Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Seminary Application - Spiritual Reflection

As part of my seminary application, I must write a spiritual reflection. I'm on draft # 49 1/2 - perhaps I'm overworking it a bit? - and would like to share it with you. I covet your comments and suggestions.

Spiritual Reflection

Perhaps the briefest way to explain the journey that has brought me to apply to VTS is this: it is easier to say “no” to myself than it is to say “no” to my Lord.

I was born in 1952 and spent the first four months of my life in an orphanage. I was designated to go to one set of adoptive parents, but my godmother’s intercession with her supervisor in the Diocese of Newark caused me to be redirected, as it were, to the couple who became my adoptive parents.

I was raised Roman Catholic, but attended a Ukrainian Catholic grammar school for grades 1 through 3. These nuns and lay people, who had escaped the repressive Soviet regime that crushed their nation in the mid-1950’s had a faith that puts us all to shame. Even at that early age, I could sense their sense of purpose and determination to live as Christians in a new life in America. Thereafter I attended Roman Catholic school, and was particularly impressed by the Dominican nuns who taught at my high school. Their academic excellence, their rich spiritual life, their sense of social justice informed my beliefs as a young woman.

I was disillusioned, though, by the Catholic Church’s view of the role of women. The level of respect accorded to my high school teachers, who were academics and theologians of some excellence, was not the equal of that accorded to priests, who were, of course, male. Some of the priests were wonderful. Some were less than wonderful. Yet their position in the hierarchy was clearly higher. It rankled.

I was further disillusioned when, in my college years, I was the victim of sexual violence. I was told to go to confession. What I was to confess, I still do not know, but the confessor impressed upon me that I had somehow done wrong and needed to repent.

Though I felt I could no longer attend Catholic Church, I could not separate myself from God. The next year, when in graduate school, I got the opportunity to sing in a choir at a Congregationalist Church. It was a very different spiritual environment. Scriptural exegesis was not part of what I had grown up with, but I enjoyed it, and grew from the experience to a deeper appreciation of the Scripture. It was revelatory to realize that the laity could study Scripture, could delve into it without the mediating influence of the priest.

In later years, when I was married to my former husband, we attended Unitarian Church. It was the only church I could convince him to attend. He, too, was a former Catholic, and had felt deeply unhappy with the experience. Although the concept of a non-credal denomination seemed strange to me, I embraced the opportunity to explore a different way to address the Divine. My Judeo-Christian roots were strong, and sometimes I disagreed with some of the more unusual approaches some of the congregants in that church took in their search for truth, but the pastor there was a gifted and thoughtful man, who rarely took the easy way in his sermons. I learned from him and was grateful for his teaching.

I’ve attended the Episcopal Church, and Saint Peter’s in particular, since 1995. Subsequent to my divorce, I returned to the Washington area, where I had worked several years prior. A friend suggested St. Peter’s, with its rich music program, as a possible church home for me. When I came to Saint Peter’s and to the Episcopal Church, I felt I had come home to a place and a people who recognized the importance of the sacraments and who valued a spiritual life that balanced the mystical, philosophical, and liturgical elements of faith in a way that resonated for me. I was received into the church in December of 1997 by Bishop Peter James Lee. Saint Peter’s was also the place where I met and married my husband, Doug, who is ordained in the Evangelical Covenant Church and works as a pastoral counselor with the Center for Pastoral Counseling of Virginia. Though he is ordained in another denomination, he attends St. Peter’s with me.

Since coming to Saint Peter’s, I’ve served as a member of the choir – music has always been the way that I felt I could reach out to God - I’ve served as chair of the Every Member Canvass, I’ve been on the vestry and served as its Senior Warden during a time of great tumult in our parish, I’ve been a delegate to Region III and currently serve as its Vice President and Secretary, and I serve as Chair of the Board of our Generation to Generation Fund. I have raised funds for the Diocese’s Mustard Seed Fund. Every now and again, I have fun baking for coffee hour, and I regularly cook for Meals That Heal.
One of the ministries I’ve especially cherished at Saint Peter’s has been as a Lay Eucharistic Minister. It has been my sense that it is in the sacraments that we help people at moments when they are most vulnerable and most open to God’s voice. When I help distribute wine at the Eucharist, I feel a sense of privilege in service that is humbling. On those occasions when I’ve brought Communion to shut-ins, it was instructive. Learning to be quiet and know that God is there and that sometimes words aren’t necessary was not a natural lesson for me. I’m grateful that I have started to understand that.

