Today’s post is about one of Mikala’s and my most beloved students. Not only was she a joy to work with during our time in Muncie, but she became one of the few with whom we have maintained contact through all of the ups and downs of the last few years.
I smiled as the young woman sitting across from me at the Greek restaurant continued to update me on her life. In between bites of gyro,1 she talked about finishing both her bachelor’s and gradua
te programs and the process of licensure for speech pathology; about living with her sister and the mountain of take out boxes in their fridge – and how the mostly older and married fellow teachers joke about it every day (and how that doesn’t ever get old).
She also talked about the journey of finding a church community: why she remained at the Campus House after both my and Bonnie’s termination for some months but couldn’t stay into her graduate years; why she chose the local Methodist church but not their young hipster offshoot; why after moving back home she tried to attend the church of her youth but found that, for some reason, it was no longer hers; and then the lone search for another community.
Yet somehow through it all Allison continued to smile, always speaking with her paradoxical brand of dry, sometimes dark humor mixed with bubbling optimism – the same traits that endeared her to us when she was a student and continued through the years with road trips, cards, letters, and phone calls.
She started talking about her new church’s small group and the concomitant awkward experiences of trying to make new friends (and trying to gauge a new group’s heresy threshold).
“I still tell people about my campus pastor who used to make me so mad,” she continued, “. . . and that’s why I liked him so much!”
I laughed, remembering the time so many years ago when Allison had stormed into my office on a Monday morning, announcing that she was “officially angry” with me.
“It was too close,” she said.
Reading the total confusion on my face, she pushed on.
“Too close to what I grew up with. That’s why I’m here at Campus House: to get away from all that.”
And it clicked. The previous day’s worship service had been particularly heavy on the liturgy with several communal Scripture readings, prayers, and other call-and-response elements. It was balanced with modern worship tunes and video pieces, but still . . . .
So began one of the most memorable conversations I ever had with a student. Allison went on to describe her upbringing in the Lutheran tradition and of her lack of connection with its liturgical style of worship and how she purposefully avoided the Lutheran fellowship once on campus, seeking instead a decidedly more evangelical ministry. She spoke of the dryness of scripted prayers and rote-responses, of the silly vestments and empty ceremony, of the pointless sermons.
Allison described the years of experience leading to her distaste for liturgical worship while I shared my relatively recent love for it. How far from being empty and dry, it had injected my faith with newfound vitality and provided depth to my worship planning.
As the dialogue continued into the following months, something began to change within my heart. I saw in Allison a fellow pilgrim, walking a path which at first blush seemed to run altogether counter to mine, yet which upon further inspection proved to be one and the same. Though they diverged at several points here, at least for a moment, they ran together. We had each given a gift: the ability to see through another’s eyes. Through each other’s eyes, we saw beauty and worth where before we only held scorn and derision. Through each other’s eyes, we saw the riches our traditions had to offer where before we saw only poverty. Neither of us necessarily wanted to go back, or to step onto to the other’s path, but the gift was bigger than that.
For my part, the new sight allowed me to understand the vital truth that I was not so much leaving one movement – for who can separate the streams once they are seen as part of the one River? – as much as adding the new to the old. As Fr. Rohr would say, we do not negate, we transcend and include, for everything belongs.
1. Pronounced yee-roh. Call it a jie-roh and I’ll cut you.↩