Inwardly cursing, I bundled up against the cold and headed out into the early winter morning. The sky was dark, and a frigid wind kicked up to greet me as I trudged through the snow past Lake Sagatagan toward campus. I had made a pact with a friend to go to the gym here on campus three times a week, and our schedules required early mornings or late evenings. Going to morning prayer at the Abbey at 7:00 am and then heading for the gym seemed like a good idea in the bright light of day. But it was a grim prospect in the bone-deep cold before the sun had risen.
Overall, my second semester at the School of Theology has seemed a grittier commitment– and I’ve needed the help of friends and community to stay on track. Everything feels as if it takes a bit more effort in the bleak gray of mid-winter in Collegeville, MN. However, with a month in, my classes have hit full swing: Introduction to Christian Tradition (Reformation to Vatican II); Greek II; Homiletics; and, my independent project in Community and Leadership. My classes are demanding, not simply because there’s a lot to process and understand, but because the work of theology often challenges the core of what I believe, how I think, who I am.
Out of my roster this semester, I’ve found Homiletics to be the class I most anticipate and dread. The work of preaching – of letting scripture move through and shape my moments and my days – feels familiar to the monastic pattern. Yet, because it has an ultimately outward and verbal shape, preaching forces me to express what is most intensely personal: how God is speaking in and through my experience of life. It is hard, vital and vulnerable work that I would rather not do if I could squirm my way out of it. As I sit down with a text, the scripture often bristles up with life. The longer I meditate on that scripture, the more the world around me seems colored by it, flooding my daily experiences with miracle, life and meaning. Despite how it sounds, it is not often a consoling experience. Choosing a “message” to communicate and crafting it honestly takes every ounce of skill that I have in me. I am often confronted with my inadequacy in the process. Dying to myself, the ego’s driving need to be seen and praised, is its own humiliating battle. I would prefer not to have witnesses. Hence, the dread and the anticipation of what might emerge when God, the community, and I collide publicly like this.
Dorothy Parker is credited with the saying: “I hate writing, but I love having written.” Ain’t that the truth? I wouldn’t preach ever, if I hadn’t made a commitment to others. I wouldn’t blog, if I hadn’t made a commitment to others. And I would never have made it to prayer or the gym that morning if I hadn’t promised a friend that I’d be there. On my own, despite my best intentions, I often can’t muster up the discipline, desire or will to follow through. On that particularly brisk morning, as my friend and I finished our workouts, we each expressed gratitude for the help we’d given each other to live up to our commitments. The power of sharing our commitments and accepting the help we need to keep our promises over time is what makes a life in community such a powerful vehicle for transformation. In “a school for the Lord’s service” (Rule of Benedict, Prologue 45), I’m glad to be learning that humbling lesson over and over again.
Read other blog posts from Sister Rosy in her series, Letters home.