|"The Visitation" by He Qi. Used with permission.
"The Visitation" is a wonderfully otherworldly name, the capital letter suggesting that the visitor is from another world of some sort -- outer space, at least, or maybe even heaven. In fact, it's just the story of two cousins getting together. Now, to be sure, the cousins were Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, and it occurred while both were carrying their extraordinary sons. Nevertheless, their visit would have been ordinary enough, except for the words on their lips in the first chapter of Luke. Elizabeth lets loose with prophecy, and Mary responds with a psalm -- not one of the canonical 150, but a new one, the Magnificat. "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord," she begins her song, full of imagery of reversal and mercy.
Why don't more visits start like that? Most of us in a situation like Elizabeth's would have started with something more along the lines of "Hi, Mary, aren't these swollen ankles the pits?"
Surely their conversation wandered in those directions soon enough, these two first-time pregnant moms. And that conversation was quite as blessed as what preceded it, precisely because of what preceded it. Benediction provided a context for the rest of the visit, and the conversation about swollen ankles was more than whining for whining's sake.
Ah, whining. A vice more addictive than chocolate, surely. There's a story idea we've tossed around at In Trust for years and years: a humorous look at what boards say about faculty and what faculty say about boards. We haven't found anyone yet to write it because we fear it might turn just plain nasty. Whiny, too.
What has happened to us? There really was a time when seminary faculty were revered. And they weren't all paragons of learning and virtue, either. Even the most perfunctory historical research shows that faculty ranks were never devoid of a certain percentage of less than stellar spokespeople for the faith -- no profession can claim perfection. What has changed about our attitudes?
Perhaps theological education might gain a little more respect if we addressed each other a bit more respectfully. Perhaps if we were a bit more reverential toward the Word the other carries. Perhaps if we could say, or even think, "How blessed we are to have among us someone who has dedicated a life to the study of scripture," even if we think their research is trivial or just plain wrong. Perhaps if we could say or think, "How blessed we are to have people who take time out of their busy lives to care for this institution," even if they haven't managed to learn its culture as well as we'd like.
Elizabeth spoke by the power of the Holy Spirit, according to Luke, and apparently she caught it from the sound of Mary's voice, Mary being at that moment quite literally and bodily filled with the Spirit. But of course Elizabeth herself was living a miracle, and a particularly forceful kick from her son coincided with her prophecy.
We too are blessed in the midst of what often seems mundane to us, this work of governing theological education. And it is mundane, and there is much to whine about. But it is not only at our own peril that we get bogged down. We have responsibility beyond our own preferences.
"Blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord," Elizabeth said. Perhaps, sometimes, by God's grace we are among those so blessed.