As some of you know, from reading this blog if nothing else, I recently moved to New York City to begin my M.Div. I expected my first year to be emotionally and spiritually challenging. I expected it to be academically rigorous. I expected to feel lost and unsettled at first in a new program with new colleagues in a new city in a new apartment with a new husband. I did not expect the floor to drop out from under me.
Matriculation is an annual tradition at the General Theological Seminary. Every year, new students sign their names in a book that’s older than my great-grandparents would be. It’s a joyous celebration and a rite of passage. I got dressed up and signed the book and had a fancy dinner in our very Hogwarts-esque dining hall. Several hours later, students received an email that, pending resolution of a serious conflict, 80 percent of our faculty would be instituting a work stoppage.
We have no classes on Fridays, and I think some of us thought perhaps everything would be cleared up by Monday—but it was not. Meetings have been held with various groups. Most of the faculty live on campus (as do most of the students, including my husband and I), so everything has been happening close to home. My inbox and Facebook have been blowing up with communication. Social media are full of opinions and speculation. Even major news outlets have picked up the story.
As a student, especially as a student new to this community, this is a fast-evolving and confusing situation to be caught up in. I feel the need to guard what I say and be very careful with my words. To be a postulant is to be vulnerable. Always a cautious person, I am now on high alert. There are voices in this debate that I find more compelling, voices that ring truer for me than others. A blazing INFJ, there are conclusions I’ve drawn, and feelings I have about them. Even so, I still feel I’m splashing about in profound uncertainty.
Add to all this a fierce cold (after over a year of enjoying the sweet, sweet immune system of an ex-nanny) that’s knocked me flat and kept me moping around the apartment for days, and you have an idea of where I’m at right now. I’m trying to stay positive (after my husband called me out). I’m trying to keep up with my studies—but I’m working on a paper that’s past due for a class that’s not currently meeting. For a deadline-driven procrastinator who’s exhausted, distracted, and hopped up on cold medicine, this requires an amazing amount of willpower. I reward myself for small steps: You typed a sentence—good job! You got a book from the library—good job! You Googled commentaries on Matthew—good job! It’s slow going.
So what do we do when we’re in the thick of it? When we’ve been plunged underwater and are floundering in the dark, still not quite oriented to which way is up? The only thing we can do: be there. As one of my classmates noted in chapel, “We are standing in the middle of chaos…but we need to stand here, vulnerable and open and calm.” I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t know if my seminary will remain open, or if I will remain a student here. I don’t know if the faculty will be reinstated, the dean and president removed, the board changed. I’m not even entirely sure which of my classes are meeting next week, or what my homework assignments are.
I’m here. I’m taking one day at a time. I’m trying to live the words of the angel and “fear not.” I’m thankful for the support I’ve received from my husband and my classmates, prayers from family and friends across the country, offers of comfort and listening ears from acquaintances who are enacting Christ in their hospitality.
I’m sure this is a formative experience. I trust that I am meant to be right where I am during this time, even if the reason is not entirely clear at the moment. And I think maybe, just maybe, there’s something holy about the messy and confusing times, something sacred about finding, at the midst of the chaos and darkness, a glimmer of God.
Alissa Goudswaard Anderson (’10) lives with her husband Josh in New York City, where she is earning her Master of Divinity at General Theological Seminary. Alissa enjoys private kitchen dance parties, big Midwestern thunderstorms, and perusing other peoples’ bookshelves. For more, find her online at www.episcotheque.wordpress.com or tweet her @episcotheque.