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when enthusiasm goes missing...

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It has been great to be back in the classroom this fall after months of sitting alone at my desk and writing, drinking vast amounts of tea, and trying not to pull my hair out. This term I get to serve as a Teaching Assistant for Introduction to Theology. I love being in a supportive role for both students and the professor, but it was a bit of a rough start.

I remember coming to the first class in early September and for the first time in my life (as long as I can remember), not being super excited about the beginning of the school year. I didn't even take the traditional first day of school photo. I was just tired, fatigued by the ongoing demand for high level, innovative, scholarly output and the exceptional dedication required by the multitude of tasks on my schedule. I was depleted by a summer spent wringing words onto the page day after day without any real break. I felt the constant, weighty pressure of finishing my doctoral dissertation, sitting like a yoke on my neck. That first day of school, all I could muster was a lukewarm smile. The fact that the class happened really early in the morning in a subterranean, windowless classroom three flights of stairs away from the open sky didn't help matters any.

I watched the students enter the classroom that first day, some timid, some overly confident, some confused, some lacking motivation, but many eager and open and ready to learn. And then the professor started talking about theology, the study of God. You know, a strange thing happens when you talk about God; he draws near. I don't remember exactly what the professor said, no doubt it was all stuff I had heard before, but as the lecture went on, my weary heart began to be warmed. I again felt the ache that accompanies beauty and revelation and I found myself once again leaning into the divine mysteries. I remembered why I loved theology: not because it was interesting or challenging or helpful in my role as a pastoral leader, but because it beckoned me to come and be amazed. Admittedly, theological studies is not the most practical discipline. I don't often hear the phrase, "The world needs more theologians!" I don't know exactly where my studies will lead me in the long run, and there are definitely challenges ahead in finding gainful, suitable employment, but theology is where I live and die and then come back to life.

Frederick Buechner writes about the complex dynamics of a call to ministry. I feel the same way about my relationship to theology and have added my words to Buechner's below, adapting them to my particular setting:

"I hear you are entering the ministry [studying theology]," the woman said down the long table, meaning no real harm. "Was it your own idea or were you poorly advised?" And the answer that she could not have heard even if I had given it was that it was not an idea at all, neither my own nor anyone else's. It was a lump in the throat. It was an itching in the feet. It was a stirring in the blood at the sound of rain. It was a sickening of the heart at the sight of misery [at the sound of God being misrepresented]. It was a clamoring of ghosts. It was a name which, when I wrote it out in a dream, I knew was a name worth dying for even if I was not brave enough to do the dying myself and could not even name the name for sure. [Jesus said] Come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden [unsure of the meaning of life, unsure if you can ever please God or yourself or anyone else for that matter] and I will give you a high and driving peace [beyond any form of human critical reason or understanding].'" (from The Alphabet of Grace)

I am still weary and somewhat heavy laden this term as I try to finish up my dissertation, help students understand theology, assist my professor with organising some theological events, teach in my faith community, and attempt to walk lovingly with people on their spiritual journey. But I hear the words, "Come to me," and I try to follow the sound of that voice, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. 

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