of how he went through life, got an education and a job and how he searched and learned and found his own path spiritually. And how eventually people started mentioning words like "ministry" and "seminary" in his direction.

He spoke of a mentor who asked him directly to think about seminary. I need time, he said, but I do want to talk about it more. So he took some time and went back to her. The time commitment and financial cost and everything were just too much, he told his friend. "I don't see how I could possibly make that choice."

And his friend leaned in close and said, "but I really think you already have."

And right there in a Unitarian-Universalist Church, I cried. Hard.

I took deep breaths. I clenched my hands on the arms of my chair, I stiffened every muscle in my body to stop it, but I could not. I stared at the ceiling and the windows up high where I could see blue sky and bare branches, and the tears fell.

I have no idea how or why or what the hell happened, but it hit me hard. If there is any confusion, UUs are not known for being overwhelmed in church. Sobbing is not our style. Outbursts? We don't do 'em. We can sniff and wipe a tear at funerals or at a particularly beautiful sentiment or piece of music, but being moved to near sobbing by a sermon? Um, no. We don't do that here.

Only in that moment, I could see myself in ministry. In a congregation. Going to board meetings and working with staff and volunteers. Maybe even wearing a collar for fancy dress-up things like weddings, funerals and political protests. And being at peace in that role. And enjoying it.

Well fuck. There's no denying it now. Seems like the choice is made. This is not something I can ignore. And I don't know what the hell it is.

For weeks, indeed for a year or more, I have been asking the god of my misunderstanding to make me open to whatever path my journey leads me to. I have been asking, in my own awkward way, for "knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry it out."

Leela says this is fairly typical of a "call experience" and that I am not, in fact, mad. This is what happens. If I am mad, this is not part of it.

Whenever emotions are so strong that they make me cry when I tell someone what I plan, that is a sign that things are right.

My heart is a jumble right now. It is light and scared at the same time. I am eager and terrified.

Yesterday, I called the local seminary school and asked them to send me a packet of information. I expect it will arrive tomorrow, and that I will take a few days to read it through before I call to make an appointment to tour the place and talk to the financial aid people. I have some paperwork to get in order, but I am not frightened of it like I usually am. More than half the reason I remain self-employed is because I have huge anxiety around filling out forms. Job applications make my chest tight and my head spin. I know what kind of process the financial aid stuff is going to be, but I do not have the fear I once did. I'll be OK.

The woman on the phone asked what program I was interested in, and I found myself saying Masters of Divinity, yes. Goal? Ordination, ministry. What denomination? UU.

I have no idea where this is going. It may well be leading me to a small parish somewhere, and that's fine if it does. It may lead me to a chaplaincy in a hospital or a prison or a community minister in rural Maine or on the streets of Boston, and that's OK too. I am feeling pretty relaxed now. It is as though some kind of wall has been breached. The pressure of trying to fit my world and my life to my will is off and I have opted to accept what is placed before me today and work with it. There is much more to do, I know that. But this feels really, really good. And that can't be bad.


melouise said...

Veeeeery happy for you. This is all good.

...and what the heck? The word verification is "fuffie"- is my cutsie teen now writing these? What next, "ZOMG"?

Anonymous said...

Dear Dawn, yeh,what a morning -could feel it in the air--like 'the spirit was there". It has only just begun. Looking forward to seeing your new digs tomorrow.

dolphyngyrl said...

My hat's off to you, dear.

Congratulations, good luck, and if there's any way that I can help, please let me know! :)

Judith said...

Sitting slightly behind you and to your left, I watched your whole body, mind, spirit reaction to Tom's talk. I wept. All those things you would have to address; growing who you have been, as you have seen yourself, to who you might become is a powerful potential journey. I feel excitement for you. You have strength and passion and it seems to me you are finding a center of calm and peace from which to use this. I wish for you that the journey challenges you and leads you to all that you can be.

KayW said...

How wonderful! I am so pleased for you.

Carla Ganiel said...

You know, that sounds a bit like how it hit me when I decided to go to business school. I know that I don't have to tell you this, but whether you end up at seminary or not, the journey will change you.