Usually, these trips were accompanied by a bag full of some combination of books and photocopies to which I was dedicated to read. Bottomless cup purchased, I and often a classmate or two would commandeer a table and proceed to ignore each other for the next 2-3 hours while we underlined, flagged, and noted our way through whatever material each of us had brought with us. More often than not, we were surrounded by others doing the same thing. This was less the case in college, but in St. Louis where there are no less than 12 institutions of higher learning, you could count on rubbing elbows (literally, the coffeehouse we liked most could be kind of cramped) with students from all over the city.
I miss St. Louis. Sigh.
Anyway, the life of a student did become tiresome. By the time I graduated seminary, I was ready to do something else. After all, I'd been a student for some 20 years at that point. It was time finally to start a career and family, and in general do something other than classwork. And I was glad for that. It's strange to think that I've only been out of school for just over eight years. Well...some days it feels like "only" eight years. Other days it feels like eight years...already?
Last week officially began my classwork at the Ignatian Spirituality Institute. We began with an opening retreat held at the Jesuit Retreat House in Parma, Ohio, during which I met my classmates for the first time. It's quite an eclectic group of people from a variety of religious traditions. It seems that we split pretty evenly between Catholic and Protestant. I'm one of four clergy in the group, all of us Protestant. And I'm not the youngest, which is a change from most faith-related continuing education events in which I participate.
The retreat served as an introduction to one another and to the program, including an overview of Ignatius' life and the ideas behind the Spiritual Exercises. At times as I learned different information, I wished to go back and experience the Exercises again with this newfound knowledge about them. But part of Ignatius' intent, interestingly enough, was for spiritual directors not to lead their directees too much, including providing too much information in order to allow room for the Spirit to work. I like to think that I got what I needed from them and would get something else that I need the next time, so I should just let this point go.
This past Wednesday was my first class on the campus of John Carroll University. Stepping onto campus--after again becoming confounded by the traffic patterns there, which I'll save for telling another time--felt very natural, like putting on an old shoe. It was a new campus, but a familiar feeling. I like to think that I could still pass for a student (I'm told often enough that I'm OMG so young-looking for a pastor), and nobody seemed to take much note of me as I passed through campus. But I may be delusional on this point nowadays.
In the days after the first class, I looked at my syllabus to see what I'd need to read and write about before the next one. Following good methods of self-care, I decided to knock off from church work early Friday afternoon to make up for a little bit of responsibility I'd need to handle on Saturday. With my newfound free time, I loaded up my class books and headed to a favorite area coffeehouse.
I walked in, the aroma of coffee filling my nostrils as I did so. After ordering a bottomless cup, I took my place in a booth, spreading my books and handouts across the table. And as I alternated reading, underlining, note-taking, flagging, and sipping, a familiar feeling I hadn't felt in just over eight years returned. I welcomed it. The circumstances are different: I'm certainly not full-time this go around, nor do I want to be. I have a career and family, after all.
Still, the life of a student begins again, integrated with other things that bring me joy.
It feels good.