“Ministers, I came to realize, are of necessity those familiar with the strange and who open themselves to the God-bearing power of strangeness itself.”
Robert C. Dykstra in Images of Pastoral Care 
Who is Robert Dykstra?
Professor. Pastoral Theologian. Editor of one of the primary textbooks in my pastoral care class last semester. His book compiles the ideas of key contributors to and concepts of the field of pastoral theology.
Why This Person:
Because he said something that gets truer by the moment.
Why this quote:
I don’t know what I expected seminary to be. I was just so happy to finally be here. But I didn’t expect this. And it just gets stranger by the moment, in the most break-me-open-in-a-good-but-devastatingly-challenging-kind-of-way. The work is so much more than biblical studies, theology, history, and practice. But somehow in the study of all these things and interactions with peers in the same strange world, seminary turns what you thought you knew about yourself and the world upside down. In the process of trying to right side it, you find that maybe who you are and how you fit in the world is different than what you thought or expected. This is so strange. Stranger still, God is wrapped up in all this strangeness. And there is power in that.
 Dykstra, Robert C., ed. Images of Pastoral Care (Chalice Press, 2005), 74.
you are our beginning and you will be our end;
we are made in your image and likeness.
We praise and thank you for this day.
This is the day on which you created light
and saw that it was good.
This is the day in whose early morning light
we discovered the tomb was empty,
and encountered Christ, the world’s true light.
This is the day you have made;
we shall rejoice and be glad in it.”
from A New Zealand Prayer Book/He Karakia Mibinare oAotearou 
What is A New Zealand Prayer Book:
My muse this week is not a person, but a collection of prayers and liturgy from the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia.
Why This Book:
Coming from a faith tradition that does not use a prayer book in worship, I am intrigued by the concept of prayer books and designated prayers or liturgies for specific times of day, days of the week, and seasons of the year. Always one to play with words and experiment with ways to say old things in new ways, I appreciate the prayer book’s innovation with words and use of inclusive language, while never straying too far from its biblical foundations. I am fascinated by its incorporation of the Maori language.
This prayer is in a section of daily devotions and liturgies of the Word. Each devotion uses a portion of the LORD’s Prayer as the introductory theme, followed by a prayer that highlights and expands on that theme. The excerpt of the prayer above is based on the beginning and end of the LORD’s Prayer, “Our Father in heaven, the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever.”
Why this prayer:
I love that in the course of a few sentences, the prayer spans the first and new testaments and resonates with language from multiple psalms and biblical passages. Until recently I thought one could only learn the language of the Bible from the Bible itself. My worship classes taught me that liturgy, too, can bathe us in the biblical tradition. This excerpt is only one-third of the entire prayer yet it is so scripturally rich! The language and imagery makes my heart flutter (i.e. the writer in me meets the seminarian in me)!
 The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia, A New Zealand Prayer Book (Harper Collins, 1989), 106.
 The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia, A New Zealand Prayer Book (Harper Collins, 1989), 106.
Lest I forget the small moments on this big journey, I distill my experience in seminary and life every semester or season (e.g. Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Summer 2017). Every time I write these text-heavy blog posts, I think it would be so cool to turn them into a magazine. Drumroll, please…I did it!
The Still: Fall/Winter 2017 is an online magazine. This was an experiment with free MadMagz software, so please let me know what you think.
Read my reflections on fall/winter 2017 here.
This fall I had the privilege of reading Scripture every week with a group of first year seminary students. They shared their firsts, and I watched them grow into confident proclaimers and oral interpreters of scripture. To be part of this birthing process is an honor. I am so proud of these students for making it through their first semester. I found a piece I’d written a year ago when I finished my first semester of seminary. I offer an adaptation here, in honor of first year seminary students everywhere. –AE
December 2016: These days I find myself saying to others, “It’s been a harrowing semester.” It does not escape me that the only other time I described something as “harrowing” was following the unmedicated birth of my first child. Since it is Advent, it seems as good a time as any to reflect on my first semester of seminary in light of Mary’s journey to motherhood .
A brush of angel’s wings accompanied notification of my acceptance to seminary in February. I pinched myself in disbelief. After striving to be in seminary, on-campus, in-person, financials and family accounted for, for so long, I started to think it could never happen. I sat with my news awhile, unsure when to tell the masses. I shared gradually. Talking about it made it more real, even though, save for the acceptance letter, I had nothing yet to show; no parking permit, no ID badge, no Hebrew textbooks to lug around. And yet anticipation bore preparation. I savored last moments in order to pave the way for firsts. Time with children became more poignant. I took stock of my beliefs. I rested. I played. I prayed.
By September, parking permit affixed, ID in hand, weighted down with textbooks, I stopped pinching myself and believed my dream really was coming true. A few weeks into the semester, the pressure built. Contractions of scholarly muscles intensified, no longer in fits, but in ongoing swells of labor. Betrayed, I cried out, pleading for the pain to subside. Forceful waves, already in motion, pulled me under against my will. No matter who held my hand, no matter how similar the cries from classmates, I felt alone. I had to figure out a way through. Finally, I succumbed, letting the leading edge of faith carve my body anew.
