Wednesday, September 9, 2015

My First Week in Seminary, Part II

Well, here I am, Labor Day enjoying one last night of relaxation before I begin my regular classes for the semester begin. Last week was one of the most intense, beautiful, emotional, and thought provoking weeks of my life.

So much happened in such a short period of time that the only way to make sure I don't miss anything is to chronicle this topsy-turvy week day by day.

Saturday, August 29th:

Today was the beginning of the Circle of Trust class, a two day intensive class designed to help build trust, listening skills, and self empowerment. From the course description I anticipated some kind of fluffy New Age self-help woo woo. Then I started reading the book assigned for the class. The author denounced the very thing I assumed this course was going to be in the book. But I was somehow sure it was still going to end up that way.

I was wrong. The class ended up being an intense 10 hour class on how to listen better to people and asking questions.

We were taught how to ask what they referred to as open and honest questions meaning that the questions weren't supposed to be closed questions aimed at fixing the problem. instead the questions

At the end of the day, we had to take objects that reminded us of our past. We were told to hold the objects and journal about where we've been in life. Specifically we were told to reflect on who we were as children, who we were as teenagers, and who we were as young adults.

I don't have the happiest of childhoods nor teen years and the first few years of my twenties weren't spectacular either. So, going over this in my head and journaling about it was pretty intense for me. Then as though that weren't emotional enough, I then had to tell two strangers I had met earlier that day about it.

I went home that night feeling drained.

Sunday, August 30th:

I went back for day two of the class. I had volunteered to be the focus person in one of the groups. The focus person was someone who brought a problem to the group and then the other members of the group were to ask open and honest questions not to resolve your problem but to help you think about your problem in ways you probably hadn't so you could do more to solve it.

I knew that would probably be an intense experience. I decided to bring up a very raw topic for myself, my guilt over not getting closure with my dad when I had the chance and how do I move on from this point? The session was two hours long, 15 minutes of me explaining the issue and the rest of the time, the other 4 people in our group asked me open and honest questions. Again, this was not to try to resolve my problem, but to help me think of it in different ways. It honestly opened up a whole new avenue of exploration of this issue and made me realize there may be a way to deal with this. For that I'm grateful.

After the Circle of Trust retreat, I felt really drained and didn't want to do anything else that night, but we still had the welcoming ceremony for the new students, called the Threshold Ceremony. I arrived back at the school after an hour and a number of second and third year students were there as well as a number of the faculty. They lined us up in a straight line and handed each of us a lit candle. Several members of the faculty said a few words about new beginnings and crossing into a new life.

They then started singing the famous adaptation of Rumi's words:

Come, come whoever you are!
Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving.
Ours is no caravan of despair.
Come, yet again, come.

As they sang we walked through the doors of the school into the chapel. The chapel was now centered around a fireplace against the walls. On the mantle of the fireplace and the hearth were nearly 100 unlit candles all held up by various types of candlesticks. directly above the altar was a stained glass window of a yellow spiral, the symbol of the school.

They continued singing the song and introduced several rounds of it. The energy in the room was electric as we sang it over and over again each word more intense than the last.

Finally the song was over and the president of the school wearing a black cassock with a flaming chalice embroidered in gold on the front of it. She welcomed all of us which was followed by a blessing by one of the faculty.

After this, we chanted:

There is a love holding us. 
There is a love holding all we love. 
There is a love holding us.
We rest in this love.

Then we new students were invited to come up one at a time as they called our name out and place our candles on the altar. We continued chanting and as they called out our names, we replaced the word "we" in the last line of the song with the name of the student approaching the altar to set their candle there. After we put our candles on the hearth, we were welcomed to the school by the class president and given a key to the school (a real key I can use any time, not a ceremonial one) and a sand dollar. The significance of the sand dollar wasn't explained, but it was a beautiful gesture.

This was followed by silent meditation and then a Jewish hymn called Hineh Ma Tov which is a song about sitting in unity and brotherhood.

After this, the provost of the school read some original poetry he had written about social justice. They were wonderful poems and I'm not going to slaughter them by trying to remember lines from them and put them down here. The topics were diversity, bodies mattering, lives mattering especially black lives and those of any other oppressed group.

This was followed by several beautiful songs and one of the faculty offering up words of hope while the choir sang. it was all so beautiful and so magical. It was like being swept away in an opera or a concert. I was overcome with emotion and it felt like I was engulfed in a current of peace and love. 

We were all invited to then come up and light a candle on the hearth or mantle as a candle of hope for the year. one by one, we lined up until the altar was dazzled with dozens of flickering flames all the while the choir chanted, 

Stay with me, 
Remain here with me, 
Watch and pray.

We continued chanting for a minute or two after all the candles were lit and just soaked in the atmosphere of it all.

The service ended with the president of the university giving a final blessing and then we all gathered in several tight, concentric circles around the center of the room holding hands and singing.

It seemed abrupt how it all ended, no final words, no dismissal, just this incredible energy left over from the ceremony.

After this there was a dinner for all the school's students. Dinner consisted of the best Indian food I've ever had in my life and great conversation and company.

This blog is turning out far longer and more detailed than I anticipated. I will have to pick this up in one final part, Part III: Orientation, Anointing, and Symposium.

Until next time, 
Peace be with you.