Heart stopped

Sometimes we are arrested, pole-axed, stricken by beauty and it makes our world stand still. I am not sure how I feel about this experience. After all, it is unanticipated, it takes matters out of your hands and your reaction is pure and whole hearted. The world can look upon your face in that moment and see you in all your nakedness, awe struck and reverent. Worship can be like that, it’s why I find that I close my eyes so often in prayer, it’s why I love the Episcopal liturgy that allows us gracious space for those moments. Part of me longs for more of these moments, and part of me fears them. After all, your heart is stopped, if only for an instant. It takes your breath.

The summer has flown by, a stretch of days enjoying my mother’s company in Richmond while she recovered from surgery, feasting on the Mitford Series by Jan Karon and overdosing on summer TV series and films. I am such an info junkie. The best movie I saw all summer was The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It’s very Not American, and very much the better because of it. The protagonist is a waif like, hard as nails hacker who has learned to bury her softness deep inside and use her rage as a weapon to defend herself. She has an uncompromising sense of right and wrong and in an age where rapists and murderers frequently escape atonement due to extenuating circumstance, she draws a clear line between victim and victimizer. It’s on DVD now, so check it out, if only so you can be amazed by how badly Hollywood will butcher the remake.

I am writing from my new home in Durham, North Carolina. I have arrived and survived my first 2.5 weeks at Duke. Week one was a “pre-week” program for a limited number of students called “Project Bridddge”. During it, we studied the complicated history of Durham, race relations, poverty and class issues. We worked in local programs in the community to begin to see the “real Durham”. We visited a historical plantation, met a famous civil rights leader named Ann Atwater who was incredible and got to know each other. At the end of the week, we shared our experiences and then voted on a specific mission to donate the offering to from the official Divinity School Orientation Day worship. We picked a group called Urban Ministries. Several of us participated in the worship service and it fell to me to describe the organization and why we chose it. I confess that when the incoming Dean of the Divinity School made eye contact, my mind went blank, but I managed to get the main details out and make a passionate appeal on their behalf. Urban Ministries is downtown and feeds 200-250 people at each meal, 3 meals a day every day. They also operate a food pantry, and when we entered I was dismayed to see the shelves were bare in some of the categories. (No macaroni and cheese or boxed foods, only a few canned goods) Needless to say, I lobbied hard for this group as did others in my group who spent time there. I had the opportunity to eat with and visit with people who were having lunch there the day we went and it will definitely  be a place I donate food and time to in the future. We raised a nice amount of money from the offering, nearly doubling last year’s amount. Yay!

Orientation was pretty intense, with information and lectures on every topic imaginable from early in the morning until late in the afternoon for three days straight. I particularly enjoyed a lecture on Spiritual Formation and one on Harassment. Harassment? Yes, well I also didn’t think I had anything to learn after endless corporate seminars on this topic, but I was wrong. I am guessing many of the students (200+) in the audience were re-evaluating their behavior in light of the presentation and wondering if they may have ever inadvertently made someone uncomfortable. Thought provoking.

I secured a work study at the Institute for the Care at End of Life which is right up my alley. I am loving it. I have attended several Anglican Episcopal House of Studies events, including a retreat earlier today and am so happy to be here. I quite adore Dr. Bailey-Wells who has such a steady and sure energy about her and demonstrates a love for the church that is encouraging. I’ve already attended two Eucharists she has celebrated and they were along the lines of what I grew up with, though in Virginia, some would describe that as high. I find it comforting and reassuring. Especially in the midst of so much newness.

There is so much that is new here. A new home, a large 4 bedroom house I am sharing with a perfectly wonderful house mate. She is an English professor at North Carolina Central University. She is not here most evenings, so it is a teeny bit lonely, but once I get little Tucker here I think it will be less so. Nothing like a snuggly Yorkie to make you feel comfy. The house itself is very nice. I have both a bedroom and office, storage in the attic and then share the downstairs which has a giant kitchen, dining room and living room. There is a large deck out back. I am hankering after a rocking chair or Adirondack to sit out there and watch the birds and squirrels.

