Exegesis

It has almost been a month since my arrival upon the mountain in Sewanee, Tennessee. Today was the first official day of classes. Prior to classes actually starting, we had already received reading assignments and emails indicating that we should be prepared for discussions during class. We went through diversity and safeguarding training. Personally, I don’t know that there is enough of that training to prepare someone for all that life may throw at them in different situations. I can only hope that I may never have to deal with some of the scenarios that came up during discussions. God help me.

Class took place under a tent and it was a bit strange but, not that bad. I like the recorded lectures. With recorded lectures, I can go back and play the lecture over again and capture what I may have missed the first time. I honestly feel like I receive more time to learn.

Right now, I need to be reading and preparing for class but, I felt to write something for my journal. Exegesis was a new word for my vocabulary this week. There is so much interpretation of scripture that is taken for “face” value within many sermons. I suppose my past is what I reflected upon the most in my lessons/readings. Contextual analysis is not a matter of interpreting the meaning of scripture as much as it is actually deciphering what the text is saying, specifically. In the English language, alone, there are many words that can have varied meaning depending on their context. It leaves a lot of questions about the intricate process of deciphering the texts of long ago to gather the books of the library known as The Holy Bible.

Last week the Gospel reading was Matthew 15:21-28. I have pondered this scripture more than a few times. It is one that is a bit controversial because of how Jesus may or may not be viewed within its context.

…a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Matthew 15:21-28 NRSV

I love this scripture because it exemplifies faith in the intangible, supernatural element of healing and it exemplifies a teacher using a moment to teach all those witnessing the moment. The latter part of my statement would be and is argued by many! This is a controversial scripture and it is one that I think would have to be carefully preached. I can have my opinion and I am allowed to have my own belief but, that does not become what someone else would be required to believe.

I discussed this scripture with my spiritual director many months ago. It was the first time that Christology was explained to me involving different levels or categories. It was described to me that my Christology was very high, which means, the way I view Jesus in the level of Divine and in the level of human. Some may interpret this scripture to suggest that Jesus messed up and this Canaanite woman corrected him. Well, ok, maybe he messed up. Maybe he was new to his ministry and made an “oops.” Ok, but, I don’t think so. For now, I still don’t think so. I journal this in order to note it. Perhaps my Christology changes in the next three years. Perhaps it doesn’t. We shall see.

For now, when I look at Jesus, it is not in an extreme exegetic kind of way but, by way of the general stories within the Gospels. Some examples I look to are the woman at the well and the woman who touched the hem of his garment and within both contexts, Jesus knew what was not obviously known. How did he know about the woman at the well? (John 4:4-26) How did he know in a crowd that someone touched him? (Matthew 9:21) And these are just two examples that pop into my mind.

For now, I see this as Christ, in his Divinity, at work. Jesus taught by example. He taught by parables. There is a lot to digest in those concepts alone. The parables are powerful when understood but more so are one’s actions. Jesus degraded the Canaanite woman by comparing her to the dogs. Her response was not that of a typical person. How many people would respond like that today? Anyone? I would be amazed to meet one person (including myself) who would take that kind of judgement and answer it with the level of humility and faith that she did. It is an amazing example of faith.

Give us this day our daily bread…

Seminary will change me but, I don’t know if it is so much “change” as it is enlighten. Now that is a good word, in whatever context.

Arrival

I arrived at my new address in Tennessee. I will say that driving a U-haul is not bad nor hard but, when you are towing a car behind you, you have to be extra careful on the turns. This is actually what made the experience a little more stressful for me. I did not sleep much the night before leaving. By the time I made it to Tennessee, I was so ready for a shower and an already-made bed with fresh sheets and soft pillows. Of course, that did not happen. By the time the troop of wonderful folks were to arrive to help me unload, it was already dark. Then I locked my keys in the apartment and had to get help from my neighbor, who I think may have already gone to bed. It was a grand beginning! I finally showered and made it to bed around 3am.

