We all know, of course, that the new year starts in September. Even if you no longer buy new shoes before classes start, I'm guessing you feel a seasonal tilt toward new books and a general enthusiasm about education.
I mean enthusiasm in the technical sense, of course, and without the baggage that the term has acquired in some quarters. Originally enthusiasm referred to being "consciously in God" — that's a good place to be at beginnings. There, at the beginning, we are released from some of the false sense of ownership that can follow solid preparation. It's God's work we are doing, not our own.
We recently started a new worship service at St. John: Friday evening prayer around the Cross. (If you're acquainted with Taizé prayer around the Cross, think of this as a distant cousin, as if Damon Runyon started a contemplative prayer group for Nathan Detroit and Apple Annie.)
Our first Friday attracted a total of four people. I was there with Joey (a man facing multiple challenges), Thea (a beacon of faith in spite of — or because of — being ill), and my son.
Worship comprised some singing, a word of welcome and interpretation, a collection of prayer requests, and then prayer, scripture, and litanies — many from David Adam's little book, The Rhythm of Life: Celtic Daily Prayer. Then we chanted while lighting candles and placing them around the Cross.
That's where things got interesting. I lit the first candle. My son lit one. Joey evidently thought the idea was to light all the candles, so he set about the task in earnest. Despite my certainty that uncooked linguine makes a great candle lighter, taking the flame from a candle and waving it around the table doesn't work all that well, so his improvised taper kept going out. My son the Boy Scout was right on it, eager to help. (Later he commented, "Now I know what the people at A.A. mean when they say that ‘insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.'" Indeed.)
I was mesmerized for a bit, and then I glanced over at Thea. She was slumped over in her motorized wheelchair. I know that she long ago made her peace with God, but somehow it didn't seem like an auspicious time or place for their face-to-face meeting.
I walked over and gently placed a hand on her back. To my great delight, it was moving. So I leaned over, putting my face right under hers, and asked whether she could use a little push.
Right then, in walked Marilyn, whose schedule is not quite the same as anyone else's. She saw my position, so she naturally assumed that I was offering very private counsel, and she turned to leave. I whispered for her to stay, but since Marilyn is almost deaf, that was pointless. I pushed Thea to upright, ran after Marilyn, and holy hilarity ensued. When everything seemed off-kilter all at once, we laughed at the chaos.
I wrote down that story because it is important to remember beginnings, and to do so truly, beyond the hype.
I spoke once with a board chair whose commitment to his school was cemented when he was a student there, and the seminary had been working to build a new campus even though neither school nor students had any money. "I've got to use those pictures!" I chirped. "We didn't have cameras," he replied. That's the sort of thing that needs remembering.
Happy new academic year. May you be led, may you follow, may you keep the stories so that you may see truly where you have been.