Monday, August 6, 2012

Desire for a Monastic Experience

After returning to the West Coast this last January, I expected to see my friends a lot more.  When I was in New York, I missed them all a great deal.  I knew as I started seminary, I would be a little caught up in the cultural and lifestyle changes that come with a new community and new challenge, but I figured that would fade after awhile.  It hasn't.

Instead, what I have found is that I seek my silence and solitude more now that I ever have in my whole life.  I think about my friends and family, the loved ones who have meant so much to me in my life.  Sometimes I even pray for them (which is not a normal pagan tradition, but one that I am reclaiming from my childhood spiritual disciplines as a Christian).  But I am coming to find that seminary has some very interesting monastic aspects to it.

We aren't in a monastery.  In fact, as a liberal seminary, there is a lot less structured worship here than you would imagine.  There is a weekly school service on Tuesday mornings that is completely optional, very liberally Christian with a lot of Interfaith flexibility thrown in, and really not very well attended by the majority of the student population.  There are a few other services available on campus during the week - mostly run by New Spirit Community Church, where I am the admin assistant - but these too are very liberally Christian and seem to have a light but steady population of student attendees. Additionally, we are graduate students.  So we are ridiculously busy with classes, assignments, projects, field ed, contextual learning, part time jobs, and whatever semblance of a social life we can piece together in the mix of all of that.  There is a vibrant community that exists pretty much within the dining hall, which is where we all find one another as we jump through our own personal weekly schedules.

But with all of that being considered, there is something uniquely monastic about seminary for me.  As I talk to my fellow students, I find that I am not alone in this.  Many of us came to seminary seeking a monastic experience.  We were looking for a place where we could slow down (ironic, right?), take time to focus on our relationship with the divine, and grow spiritually.  We came looking for a place where the everyday pressure of the world could be held at bay while we worked out some questions about life, God, and our place in the world.  That isn't exactly what we found here.  This is a vocational program and we are inundated with the training that they have developed to help us create solid careers in ministry out in the world.  But make no mistake of it, seminary is a bubble.  Pretty much everyone I know is a Reverend or is becoming one.  Everyone I know has a deep and fairly well defined spiritual identity.  Discussing the divinity of Christ or whether or not there is such a thing as sin is a completely normal conversation over lunch.  Folks don't carry bibles (we have them on our phones now), but they can quote scripture pretty easily.  Hell, so can I at this point (and that alone is a serious mental trip).  But it's also not the stark and serious place that it sounds.  There is far more blues dancing, homework shirking, Glee watching, wine drinking, quidditch playing, and beer and pizza runs going on than one might imagine.  It's just that amidst all of that, we are working out how to better relate to God and trying to get our theology reading done.

For me - both as a non-Christian and as just plain old Katie - I spend a lot of time alone now.  I think a lot, contemplate how I have changed spiritually and dream about what might be coming in my future.  I try to spend time meditating.  I focus on fully becoming the woman I feel I could be if my best pieces were allowed to come forward and I could let go of my fear.  I don't call folks.  I don't go out much.  I mostly just think and write and pray.  For me, this is a close to a monastery as I'd likely be able to manage, and I'm having a ball.