Pondering when I should be writing (CPE application)

Note: I wrote this post at the end of September
while procrastinating, 
but did not allow myself to publish it until Reading Days
(and then I scheduled it) ... 
I still think it makes for good public pondering.

I would rather be writing about church history right now than my own history. (I do have a paper due on Tuesday so the church history will paper will happen eventually.) It’s the time of year when first-year seminary students are preparing for CPE (Clinical Pastoral Experience) by filling out their applications. “Application” really isn’t the correct word though as really it seems to call for an autobiography of information.

It seems answering these questions has been a challenge for nearly all of us as we procrastinate each day we possibly can (there is always more to do, so finding reasons is not hard). As I finally dig in and just get through the questions, ever thankful for my writing background, I do ponder why we all find this type of writing so difficult.

I know I would rather be focusing on others, and become weary of talking about myself. However, I think it goes deeper than that. We are all changing so quickly as we daily leave our comfort zone in many ways while studying here – not to mention everything we have learned in mere weeks. And yet, we are to create a static description of who we are, what we are passionate about doing, and why we’re here in this place at this time.

Sometimes my head and heart simply have to sit with all of this a bit and ponder it … sometimes publicly.

What do you ponder?

What would you rather be doing?

Where is God in this/it?

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Reading Days (this week, general update, and a photo bonus!)

Yesterday and today are Reading Days here at Wartburg Seminary. These days are also known as Reading and Research days or Reading and Research days, but no matter what you call the two days each semester when classes are not held the students welcome these days with a great sigh of relief. In addition to catching up on our reading, research and other homework, we also tend to catch up on sleep and other forms of relaxation!

Nessa playing near our home in October 2011

Nessa playing in the sandbox across from our home

All of us (first-year students / Juniors) have been adjusting to being seminary students at various levels, and for many of us this includes having to admit that we simply cannot read everything that has been assigned to us. The sooner we admit this, and relax into it, the sooner we can start setting our priorities, and hopefully lower our stress levels. However, for many of us this continues to be a challenge no matter how many times we are told that it simply cannot be done — or at least not while also having any sort of life. Since my family alone qualifies as a life, and my circumstances of commuting adds to the time away from my studies … yeah, I have had to learn to prioritize and skim heavily! 

One of the things I enjoyed most about the last couple of days was that I was able to read entire books from start to finish — assigned books and sometimes skimming, but I read them all in a sitting instead of going back and forth between books and reading the minimum due for class the next day. Focusing on one book at a time is certainly my favorite way of reading!

Of course I had to do more than read. Fortunately or unfortunately, I was part of a drafting group that needed to complete our Justice and Justification paper. It was an interesting experience working as a group to attempt to define these terms! As usual, we did not really have the time we wanted or needed to devote to the project, and yet we learned a great deal from the process.

The learning continues at an exhausting pace with little time to process everything. I have many many ideas I hope to share here in the future, and yet prioritizing my time usually leaves blog posts unwritten. Short answers to any questions you (friends, family, congregation members, or random readers) have about my experiences can be answered very quickly however, so please ask.

It seems that each week my classmates and I are changing our minds about our various classes so I am not going to make any overall statements about favorite or most meaningful classes until the end of the semester. We had our first big test last Thursday (still waiting for results), and watching individual and group dynamics was interesting. While studying for the test I learned how I could likely better prepare for the next test. I also learned that, unlike while completing my undergrad work, it wasn’t all about the test grade for me. Throughout this process I want to stay focused on my future ministry as well as keeping my priorities straight by no neglecting my family in order to study for a test (or write blog posts). However, there will always be times when the priority is unclear — just like life. We do the best we can, and make the best decision we can with the information we have at the time.

Fall semester: sensing a routine or at least a rhythm

Having completed my first week of the fall semester of my first year here at Wartburg Seminary, I am still waiting for a routine to settle in. I can sense some rhythm to the days and weeks here, but am afraid that I will need to let go of being able to schedule each day of the week and each hour so that I know what to expect.

One would think that at least our classes our always at the same time, but that isn’t entirely true because some classes require many extra meetings outside of scheduled classes, and some classes end up only meeting certain days for certain small groups of students within the class (confused yet?). Moving through time and space can be a challenge for me so I have been writing down things in a few different places in addition to putting everything possible onto our google calendars (each person in the family has their own and we can view each of our schedules). The things I can’t schedule that I had hoped to involve extra study times at night versus being the one responsible for making supper, and so on. It’s really minor, and yet it’s a part of teaching me to let go of controlling my time (amazing that I need more lessons, and yet I do).

Yet, there is a general rhythm to both our days and weeks beginning to form. For example chapel is at 9:30 a.m. each day, and everyone is there as the community comes together to worship. Besides the worship itself my favorite part is when young children from the community joins us, and I always smile when I hear a baby as it reminds me of why I’m here.

Similarly I have begun my weekly routine of driving from Dubuque to La Crosse each Thursday afternoon. I was afraid this would be lost time to me since I’m not actively studying during those five hours each week (round-trip), but instead I am looking at the time as a way to be present in the moment. In addition to indulging in my fill of public radio programs, I spend time praying and reflecting on the week as I drive.

It’s early yet, but I’m also sensing just a bit of rhythm in how the days unfold with class and study times. Monday is my longest day as I’m in class all day except a short lunch break in the middle of the day. Mondays makes me thankful for Tuesday-Thursday when I only have class until 12:30.

My fall semester classes include:
Jesus and the Gospels
Religion, Anthropology, and the Human World
Foundations of the Church
Justification and Justice
Spiritual Practices
MA Colloquium

At a recent gathering students were asking each other what their favorite class was this semester, and I realized I don’t yet have a favorite and I’m not sure if I will. There are different things I really like about each class.

My biggest challenge right now is not exhausting myself by attempting to read all of the assigned/recommended readings closely and thoroughly. I was told before I came here that reading everything assigned is simply not possible, and yet my instinct is to do it anyway. As reality has sunk in over the last few days I am starting to develop a pattern for prioritizing not only the actual assignments, but also the reading within those assignments. And I’m becoming comfortable with skimming when appropriate. By comfortable I mean not only that I don’t feel guilty, but also that I am learning to do it well so that I understand the meaning of the reading and know where to go to find additional information. This is an important first step although I am guessing continued adjustments will need to be made throughout the semester.

So far Nessa, my 6-year-old daughter, is adjusting OK to having all of us in school, but I don’t think she understands yet the full implications of our new schedule. For example, she keeps asking when we can invite more people over for dinner (something we very much enjoy and did a lot in the summer), and doesn’t understand that having dinner guests usually involves a bit more time than catching a quick family meal between study sessions. I am very thankful for this large community of kids here at Wartburg as it is a great community for Nessa to learn and grow in this year. Nessa has also learned that she sometimes needs time to herself and she is becoming better at working on projects by herself while I read nearby. And I’m crossing my fingers that she is in fact slowly becoming a reader herself as she has begun to read chapter books by herself which is a huge step even if she still prefers us to read many chapter books to her. I am dreaming of cold winter days with all three of us huddled under quilts while reading our books .

Prayer Requests:
–For continued health for my family and I throughout this fall transition
–For energy and clarity of mind as I read, study and reflect on what I am learning