There are lots of new people to meet. Most of whom are younger than me. This never bothered me at Hollins, where it was not an issue at all. Here, unaccountably it seems to be one. I quite like one of the administrators I work with at the ICEOL, who seems more like a peer. I also have met a few people in my classes whom I have enjoyed great conversations with. But as for off hours socializing, well that’s never been my thing as my friends in Roanoke can attest to. I’m a few special friends kind of person. I like to have my own little tribe of friends and then we parachute in for events. In a nice way of course. I call it The Wicked Tribe. It’s invitation only. It originally started as a group of singletons at an Internet Conference called Shop.org back in the freewheeling days of my corporate life. We banded together at an evening event at Disney’s California Park, played games, rode rides, ate and drank together and generally had a fine old time. Since then, wherever I’ve gone I’ve found people standing with some mixture of disdain, disinterest or puzzlement on the fringes and gathered them to me. I’ve discovered that, no shocker here, they are always the most interesting and eclectic of the bunch. Which suits me down to the ground, being no lost in the herd kind of girl myself.

In all the orienting and logistics of moving and the anxiety of OMIGOD I have to move again, I completely forgot why I was here…the classes. So I was pleasantly shocked when the first one arrived and I was transfixed. It just happened to be Introduction to New Testament Greek, and I kind of fell in love with it, but still. It reminded me, Oh yeah, there’s a REASON, I’m doing all this. For the longest I was just operating on the “Because God said to” model, not really thinking about the fact that I might like it. But boy howdy, do I like it. There’s Church History with a lecturer named Dr. Warren Smith who is erudite, witty, and possesses a vast amount of knowledge of all things church historical. I love listening to him. I am reminded at every moment that he speaks of how very little I know…but I feel that changing with every second I spend in his class.  Yay Dr. Smith!

Back to Greek, my professor is named Nathan Eubank . It’s hard to pick a teacher sight unseen, so I Googled them and I liked what Professor Eubank said on a few esoteric websites. I am SO glad I did that. He is funny, creative and encouraging. It’s a challenging class, and frustrating because there are only 5 girls in a class of 25, so I already feel surrounded by testosterone. In addition, most of the boys are just that, boys. Their brains are still squishy and young and they memorize with ease. You can just see it go in and stick. I, on the other hand, have to flog my older brain like a sluggish pack mule. Maybe I could take some kind of vitamin. If only I could stand to eat fish. Ick. Yet still, it’s my favorite class. When I can read a word, or make sense of a declension I feel *such* a surge of adrenaline. I think to myself that I really WILL be able to read the Bible in Greek in the near future and I feel my heart about to burst. Yeah, I am determined, it will happen. Then there is my Intro to Old Testament Class. Keep in mind that my Church History and Intro  to Old Testament classes have over 200 students in them. We do meet later in a smaller precept course for discussion on another day. My Old Testament teacher is the same person who gave the Harrassment lecture, Dr. Anathea Portier-Young. She is a brilliant scholar who interprets the OT in such a serious and thought provoking way. It’s like she takes every line and unpacks it, giving us the Hebrew and adding context, explaining its place in the whole…it’s incredible. I’ve never heard/read the OT this way. I also have Anglican and regular Spiritual formation classes. In regular Spiritual formation, you share your spiritual call story with a small group and a leader from the Duke community. My leader is Father Rommen, an Orthodox priest. He seems a wonderful fellow. In Anglican Spiritual Formation, it’s a little more demanding, with commitments of attendance to events and to morning prayer. I quite enjoy the discipline.

My last class is Introduction to the Ministry of Social Work. In it we will read about the intersection of Christianity and Social Work throughout the centuries and in modern society. Since I am keenly interested in pastoral care, especially for those near death and dying, I felt this was the best match out of the classes offered to me. There were two classes I really wanted to take but they were only open to second years. I have them on my to do list. One is an Exegesis of Luke class and one is about Death and Grief.

I feel as though I am about to dive into a river at full flood. I am not sure how often I will surface to reflect and add to my blog. I hope I will be able to write often, because I will doubtless need to reflect on this transformational time. If my workload and the intensity of the study is any guide however, I am not sure that will be the case. I came home last night, my first Friday of classes, and fell into bed at 6:30 p.m. I woke at 9:00 a.m. this morning. Other than answering a phone call, I slept the night through. Phew! I was exhausted. This is only the beginning.

Should I pray for strength? I will. Should I pray for an open mind and heart? I do pray that, daily…

What I  really pray is that I will survive those heart stopping moments with grace and ask no more of them than that they continue.