In my previous Faith Story post, I wrote about how I was finally able to settle, in my mind, the issue of the divinity of Jesus. The rest of my time in seminary was spent in various other ways deepening my faith. I look back at those years (Jan. 1995--May 1998) in amazement at how God just kept at me, in so many ways--changing me, drawing forth the courage in me, transforming me, helping me see more and more clearly the person God wanted me to become.
Seminary was a time of intellectual challenge. As I said in a previous post, I was learning a new language. Theology and theological ethics were totally unknown to me, so I took most of my electives in those areas. Just as important, perhaps, I knew that I needed to move beyond my "white-bread suburban world," so I was deliberate in my choice of internships.
From my previous Faith Story posts, you know that I was coming from a very conservative, restrictive religious background. So when it came time for my internship in a church in my denomination, I set my sights on the only church in my area that was open and affirming. On my very first Sunday at this church, I visited a Sunday School class where the members were sharing their spiritual autobiographies. A man was saying how he knew he was gay when he was eight years old. His story of being excluded by the church when his sexual orientation became known was heartwrenching. He talked about how much it meant to him to be at this church where he felt truly welcomed. I knew I was in a place where the spirit of Christ was known and practiced, not just given lip service.
My CPE internship at the county hospital was the same kind of experience. I went after the county hospital, not a hospital in a suburban area. It was a summer internship--50 to 60 exhausting/exhilarating hours a week. White-bread suburban world it was NOT. Oh, my goodness, I learned SO much. Racial, cultural, and I was the only woman in my group, so gender, too. And my learning, once again, was that beneath the facades, past the skin color, the language and cultural/gender differences, people are remarkably the same. Differences count and are never to be discounted, but all people are children of God, and all people want to be respected and loved and heard and seen. Claiming my voice; being truly present and representing God; standing toe to toe with arrogant doctors; remaining truly alive as people die all around me it seemed in the ER and elsewhere in the hospital; putting aside my own ego needs in order to truly listen to the other---it was during my internship at this county hospital that I learned all this in a powerful and very intense way.
I kept putting off taking the preaching class, until I had dinner one night with Michael, the minister from my home church who became my mentor (the one who STUNNED me by admitting that he, too, had doubts at times, and therefore freed me to have real faith). He asked me how seminary was going and I admitted my fear about taking the preaching class, and he said something in a teasing tone about "never getting to hear the people who really have something to say because they're too afraid to say it." Well, that galvanized me into action, and, of course, I ended up loving the preaching class.
Finally, I wrote previously about a pastoral care class in which I processed my mother's careless words to me as she lay on her deathbed. Looking back, that's probably the moment that served the most to convince me to stay on for the Ph.D., for that's the moment when I experienced for myself the vast potential of pastoral care/counseling for transformation and growth.
When I entered seminary in January 1995, both parents had died, I was single and had left my cushy job. But that is when I began a life of coming to myself that continues to this day. I still feel the fear at times, still experience downturns in which the Old Katherine takes hold and allows life to diminish. But then eventually I come to myself and begin again to listen to God, begin again to allow my life to flourish. Seminary was three years of such flourishing, surrounded almost constantly by reminders of God.