In a leadership role, or in a service role, I always feel the Lord by my side, and am grateful for the opportunity, but I have felt in recent years that I am called to do more.

I long to participate in the sacraments in a deeper, more active way. This is at the core of my belief that I am called to be a priest. I could continue to serve in lay ministries, but there is that insistent tug on my sleeve saying that I am called to do more, to walk with people as they make their faith journeys, to help them when they fall, and to show them that sinners who fall as I have can get up, with God’s help, and to share the sacraments with them.

I have had a full professional life, serving in two branches of Federal government and in the private sector, running units of multinational corporations and being an entrepreneur. I believe that the skills I learned in those jobs would prove useful in the priesthood, particularly in parish administration and in resolution of congregational conflict, and I look forward to the kind of training and spiritual growth that would help me to preach God’s Word.

Part of this process for me has been to develop a more disciplined prayer life. I have been saying Morning Prayer pretty close to daily for the past couple of years. Recently, I’ve been trying to add Noonday or Evening Prayer, although I confess that has been more difficult. I’ve been reading a number of books (Henri Nouwen, Parker Palmer, Nora Gallagher, among others) to help me contemplate God’s call for me, and I’ve begun a self-study program in Biblical Greek. Four years of Latin in high school have helped with that a bit. I am a weekly communicant at Saint Peter’s, and participate in the Emmaus/First Acts Study Group as well as the Women’s Bible Study. I have the benefit of a wonderful spiritual director, who challenges and encourages me in my conversation with Christ.

I believe that at this point in my life I will be a capable student. I have a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s, and have had additional study in business management at Stanford University. I’ve had a great deal of coursework related to my professional life in software engineering, government relations, and in diversity issues, and have excelled in that work. I’ve written coursework in software engineering as well. I’ve written extensively (public policy issue anaylsis as well as speechwriting) for a Congressional Committee and for the trade associations with which I’ve been affiliated, and regularly speak at conferences in my industry. Frankly, maturity has increased my diligence and hunger for knowledge on a broad range of subjects; it has also provided me with an ability to separate the wheat from the chaff in analyzing content. I’d like to think I have an agile and hungry enough mind to take on the rigors of the seminary.

The thought of going from a job where I am at the top of my game, and which compensates me well, to an uncertain future and financial challenges, is daunting. I have thought about this long and hard. I’ve tried saying “no” to God for several years. He keeps drawing me in, saying there is something more I need to do for Him. At this point, I want to give up to His will, where it may take me. I want to say “no” to my human desire for comfort, “no” to my craving for the familiarity of the life we now live, and “yes” to Him who is the source of all that I am.


reverendmother said...

This is excellent. It will serve you well!

Sophia said...


What a wonderful piece of writing. What I find most interesting (and reassuring) is that although our paths to this point have been very different, your description of what it feels like to be called to the priesthood is very similar to how I experience it.

mibi52 said...
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mibi52 said...

Thanks, ladies.

Steph, I've been doing a lot of reading about discernment lately, and there seem to be some common signifiers amongst our experiences. So much of this process can be isolating - remarkable for a profession that is meant to be lived in community - so the gathering knot of those signifiers made me feel a lot better, and less alone as I tried to figure out what all this meant.

Anna said...

Mibi, I'm taking a class at VTS right now, and I'd love to go there full-time. I hope (and trust) you'll get in, and that it will be an infinitely rewarding, challenging place to be!

mibi52 said...

Anna-what class are you taking? I toyed with the idea of taking a class - sort of getting ahead of the curve a bit - but my COM rep strongly suggested I'd be too preoccupied by The Process do do well. She was, as always, right.

Anna said...

Bishop Dyer's Anglican Communion class. It was pretty good (didn't fit the syllabus but ended up provoking some thoughts), but the experience of being at VTS was all-around great. I hope to be back next semester.

mibi52 said...

Anna- maybe our paths will cross there!