I focused my breath for the final pushes. When, just as suddenly as I was awash in the news of my seminary acceptance, the first semester was over.
I stare in disbelief at my dream for the future cradled in my arms. I gaze at it like a babe in swaddling clothes, my call all wrapped up in it, the agony of its birth gradually becoming a distant memory. I wonder who she’ll be. I hope her heart will reflect more God than the world, and pray for her journey ahead. I sit. I rock. I wait, humbled by the mystery of birth and becoming, and the mysterious transformation in between.
Almost a year ago I attended a writer’s conference that made clear I’m meant to be both writer and pastor. Two months earlier when I started at Columbia Seminary, I thought it was one or the other. God’s call is rarely so simple, so I’ve spent the year since the conference trying to figure out how to live fully into both.
Recently, like a book being opened to the exact right passage, I found the field in ministry that speaks my language, Pastoral Theology. After much doubt my first year of seminary about my pastoral identity, I cry tears of joyous relief.
But what to do about that crazy idea that still cheers at the sidelines, its pompoms shaking as it shouts, “M! F! A!” ? Last year, I wanted to join its team. I was tempted to quit and pursue an M.F.A. degree. Certainly the loudest cheerleader must be God herself! But let’s be real—just because I’m in seminary doesn’t necessarily mean everything is a “God thing”!
What to do with these phantom cheerleaders? Better at least pay attention. When I see an MFA, I see uninterrupted time and an established structure to write. What does that tell me? That I’m not getting enough writing in my current situation. Not because I’m in seminary, but because I’m choosing to use seminary pressures as an excuse not to do even 20 minutes of writing each day—the kind of honest, hard-won writing that does not come in the form of papers or academic reflections, or rushed journal entries.
This realization shifts how I perceive God. Maybe God is speaking through phantom cheerleaders shouting “M! F! A!” But perhaps her message is not necessarily one that tells me what to do (quit and get an MFA), but is an enthusiastic attempt to spell out how I am or am not meeting my present needs.
Reluctantly, I get off the bench and leave behind by program of easy answers. On the field I stretch my muscles, preparing to do the practice and run the complicated plays that will help move me to the end goal of touching down in the future as both writer and pastor. In less than two days, I, too, will cheer—celebrating the complexity, challenge, and wonder of this call at the writer’s conference that pointed me in this mysterious direction a year ago.
I’m at the midpoint of the fall semester next week. Which means I have my hands in many projects right now. I’m writing a lot, but the fruits of my work seem to be academic work, forms, communications, or journal entries.
I think that still counts. Here’s some excerpts of what I’ve written recently:
From an email, on discernment:
“Not really knowing what “practical theology” was when I began the Intro to Practical Theology course last summer, I was surprised to learn how well it fit with what I perceive as my pastoral identity. As I experienced the field of homiletics in the spring, I felt I was getting even closer to who I am. I am in Intro to Pastoral Care this fall, and I have finally discovered what I am! A pastoral theologian!! “
From my CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) application for a hospital chaplaincy internship, on vocational identity:
“One need that stems from my ministry and call is to know whether I am suited for ministry in contexts of suffering. The majority of my work until this point has been in “positive,” “growth-minded” contexts. Teaching, for example, focused on community building and learning outcomes, camp focused on fun and camaraderie, even children and youth ministry focused primarily on the good things that come from following God. Not that there wasn’t suffering. At camp, for example, I worked with staff members who suffered from mental illness, another who faced an unexpected pregnancy, and others devastated by the news of subway bombings in their London hometown. I worked with campers whose mom was in jail, others whose parents beat them, and another whose dad had terminal cancer. Reflecting on this, I suspect that my skills will transfer and I likely have already used many of them. Combined with fond memories of the pace and duties as a camp director—no day was ever the same…and I had to respond and think on my feet, which I loved—I think chaplaincy could very well be an important aspect of my future vocation.”
From my Committee on Preparation for Ministry annual review forms, on unexpected personal transformation:
“I am so immensely thankful that I ended up in the Atlanta area at Columbia Seminary, even though it’s not what I planned. The cultural shift from a suburban to metropolitan area and northern to southern United States locale is impacting me in subtle but profound ways. My views on race and justice have been cracked open. I’m being transformed. Not just because of the increased exposure I have to these issues on account of my geographical move, but because of the friendships and collegial relationships I’m developing with a great diversity of people among seminary colleagues and in the community.”
From my journal, on my reality right now:
“I never expected seminary to be such a testing ground.”
“I didn’t expect to feel so raw in seminary.”
From a poem I wrote about hope as flame, spark, smoke, and heat:
a hope-fueled she-dragon,
breathing fire into a world
pregnant with longing.”
I hope you’re dancing, too. –-AE