Blogger Michelle Scott-Huffman is a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) serving Ekklesia, an ecumenical, progressive ministry on the campus of Missouri State University. Michelle is a member of the NCMA Coordinating Committee, a hopeless church nerd, and a skeptic of the sacred/secular divide. This blog post shares a personal story that explores a need for, and potentially a path for, ongoing soul care.
When I first became a campus minister, just a couple of years ago, I heard something from a campus ministry colleague on my campus that resonated deeply with me. It wasn’t anything deeply theological, or even practical advice from his thirty plus years in the field, rather it was a statement about the ways that we mark time. He said, “I have no desire to do any job where my calendar is not delineated by semesters.” It was like a light bulb illuminated in my brain and a life-long question had been answered for me!
You see, ever since I completed my undergraduate degree, I’ve had a constant desire to keep returning to school. I’ll graduate with a degree, be glad to have finished, get to work applying the things I’ve learned (or not) and then return to some other program of study within about three years. Yes, there are degrees that I want to attain and things I’m interested in learning, but it was almost as if I just needed to be a student. There was some relief from this need for continuing education in years that I was teaching at a small college. And so, when I heard this veteran campus minister name a need to order his life around an academic calendar, I saw more clearly. Perhaps my perpetual need to be a student is less about what I’m doing or learning and more about the rhythms of my daily life.
At the end of the fall semester, I was feeling out of whack. A car-raccoon encounter had led to weeks without my car and a ridiculously high repair bill, followed by a day-before-Thanksgiving theft of my laptop (and some very important files), and rounded out with a horse-fence incident that resulted in a very injured horse who required significant care multiple times a day. Thankfully, much of this happened when all of our activities had wound down for the semester and I had time to deal with it all. Still, these tasks consumed the break that I had hoped would bring some much-needed rest and relaxation.
By the time I arrived at a Circles of Trust retreat two days after Christmas, designed to both offer retreat space and train us to pilot a similar program on our campuses, I was feeling drained and somewhere near my wits end. When asked to choose an image from a pile of postcard sized photographs that described where we were or what we were feeling, I chose one that showed a badly unraveling rope held together by only a few remaining threads. During that retreat, I was reminded of Parker Palmer’s words about getting in touch with our own soul:
“The soul is like a wild animal—tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient and yet exceedingly shy. If we want to see a wild animal, the last thing we should do is to go crashing through the woods, shouting for the creature to come out. But if we are willing to walk quietly into the woods and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of a tree, the creature we are waiting for may well emerge, and out of the corner of an eye we will catch a glimpse of the precious wildness we seek.” (A Hidden Wholeness)
Also, during that retreat, I remembered the value of ordering my life in a way that connects with my own natural rhythms. As a result, this semester feels more like sitting at the base of tree, inviting my soul to come out more often, than crashing through the woods. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still crashing, but there’s also the ebb and flow of rush and rest, study and play, worship and service. The first harried week of the semester was followed by a weekend of retreat with student leaders and a day of marching for racial justice on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Fueled with the practical sustenance that is our Sunday night dinner and bookended with our Tuesday night contemplative worship practice of Lectio Divina (who would have dreamed that 18-25 year olds would fall in love with this ancient practice), it almost felt like a mini liturgical season within the semester cycle. I want to explore more deeply how to create a sense of seasons within the academic calendar, so that eventually, the muscle memory of a certain place in the calendar might also reconnect us with a particular experience of the Holy.
I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences of seasons within a semester. Please share them in the comments!