Matriculation

nathanielkiddnathanielkidd on 1254684187|%B %d

Thursday night, I matriculated. That's right. I signed my name in the Book, and I'm now officially a Son of the House. Which means, among other things, I now have the opportunity to be buried in the Nashotah House cemetery. Not sure if I'll take them up on that, though—I think I wait till after graduation to decide. (Lord willing that I graduate, and indeed that I live that long.)

It was a solemn Eucharist, with all the usual Nashotah pomp and ceremony (plus an added dash for the occasion). Still, it was a little anti-climatic. I was hoping for some words of secret gnosis, or ancient cultic rite of initiation, or at least a secret handshake or something, All I got was the standard sacred wafer and a sip of wine. (We did get to sing the school hymn, though, which has a nice Latin chorus. That's kind of like a pagan incantation, if you believe some hard-core anti-Roman polemicists.) I did, however, feel as though sermon (which focused on last part of John 1) was being preached right at me!

Preceding Matriculation were three days of silent retreat, which most of us more or less kept most of the time. I enjoyed them immensely. I've reflected briefly, in moments of personal quiet, how compelling and powerful the wordless can be. Corporate silence is even more potent. It's impossible to not notice the deliberation of withholding speech. The result is a kind of pregnant absence, which heightens the awareness of all the little sounds of everyday life, and all the little whispers of the Spirit.

My poor wife, right? But I was not particularly strict about keeping the rule of silence at home. We're still working on this new reality, where we both have a lot of different activities going on, and don't have easy and immediate access to one another twenty four hours a day. It's a new challenge for us, but one I think our last year of full-time togetherness has prepared us well for.

Bishop Parsons, retired Bishop of Quincy, gave a series of talks on the Ascension to break up our long hours of silence. He managed to thoroughly and potently summarize Christian life and doctrine in his half dozen or so sermons on the subject, craftily weaving in wisdom about life in Christian leadership. He was an excellent and powerful speaker – although my attention wandered a bit.

Yes, my mind wandered – unfortunately, in my personal moments, I didn't make the best use of the precious hours of silence. Being quiet only served to aggravate the intellectual gluttony that has grown in me since getting back into class. I was going to settle in with rereading The Way of a Pilgrim, but reading that only prompted me to pick up the Philokalia. Which in turn took me to a book on the Byzantine idea of the heart, leading me to pick up Maximus the Confessor, leading back to Evagrius Pontus, which took me back to Syrian asceticism, and then the allure of Symeon the Stylite (and this whole network of ideas out of which I will ultimately be trying to distill some papers.) And there were probably another half dozen or so topics nipping at my attention, occupying my study carrel, sitting on my desk. A chapter here, a chapter there, bounding around the world and through Christian history with the turn of pages… It was, like the old adage goes, trying to get a drink of water out of a fire hydrant; or rather, out of several fire hydrants spraying in different directions in a dizzying deluge. In the end, a sort of word-bound baptism in the sheer force of the quantity of the psychospiritual wisdom in the Christian tradition.

On Wednesday night I finally closed all of my books and cleared my desk and rubbed my eyes and tried to get down to the real business of the retreat: identifying my spiritual state and trajectory, and regrounding myself in that sense of calling. Allow me to summarize some of those prayers and thoughts.

Even though I've only been at Nashotah House for a month and a half, my time here has already had a significant impact on my sense of calling and direction, both clarifying and transfiguring it.

The office I feel myself called to might be called something like “hiero-scholar.” I am deeply attracted to reading, to thinking, to writing, to the life of the mind, to language and linguistics. But none of these activities, for me, is something that can be safely or wisely isolated as an activity valuable in of itself. If it is not integrated into my (hopefully balanced) Christian life, it is useless, pointless, and boring to me. (This is why I was relatively lazy during my undergraduate, and why I didn't finish the Physics major.)

Furthermore, part of the character of Christian knowledge is that it is to be shared. I am coming more and more to a sacramental theory of knowledge – that this information I am receiving (and all information I receive) is to be ground up by meditation and prayer, carefully organized and flattened, cut into bite-size chunks, stamped with the Cross, and prayerfully distributed to the faithful. So planted and watered by grace, this knowledge does not does not puff up, but blossoms into wisdom, which is the fear of the Lord.

There seems to me to be a further parallel: our culture desperately needs both intellectually deep communities of faith and morally-spiritually vibrant communities of learning. Many churches seem to have given up on doing anything more than adding a little Jesus to the American good life, while most schools have ignored the role of character in the course of education. And both spheres have been torn apart by powerful social forces favoring individualism over interdependence and isolation over community, with the effect that many are alone, unhappy, and ill-equipped to do much of anything about it. Community building, further still, seems to be the kind of thing that Sarah and I work very well together at – our gifts and aptitudes dovetailing nicely to create atmospheres of hospitality.

Above all, my desire is to be a faithful and timely representative of the Christian faith and tradition in this age. This involves, first of all, the knowledge, love, and imitation of Jesus Christ the Son of God as he is revealed through the Scriptures; second, rootedness in and dedication to the history and devotions of the Church throughout time and space as an authentic but incomplete incarnations of the Christian life; third, an ear to a dark and hurting world in need of Gospel light, and the willingness to put aesthetic and theological concerns on hold to work in triage when God calls.

What will I do? Well, first of all, I will pray, and I will trust God to put the pieces together. There is plenty of work to be done, enough for many lifetimes: the harvest is indeed plentiful, and the workers are few. And this is not a particularly obvious trajectory in our culture, which means avenues of support (both financial and otherwise) are going to be difficult to find. Neither pioneering scholarship nor pioneering ministry has a lot of rewards attached in our culture. I have significant anxieties about finding the resources to follow my calling, which I am doing my best to bury under the (hopefully true) mantra that God will provide.

In light of all this, I am prayerfully preparing my application for Holy Orders with AMiA, which is where my relationships are, and where God is doing new things of the sort that I think intersect significantly with my own perceived calling. I was tempted for a time to perhaps look in another direction: but it occurred to me with reflection that my primary motivation for this was wanting a stable, definite job that would bring home a regular paycheck. This being not a very Christian motivation, I determined to remain in the station wherein I was called, even though there are some ambiguities and uncertainties there.

In any case, we are both enjoying and looking forward to God's unfolding plan in our lives. Please continue to keep us in your prayers.

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