It has been a week and a couple of days since my move and I have gotten somewhat organized. I had to go through COVID-19 testing which came out inconclusive. I took a second test and I am sitting in my apartment waiting for the results. I asked why the test was inconclusive and the response was that they really didn’t know except maybe there wasn’t enough spit. I am not sure what testing is out there for COVID-19, other than the “up your nose” brain swirl but, I have to say that the spitting was kind of hard. You have to fast at least 30 minutes prior to the test and we (the group I was testing with) were specifically told we could not spit a loogie because that cannot be tested. Apparently someone had tried it and it did not work.

In the meantime, I have walked around the area, keeping social distancing practices always in check. Sewanee is beautiful. It is also remote. This is part of what attracted me to the school. The other part was housing. I am single and I have a pet so, that pushes me out of dormitories and community housing arrangements. Sewanee is generous and flexible with housing arrangements. They do what they can to help accommodate various life situations where other seminaries aren’t as congenial. Experience with the University of the South is also what attracted me to this school. I am on the Board of Trustees as a representative for the Diocese of East Carolina (North Carolina).

While unpacking I found this block of stone that I was given during my training and induction to the trustees. This is a piece of sandstone. It is part of the original bunch of quarried sandstone pieces that built the first architectural builds on the campus. The tradition of the sandstone is that it was cut and set by at least four generations of stone masons. That story spoke to me when I became a trustee. I am a rockhound and I sincerely have a venerable heart towards the work of stone masons. To have this block of sandstone means to hold a part of united tradition. It goes along with the University motto, Ecce quam bonum et quam iucundum habitare fratres in unum. (Latin, from Psalm 133) Behold how good and pleasant it is when kindred dwell together in unity.

I will treasure having this piece of history. I have a few ideas about carving my name and graduation date within it. That would definitely be a centerpiece among my theological book collection one day!

Onward to the reality of the hard work that lies ahead. I have already met and spoken with some of my fellow classmates. I have shared some interesting discussion with a few current students. The discussions mainly center around the courses and the professors. All of the professors are great, yes, idiosyncrasies and all. In reflection, I do feel that I should be open to the experience in its mass (weight). I have said to others that, no matter what, we can learn from those who are different from us. When I say different, I mean an all encompassing embodiment of background, culture, beliefs and even religious traditions. I don’t have to agree with all of it either. (except when the professor requires it and for the betterment of my grade, of course)

The Celtic Cross has always been my favorite design. All crosses are beautiful in symbolism. The circle is the element that speaks to me in this cross. All encompassing.

“May grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.”

2 Peter 1:2 NRSV

Abundance in the knowledge of God will prayerfully lead me and guide me in helping others. What is most exciting about the journey is actually not knowing what is ahead. I have been nervous about this process of seminary, and beyond, before I ever came close to being here. Now, “I am here.” What made me nervous, with daily steps, I am facing. That doesn’t mean that I face it without failure or mistakes. I believe mistakes will be part of the journey whether I want them to be or not. I will keep learning. (hopefully)

Pencil Sketch, You Are Here, 2011

As I sit here writing, my test results have returned. Negative. Thank God for that. Now I can move around campus like a free citizen. 😉 Practicing all the necessary social restrictions, of course!

So, I am in the midst of ordering books and anticipating a very busy first semester. I will eventually acclimate to my new environment, physically and spiritually. I still wonder how I am going to manage it all …. Read, write, pray, practice social distancing, learn, eat pizza, drink some beer but mostly Smirnoff with orange juice (but not while you study), make friends, have deep and interesting discussions to charge your energy for debate, volunteer for community activities, do work study to make some extra cash because you’re a student and you’re officially broke and will be for quite some time, read some more, watch documentaries that make you want to save the world, realize that you can’t save the world but, maybe you can help some people, prepare for preaching, don’t underestimate the power of compassion for those you don’t understand, don’t forget to feed your pet(s) because they are going through this too, talk to yourself because it helps you study, don’t forget to get in your CPE over the summer of your first year otherwise you’ll regret it, remember your summers do not belong to you anymore – they belong to the diocese, always keep in mind that seminary is not teaching you what priesthood is actually going to be like, and most of all remember the supernatural moments that brought you here.

Amen