Back to school? All signs point to yes. On my desk you’ll find fresh highlighters, sharpened pencils, used textbooks, and a semi-charged iPad. After two years of full-time campus ministry I’m back in class, this time for full-time graduate theology study. I’m looking forward to these next few years, not just because I’m in beautiful California, but because I hope that these courses will touch upon the real questions I hold about God and Church and prepare me for future ministry.
My life is good, full of hope, but it’s sedentary. I’m sitting on my ass. A lot.
As I sink into my Lazyboy to pore through pages and pages of reading – how do they expect me to do all this?! – I wonder how I will maintain my sanity for the next three years, or more. I’m taking note of paper deadlines and – worse yet – group presentations, all the while quietly longing to be somewhere else, doing something else.
I really enjoyed my last two years working at the College of the Holy Cross; the days were long, sure, but they were really full of life, of deep relationships with students, faculty and staff members. The last two years were why I joined the Jesuits in the first place: to be an apostle. And I was an apostolic workhorse there: need someone to pray at a dinner? I’m on it! Could use an extra set of hands for a weekend retreat? I’m there! Last minute chaperone to a developing country? Put me on your list! Give a talk outside in the freezing cold? Sign me up!
The last two years were a real gift to me because they were an opportunity to say ‘yes,’ often. But now that I’m back in school, my primary work is to study and I feel less inclined to say yes to my professors than I was to my students. I’d rather be out there working, not in here sitting! Sitting isn’t the work of an apostle!
Or is it? For the last few years I sat on my ass at Holy Cross every week and, come to think of it, it was the most apostle-like thing I did.
Almost from the moment I arrived on campus, I knew I wanted to practice some sort of “intentional loitering,” to be in the space where students are. So every Thursday I dressed in clerical shirt and hunkered down in the campus coffee shop for several hours with a sign that read [email protected] (It’s amazing what a little rhyming dictionary can do.) And I waited to see what would happen.
Not much did and, yet, everything did. There were many introductions and even more small talk. On your way to class? Which one? What’s your acapella group working on these days? How’s the food in the dining hall? Being visible and approachable led to interactions of more depth later. Small talk invariably led to big ideas about vocation and desire and introductions were soon replaced with pastoral counseling and spiritual direction.
All because I just sat there, asking, listening and reading what was on the hearts and minds of those students and staff members. I miss Holy Cross and the people there – some timid and shy, others gregarious, loud and opinionated.
My Thursdays are a lot different now. No clerical shirt, no sign, no introductions or small talk. But, like [email protected], I still sit for hours. And the memory of that weekly experience reminds me that sedentary doesn’t necessarily equal bad. Although the setting and audience has changed, I’m still asking, listening and reading hearts and minds, those of theologians and historians, of course, but also those of my classmates and community members, all fellow future ministers.
I’m sitting on my ass, yes, but I’m also participating in conversations about a dynamic Church and listening intently to the wide variety of perspectives. This ‘nothing’ is surely preparing me for something: a future ministry where I meet people where they are, in churches, coffee shops and every place where my nothing makes space for their everything.