“God calls to us in countless little ways all the time. Through illnesses and suffering and through sorrow he calls to us. Through a truth glimpsed fleetingly in a state of prayer he calls to us. No matter how halfhearted such insights may be. God rejoices whenever we learn what he is trying to teach us.”
Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle
Discerning a call to seminary is a challenge. Remembering that call once one enters into seminary is even harder. I came to seminary with the motivation to help the underprivileged perceive God’s grace. I came also to live in a place where other people were working to learn about the realities of God after struggling through a series of three postdoctoral research jobs after finishing up graduate school. I learned in those experiences that my gifts lie in the fields of teaching and ministry rather than hardcore academic chemistry research. Granted, I love performing research but I do not want to make my living solely in this area. Perhaps in the future I may combine teaching with undergraduate research, but discerning this choice for a vocation will take some time. One of the aspects of seminary that I have found to be challenging is maintaining a strong prayer life while taking classes and studying. After all it is only through prayer that one can perceive God’s voice among other “worldly” voices. I seek to improve my prayer life starting this summer with more contemplative prayer and meditation each day. I am hoping to find direction in my life by praying to God regularly.
There are times this year when I have felt the absence of God even to go as far as look seriously at “Death of God Theology” and consider moving onto another like of work besides seminary. I now am aware that such feelings may be due to several factors. One, during periods of depression it is extremely easy to forget the important tasks of prayer, meditation, and exercise. I feel depression is caused by the absence of a perception of God. God is always present, but one must open one’s heart to perceive her. I think one of the aspects impeding my perception of God is always thinking of God as masculine. God also has feminine attributes. This article from a Princeton Seminary professor opened my eyes to this fact. There are reasons, perhaps my upbringing, which lead to me to seek to relate to God through her feminine attributes. This discovery is particularly motivating to walk along side God in all the ways that are healthy and good. Obviously, ultimately God is beyond gender, but to comprehend God’s personal nature gender identification is often helpful. Remembering the feminine attributes of God helps me to remain motivated to finish seminary, particularly after my recent hospitalization and observing the intense suffering that needs people like me to minister into. Second, seminary is like the “real” world. Everyone here is broken and needy for God just as anyone else. What I have learned so far is that people in ministry are just as sinful as anybody else in the world; they just perceive a call from God and seek to orient their lives to serve him in spite of their sinful nature. I believe it is essential to pray frequently and adamantly for God’s gracious nature to guide oneself in seminary towards the proper path of ministry.
With progressive changes occurring in the church such as the gradual acceptance of the LGBT community and the recent statement of Pope Francis that “Atheists who do good are redeemed, not just Catholics” I am encouraged to continue in my training for ministry. I can see the day when advocacy for those diagnosed with a mentally illness and economic social justice will be issues that the church will place in the spotlight and focus on as essential for the health of God’s relationship with humanity.
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