Friday, June 24, 2011

Post-Graduate Someday?

There's a car sticker bumping around out there that reads, "Paradox Happens." It's a Christian sticker with a bright red chalice next to it. I’m not sure the flavor of Christianity, but I noticed a couple of years ago. It named an epiphany I felt I’d had too.

Paradox fits the Christian disposition. It’s a humbling reminder to someone like me, who likes big ideas, that my understanding is finite, that Truth transcends my reason. When I reason out truths, I often apply false confines upon their mysteries. It took me a long time to realize God isn’t either Judge or Lover of Mankind. Every so often I get a niggling suspicion that I’m confining Truth to my knowledge of time and space, usually this is a product of prayer and reflection. Twice this week, that barrier broke, once during Wednesday class at church, while reading a quote from Augustine of Hippo on the Beatitude “Blessed are the Meek for they shall inherit the earth.” The second time lammed onto the first-like bat flying at his perch and settling in perfect rest. It came when I was promising myself to apply to graduate school this summer. I return here regularly, but stalled out each time as I weigh practical against desireable. For instance, should I pursue something in library science – leading to concrete positions- or go for the MFA in Creative Writing- my pie dream of writing for a living.  While I was weighing it out, I took a break to read a heart-breaking email from a distressed parent.

Epiphanies tend to build upon one another. One dawn leads to the next, so to speak. Because that happened this time, I will start with the epiphany in class. This time it was an epiphany- a revelation of understanding about God.  I want you to enjoy this experience as first hand as possible, so go look up "meek." Funny word. We have a lot of horse people in our church. Did you know meek is related to equestrian terms? My priest husband was asking attendees what meek meant.

“Power under control,” said one class member, "I remember it having something to do with horses." Turns out, meekness is like the horse, which has the power to reject a rider, or toss him, but doesn't. It accepts.

The discussion was swirling around me about what forms meekness takes in the face of others' successes, in suffering, in competition. I'm just reading ahead in the handout. In part two, it offers a saints reflection the second half of the Beatitude. "Inherit the Earth." Ha, we all know that most of us will never inherit the earth, or even the equivalent of Paris Hilton's inheritance. I stopped asking what it truly means ages ago, like at fourteen, when I wasn't winning the Publisher's Clearninghouse Sweepstakes-- Correction. My mom wasn't winning it when I secretly sent back the stickery-page with the magazine samples that promised to sign me up for a million dollars.

On the handout Augustine of Hippo is quoted saying: "You who wish to possess the earth now, take care. If you are meek, you will possess it; if ruthless, the earth will possess you." 

This is not the prosperity gospel, about winning all the land rights, material goods and delicious bass you want. This is old timey gospel gettin’: by living within one’s means, learning to live without all the fat and extras, we are freed from envy and vain pursuit of stuff that doesn’t really make us happy anyway. Freed from the slavery of ‘gotta’ to ‘getta.’ I don’t got to have this, I get to enjoy it, when it is bestoyed, like inheritance upon me. This is not dividing my psyche between spiritual growth and material gain.

Which was an interesting thought, since I've returned to the notion that I need to get my Masters. Teachers are expected to get one, or to continue taking lots of classes. I’d rather use my energies for the degree right now. I feel this way at the end of every semester. In fact, the night before class I’d discussed my graduate options with our friends, Maura and Will. Will is Assistant Dean of Student Affairs at Wabash College. His writer is a wife like me. Strike that; reverse it. She writes, when not being a wife, like me. Will encouraged me to go for the Writing program, which I prefer to do. It’s just that more time and money toward it feels like earning an expensive barrista degree. I talk aloud about the practical benefit of a Library Science Masters. I’ve tried to send in the application for two years now, I can't commit. It's not that being paid to read books would be bad, but it’s not what I want. I have three blogs, for pete's sake. Let's face it. I like to write. I dream of being a writer.

