It’s early April 2017 and I am approaching the final stretch of my master’s degree in scripture at Saint John’s School of Theology in Collegeville, MN. I’ve immersed myself in New Testament Greek and Old Testament Hebrew, taken theology and scripture classes, read volumes, written graduate level exegetical papers—all in preparation for this last semester of examinations. The next and last hurdle is my oral comprehensive exam, today, as I sit before a panel of professors who will probe my competence in the field of scripture and decide if I have demonstrated the level of proficiency required to have earned a masters degree in the subject. It suddenly struck me this week that I’ve spent two years preparing for this moment, but after all this work, I feel I’ve only scratched the surface of my study. I’m no master of scripture. I’m nervous; I’m not ready. I’m certain the exam will expose the truth: I’m still learning.
In these last days of Lent, as we hurtle toward the rituals of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the silent liminal waiting of Saturday, and the celebration of Easter’s promise of resurrection, I feel a closeness to the disciples. Although they could not have guessed at the trials they would undergo in the final days of Jesus’ life, they were about to enter a severe round of examinations. What had they learned at Jesus’ side in the course of their discipleship? Who was this miracle-worker who told stories of the Kingdom of Heaven so persuasively, drawing crowds who offered praise and rejection by turns? When put to the test, what answer would the disciples give to the questions put to them by the Roman authorities and by their fellows?
As I keep my eyes on the disciples during Lent, it gives me hope. Being put to the test is a normal part of discipleship and human life. We all get tested from time to time. For the women and men who followed Jesus, the days following his arrest, trial and execution were unimaginably difficult and confusing. What was happening? What had they learned after all in Jesus’ company? Would they be exposed?
Under the pressure of examinations, the best and the worst of a person’s character can come to the surface. If I’m paying attention, these moments of testing provide learning opportunities. For instance, I’ve been noticing my own tendency to isolate, procrastinate and self-medicate with social media when I feel overwhelmed by my work. Coming to a monastery didn’t magically cure me of habits that I have developed to deal with anxiety. Instead of looking to Jesus for help, I’d much rather make my own way. Like the disciples, sometimes I run away, deny, or distract, in order to avoid the pain of the road ahead.
On the other hand, as I prepare for these exams, I also notice the good. I notice my own growing ability and confidence in scripture study. I can acknowledge gladly and truthfully that there are things I can say about and do with scripture that I couldn’t even six months ago. When I pause and consider this truth, I feel overwhelmed with gratitude for this special time in my life. I am stronger for this process, and I will be able to serve others with greater skill as a result.
Like the disciples, I’m likely to discover that this comprehensive examination process will expose my weaknesses–while also proving that God is more alive, more loving, and more wondrous than I could have ever hoped or imagined. I am surely not alone. As I prepare for my comprehensives, I’ll be sure to remember that no exam has the last word on my life. The disciples may have displayed different levels of competencies in those final hours of Jesus’s life, but as they learned to depend on God’s mysterious grace the true gift of Easter emerged: “…and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
Read other blog posts from Sister Rosy in her series, Letters home.