Two weeks of spring break – what does a seminarian do? Catch up on sleep, prayer, reflection, paper research, and mission work.
In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. ~ Mark 1:35
Spring break – it is a time that conjures up notions of relaxing beachside vacations in exotic locations, For younger people, it may even be a time to party it up with large groups of friends. For many adults returning to school, though, I imagine that the options are generally less exotic. Nevertheless, I have been taking some time this past week to visit exotic and relaxing locations – deserted tropical beaches, rain forests, icebreakers in the Arctic, a log cabin with a roaring fire in the midst of thunderstorms.
Oh, yeah – all of these, and more, have been on YouTube, Google’s online video service. It’s all part of what some people call the “Slow TV” or “Ambient TV” trend of videos that help us to find the rhythm of life in a world that tempts us with 24/7 stimulation from media of all kinds. There has been entertainment of this kind for many years, of course – remember the “yule log” on some local TV stations at Christmas? – but it has burgeoned into a global industry of scenery changing.
Jesus’ spring break on a mountain
Finding deserted places to gather our spirits is a fundamental part of Christian living. In the very first chapter of Mark’s gospel, one of the first things that we see is Jesus taking time to pray in a deserted place. It seems that often Jesus would try to get his “down time” in, sometimes being interrupted by disciples or people in need, other times succeeding just being one in thought and prayer with God the Creator, and God the Transformer, so that Jesus might be God the Redeemer. It’s barely a “spring break” by our standards, but it suited Jesus’ ministries well.
So, too, this seminarian has caught up on his prayer life, both consciously and as I fall to sleep. As a student, you are asked constantly to perform, to strive, to take things in, to synthesize materials into creative work. After a while, though, you run out of spiritual space to do this in. Between studies, working at a church, tending to family matters, and mission work, the fabric of my life can get pretty frayed at times. So this break time puts me back into touch with the healthy spiritual rhythms of life that feed the presence of God’s Holy Spirit in my life.
A “bus-man’s holiday” anyway
Still, though, like Jesus, it doesn’t take long for life as we actually live it to creep in. While I’d like to say that I’ve been falling to sleep reading relaxing novels, the truth is that much of my time has been spent nosing through books on the apostle Paul’s notion of justification by faith, and some of the very rare original works by Rev. Jesse Lee, a Methodist circuit rider who founded many of the Methodist congregations in New England. When I am not doing that, often I am listening to school books via my smart phone’s connection to my car radio as I drive along. I do try to do it at a more managed pace, and I find that I actually have the “mental space” to ponder these books carefully.
I know that this sounds like a grind’s life, or a “bus-man’s holiday,” and I guess it is in many ways. But I am also very mindful that my time at seminary will be very short from now on. I have had the rare privilege of dropping everything to study at an advanced level at a fairly advanced age, and that’s something that I really cherish. I take time to go for walks, fill the bird feeders, see a move/picture-show with my family, pray, and, yes, sleep – but to be in school at this point in my life at this level is something that I will never take for granted.
Still time for mission
This is also time to spend with people who need time spent with them, such as the father of our local refugee family, who has been trying to get his Connecticut driver’s license. The first time that we tried back in the fall in Danbury, it didn’t go so well – we didn’t have our paperwork in order, the inspector was not very friendly, and the father was still very new to driving in the U.S. The second time, the car that was donated for his family’s use turned out not to be suitable for the test because of some aftermarket window tinting. He failed before he ever got behind the wheel. This time, with many hours of practice behind him, a certificate for his window tinting, and all of his paperwork in order, he passed the test with flying colours.
When he gave me the good news, I gave him a big hug, and we looked at Google Maps on my phone to plan out trips to far-away places in the U.S. Then we went out to a local restaurant and celebrated with some ice cream sundaes. This is a major milestone in his life, and one which I hope brings him more employment opportunities and much joy for many years. I also let him know that I prayed for Jesus to watch over him during the test! We laughed about this, knowing that we both love our God in our own particular ways, and that we both trust in God, as Abraham trusted in God and God reckoned Abraham a righteous person. It is God who determines this, not us.
A break is about perspective
So yes, it has not been a “classic” spring break, perhaps, but it has been a good one. Just as Jesus found a quiet time to pray and to regain the eternal rhythm of life, my break has helped me to focus on things at a pace that is closer to God’s time. I would like it to have been slower, perhaps, but sometimes slow enough is good enough. Perhaps a break is as much as re-establishing a rhythm that we can carry in to our everyday lives as it is about a change of pace in general. Every moment of life is worth cherishing, and I hope and pray that I will return to school refreshed, educated, and ready to excel, but I also hope and pray that these re-established rhythms will stick with me through the rest of the semester, and further. With God’s help, I hope that this will happen.
And now, back to the virtual beach!