So on Tuesday, I’m rethinking my future studies and on Wednesday thinking about living an undivided life. What does God ask of me, since I need to bring in most of the salary around here for a few years. Once again, I’m back to stage one, being afraid to know what God would say is the right choice. There’s that either/or again. I read recently that we Christians don't really trust Him. We've been taught about a God who will impose upon us and if we’re good and obedient we will suck it up and live with it. This is my scary God. He’s very judging, very much a God created in the image and likeness of a smallish, childish mind. I don't say child-like, I say childish. Children are very concrete, very black and white, very either/or. I’m either gonna pick what’s in His will or not. What if what I want is not what He wants? It’s not that this can’t happen, but it’s rarely so either/or. Often, there are shades of our realizations and maturity factoring into the options. We can create all sorts of justifications to exclude the buffet of options and narrow it down to either/or

Maybe it’s occurred to others, but I hadn’t thought about the fact that all the fears I have about getting it right, about making THE right choice are my anthropomorphisms of God. He’s more Zeus in this rendering than like “God is Love” and “Perfect love casts out fear.”

In our fallen state, we are childish beings. We are concrete and ego-centric. We get pretty black and white. Last year, in a fit, I yelled to my kids that I became a teacher because I had to do it. At my most discontent and stressed moments, I have a whole self-talk litany that traps me into this career, instead of living freely to serve others through it. It’s true that I imagine myself more as a writer than teacher, or as any other kind of careerist. In my fallen state, I think I have to be a teacher because it’s humbling. It’s servanthood and my obedience. This kind of thinking strikes me as equivalent to thinking At least God will notice all that I gave up to make Him happy and serve His people. Strange, since I can evaluate my nine years of teaching and find so many thrilling, joyful moments in it. I mean I enjoyed them self-indulgently. I once thought that God wasn’t allowing me to pursue writing because I would grow an ego if I ever succeeded. Considering how easy it is to write without ever acquiring fame, that’s a funny notion.

In midst of the Wednesday class discussion, I’m experiencing a realization to draw me to God. He is Judge, yes; He judging me worthy to “get to,” not to “have to.” Around me people are talking meekness. The closer we come to being meek, being in the Imitation of Christ, the closer we are to understanding love. His love burns clean and hot, not mean. It’s taken nine years of teaching, and my husband leaving the music industry for seminary to realize all those dreams of bigger and better came with divorces, and bitterness, division and materialism. Fame and stuff never did make me happy.  Not only did I enjoy great moments in the past nine years, but I’m better equipped to accept the rejections and failures that come with a writer’s life. The beatitude is a be-attitude, become of the disposition like God the Son, exercise power under control and I get to be free to discover what I wanted. A different kind of glory, indeed.

On Thursday, I began exploring Purdue's MFA program and allowing myself to dream again, when I read an email from a struggling parent. It’s been in my inbox since last night. I get lots of sorrowful stories throughout a school year, but this is the fifth or sixth from her alone. I've not done a good job of praying for these families this year or last. I've become a bit jaded. Endless excuses, I think, and I’m too busy to trying serve all of them to have a heart for each one. But this mom persisted in baring her heart to me all year. Now that I am winding down the year, I have read this email slowly. BAM! Let in the heartbreak.

I cried, then did what we self-revealing Americans do these days. I published my feelings on Facebook.
"Sometimes God sends along someone who needs prayers and kindness. I am awakened out of fog and a winter of discontent. I am brought to tears at my own shortcomings, my self-centeredness, and my desire to move up and out. -- Teaching is an act of humility for me. It is my asceticism. It’s time to commit to it as an act of spiritual obedience, yet again. Just at the end of the year, when I am most worn out."

Not getting out of this teaching thing am I, God? I ask. By now, I’ve tucked my legs under me.  Another breaking dawn. Last night I heard I blew off steam with my husband, now I realize it’s reality. I’m not getting out of teaching if I get an MFA. It’s a kind of writing doctorate program. It’s impractical for most anything but writing, and teaching.