I went to my seminary, Anderson University School of Theology, for chapel today, and I was pleasantly surprised to find out that one of my good friends, Pastor Joy May Sherman, was preaching (speaking, whatever). Her message was about denial and how we don’t understand denial in the same ways that Jesus meant denial. Essentially her message was about the fact that we consider giving something up for Lent an expression of denial, but that Jesus wants us to give ourselves up, constantly, all day every day.
Her words took me back to the time when I was in seminary and I fasted, eating and drinking only fruit juice and water for the whole six-ish weeks from Ash Wednesday to Easter. Those weeks were long and grueling, and I felt as if I had really practiced the discipline of denial. I had given up ________, but Jesus asks for us to give up ourselves, our own “selfish ambitions.” Do I do that? I try, but do I really want, as Joy put it in her sermon, a discipleship in which still allows me to hold on to my own goals? I am not sure. I think I try to put aside those things which are of myself, while focusing on God’s will for my life, while trying to take up the life God has for me, while attempting to carry my cross. But if I look deep inside myself, I think I still sling to a lot of things that are of my own ambitions and not necessarily of God. Something to work on, I guess. One more thing.
I hadn’t anticipated all the feelings that being back in the seminary building, and more specifically the chapel, would bring out of me. I had forgotten how being with women who love God so deeply can feel. I was a bit nervous, I’ll confess, because I have been so vocal about my sexuality as of late. I thought I might go, see my friends, and it would be awkward. Usually, this is more my own paranoia than anything else. Nonetheless, I felt a great sense of relief and welcome when Kimberly and Joy embraced me as they had in those years past, when I was back there hiding (not so effectively) behind the vestments in the church closet.
I don’t know how I have functioned for the past few years, being so angry at God, being so angry for so many things. I won’t say that anything supernatural like a tsunami of love and grace splashed over me when I entered Miller Chapel, but a small sprinkling of where I was in my relationship with God when I was in seminary came back to me. I was, in those 60 minutes, so thankful for the healing that God provides. So thankful. I felt at peace.
Seminary was one of the happiest, but most complicated periods of my spiritual development. I was deeply in love with God. Deeply enamored with Jesus. And deeply guided by the Holy Spirit. I was deeply hidden in the closet, but I knew who I was in Christ. I could speak tangibly of my call. I was so caught up in all of the world of seminary, that I can’t remember much of the day to day experiences of those three years. I went to school and chapel (as we all did), and then I went to work at Pizza King. I was exhausted, but I was exhilarated. It was a beautiful three years.
On my way home, I listened to Jennifer Knapp, my go-to girl for moments when I have experienced God in a new or meaningful way. The first song that came on in the shuffle was “Refine Me.” Knapp writes: “I come into this place, burning to receive your peace. I come with my own chains for wars I fought for my own selfish gains. You’re my God and my father. I’ve accepted your son, but my soul feels so empty now. What have I become? Lord, come with your fire, burn my desires, refine me. Lord, my will has deceived me, please come and free me, refine me.” What a beautiful way to end a blessed day.