Wo/andering in the Desert…
I spent twenty years of my life intimately tuned to the liturgy of the academic calendar – the rhythm and rest of lengthy breaks interspersed between semesters that flowed from introductions and syllabus to final exam. Progress in academic liturgy is measured in assignments completed and grades assigned. The tools are books, pencils, words, and lately, computers. The art, or music, or poetry comes in originality and articulation. Often times I miss this rhythm, at least the graduate school version of beginning to end, unbearable intensity to crash. The parameters are clear, and the center is well-defined by either teacher or topic, regardless of the pedagogy. This liturgy is lush and abundant and measurable.
And then there is the liturgy of the church.
It comes to me in a new way this year. It’s not woven in between academic priorities. This year Christmas had no affiliation with finals and relief and rest. This year Lent isn’t leading to a three and a half day weekend with Maundy Thursday and Easter at its bookends, and ordinary time will be mostly ordinary, not mostly summer break.
I suppose it beats no liturgy at all, but the adjustment is difficult and the boundaries are unclear. Here, in the liturgical year, I don’t know how to measure success. There are parishioners and parents to please but no professor to affirm my good work through the lens of expertise, and the job description hardly translates into an assignment. Instead, it requires much more flexibility, a much looser time line, and increasingly lowered (though I shouldn’t call them that) expectations that flatten to encompass the astonishing breadth of the body.
There’s part of me that has no use for this liturgy. I want to flee back to what is known and what comforts me. There, in that comfortable state of heightened anxiety due to exams, papers, challenging, elevating discourse, and the cerebral realm of infinite ideas. Part of me prefers that familiar pressure to the unfamiliar lack thereof.
Then last night I talked to my friend, a Disciples of Christ minister back in Tennessee. I told her some of these things and other things about my life – my great struggle with the UCC and with church; the desire to at least hold open the possibility of a career in pastoral ministry but the unwillingness to commit to here long enough to go through the two-plus year long ordination process required for such a thing; the way I miss the Mennonite church; the questions about home and place and how they will shape my lifetime. I spare the specifics, partly because this is such a public space, though these things come out freely in phone conversations and coffee dates.
[She] must have sensed something of the deep loss and lost-ness that I’m drenched in, and as we closed the conversation, she blessed me with a new sense of my new old liturgy. She somehow, with words and years-long friendship all the way back to Missouri, invited me to attend to my desert.
Jesus in the desert.
Israelites in the desert.
There it was, unveiled before me this season of life. It may not be good or filled with joy and purpose – wandering rarely is, but it is true and real, an older story than me, and it is good company I keep here. What more could I ask?
I wrote this reflection last year during Lent while serving in the United Church of Christ.
by Sarah Klaassen