Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Journal reflection

We write weekly journals for Field Ed. I wrote this today, and it seemed worth sharing. The week's questions:

What are some hopes you have about your upcoming year as a seminarian?
What are some fears?

I’m both exhausted and wired from last night. I loved it, and I can’t wait to go again. I postponed field ed to grow into the sense of call that propelled me to school. (God said, “Go; figure it out later.”) My friends are passionate about their parish ministries. Other experiences along the way—primarily two trips to post-Katrina New Orleans—turned me sharply outward. A talk with [one faculty] last spring, after I’d spent all of January in NOLA, helped me to see that I’m really not called into a parish. I’m called outside. I’ve been thinking since last winter of starting a chaplaincy for homeless people.

Obviously I need mentors. We’re not taught, in the classroom, how to do ministry on the margins. (I get frustrated when that’s perceived as strictly a diaconal call. Deacons rock. I want to be a priest to people who would never walk into a mainstream, middle-class parish.) And now I have them, in [the field ed instructor] and the Night Ministry staff. I’m surrounded by good, passionate, skilled people. I know I’ll learn what I need from this. And I’ll know where to go for more. This experience will feed the next.

I’ve been chomping to get out of the tower and into the world, since I got here—even as I held back from that leap until I knew what to jump into. I’m really ready now, and really eager to go. I know that my call is to the forgotten, and the exiled. Those are my people; that is my place. This is where I belong.

I learned in NOLA, and I heard (and felt) again last night: everything starts from presence. You show up. You open yourself; you listen. You let God, be. Even I can do that. Specialized skills will come.

My hope is to stay open and to keep this optimism. I know something about poverty; I know I have lots to learn. I only need half-time credits (thank God); depending on how my health holds up, I can give a lot. I’m going into this year with medical unknowns; all I can really say is, “Let’s just see.” I know I’ve put myself in the path I need to be. I’m doing my heart’s work, and I know God is here.

I’ve often had trouble juggling everything a seminarian juggles. With a lighter academic load, I’m hoping to stay better afloat.

My fear is obvious: sickness. All my tests were clean, last spring; a skin check yesterday turned up nothing (save one small, unusually dark mole). I’m trying not to worry about cancer. I’m exhausted all the time, and slightly nauseous, from treatment. I constantly feel as if I’ve been up all night. Going to bed earlier hasn’t helped, as much as naps do. I am trying to take good care of myself.

I feel in the rational sense, “Okay, you know they got it.” But right now I have a 50% chance of recurrence, even with clean tests. My doctors tell me not to worry, even as they say I’ll be free in five years. The first two years are the diciest. I do feel like I’m walking on a balance beam.

After you’ve been told (over the phone!) you have cancer, and lived through that first week of not knowing how serious it is… I know I still look open, alive, joyful. I am, and in some ways more so. Cancer gave me gifts. But I’ll never get that happy-go-luckiness back. I’ve gained a profound appreciation for life, and a deep awareness both of self and community. I have an empathy that I couldn’t have touched before April. I’ve lost an innocence that I can barely imagine now.

I’m not afraid of death. I’m nowhere near dying, even if I were afraid. I think I am afraid of being debilitated. Even as slightly as I am right now—exhausted as all getout and oddly able to function at 2 a.m.—my limits are much more obvious than they ever were. I’m not the reader, or the writer, that I was. Sleep is a strong temptation, and I’m not in a good rhythm yet. As a worker, I’m thoroughly inefficient. I’m just going to keep trying, and see how I do.

And yet, I am afraid of the crisis line. Being out at night, meeting people, doesn’t faze me. There is no fear, only a curious openness; a ready calm. I’m completely jazzed about the Open Cathedral. Talking with someone I can’t see, who is calling because they need to have a particular conversation and I’m who they get, scares me. I’ll learn it and I’ll do it and I may even become good at it—right now, it’s a foreign beast. But I’m going to be trained in October, however I feel about it now.

There’s a quote on the wall, opposite the crisis line phones: “Do one thing each day that scares you.” I know something about true fear, now. Getting re-acquainted with non-mortal fear—recognizing and accepting the feeling—is a curious place to be.


it's margaret said...

of course!

you know --on a tangent thought here-- American Cancer Society Volunteer guidelines suggest that one not volunteer for anything for two years after treatment--because the questions are so fresh, and the spiritual openings so huge. I always thought that they missed something in having such guidelines --they (ACS) thought that being present might not just be enough... I think your being present, even if on the phone, might be enough in many situations, because sometimes there is nothing to DO. --and presence is so very incarnational... so very Christian.

I hope that makes sense....

Kirstin said...

Oh, it does. On many levels.

You get it. Thank you so much!

susan s. said...


I found this blog today. I can't remember how I got there, but I thought of you for some reason...

Jane R said...

Makes sense, Margaret...

Jane R said...

Hey Kirstin, I may be repeating myself here (forgive me, I am just starting to emerge from the Great Tree Disaster and my brain is still a little shaken, in addition to being fried from the first weeks of school and the Dreaded Fourth-Year Evaluation) but have you talked to Deborah Little? I just discovered that her ministries with homeless people now have a website. Other commenters may be interested too. I remember when she started this under the name "common cathedral," which is still the name of the outdoor liturgy, just before I left Boston for California. Glad to hear her effort has continued and she now has more support than when she started -- though of course the community always showed up...

So there's good precedent for priestly ministry in this area.

Catherine said...

KIRSTIN!!! Where the heck have you been girl??