Pentecost.

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It hasn’t fully hit me that I’m going to Africa in three days. A meditation on Pentecost might be apropos, but that story isn’t exactly what I’m thinking of now.

I’m thinking of finishing packing and finding things that are lost. I’m trying not to create expectations for how it will be, because it will always be different than I imagine. I’m hoping it won’t be like my last trip abroad, when I left feeling that I had nothing to offer anyone, no ability to enter another culture or another person’s life. My thoughts run on the next few days as the span of time I know anything about diminishes and diminishes. If I could live wholly in the moment without boredom, discontent, and fear, I know I could make it in Africa.

I’m thinking I should plan fewer schemes for self-improvement and more for being alive with every breath I take.

And just now I should go to work.

home

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A melange of days

I saw a small rabbit crouched by the front steps. It was eating the long grasslike leaves of that plant that I don’t know what it is, sucking them down like Lady and the Tramp eating sphaghetti, only chewing at the same time. I stood still behind grimy glass and looked for the cottontail it didn’t have. Is it possible this rabbit was born this spring? Seems too big for that. Probably it’s a yearling. The neighbor boys shouted and the rabbit took off into the undergrowth. I stepped onto the porch, though I knew I wouldn’t see it again. I turned back to find my dog with his nose to the crack of the door and his ears back. We went inside.

In the morning light, standing by the sink, I saw a glow like Aslan’s mane under the quince bush. I couldn’t make it out until it moved and I saw its big ears. A rabbit, by my driveway, nestled and eating grass.

On getting what you wish for

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Three days of suspense. What could our Torrey mentor possibly have to tell us that would require us all to meet him in a group at the end of the semester?

In the fall of 2008, we were excited freshmen forming bonds and figuring out what college and Torrey were all about. We grew to love each other dearly. We spent hours having our minds blown open by great ideas and picking up the pieces, not to mention more hours just being friends. We were eager to meet with our Torrey mentor to receive his guidance on this journey.

We were disappointed by the way he handled us. I’ll just say that he was more of an academician than a mentor and he was incredibly awkward in his attempts to get to know us better. He didn’t teach discussion-based classes well. Most of us retreated from him, going to office hours only as required and charting our own courses through school.

Things stayed the same for a couple of years, at least from my perspective. We complained about our mentor a lot. Some of us went to him with our complaints, and things started improving. At the end of the fall 2010 semester, we had the opportunity to submit anonymous online reviews of our experience with our mentor. A lot of anger went into them, from many students. Many of us have wanted to get him fired since the first year.

Things were better this semester. More of us worked out our problems with him. I didn’t, specifically, but our office hours were a lot smoother and I began liking him as a person. He got a promotion this year, and I was all set to spend my last semester in Torrey (!) under his mentorship.

Tonight my mentor convened his junior mentees–the first group of mentees he got, since he came in with us–and told us he was leaving Torrey. All the faculty have finally decided his gifts don’t fit a program like Torrey, although he’s not being fired. He’s moving across campus to another department where he can conduct lectures and teach missiology to his heart’s content.

I don’t know who started crying first, our mentor or one of us students, but soon half the room was in tears. It’s too late for us to feel vindicated by his departure. We have had to deal with him, grow up, and quit being brats. We have all been helped by him in some way (for some, his mentorship saved their faith) or learned something from him.

Torrey mentor, I was one of your staunchest enemies. And I owe you an apology. I will miss you.

Be careful what you wish for, because you might get it.

Good Friday thoughts

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I made the effort to attend three of the evening services for Holy Week. Tuesday was rather dull and my feet hurt. Wednesday I bowed myself under the book of the gospels and prayed for forgiveness. Thursday I stood to hear twelve readings from the gospels concerning the passion of Christ and bowed in awe as the priest shouldered a life-size cross and carried it around the church, in the same path that the Eucharist is carried every Stunday. He nailed the icon of Christ to it and we all pressed forward to kiss the feet of the icon.

Going to church so much was worth it for that.

I do not go to the long day of services today or to the service tomorrow, when my friend Patrick will be chrismated. I’m in NorCal, at a friend’s house, receiving a day of sunshine and clean air as a gift. Jenn and I drive up early in the morning with the Weepies playing. I explore the acre-and-a-third of hilly, long-grassed land. There is a formation of boulders that I climb, and climb again. It’s been a long time since I felt mossy granite under my hands.

I step carefully. You have to plan two moves ahead so your momentum doesn’t carry you too far, but you do the planning as much with your body as with your mind. You only know it’s going to work when it’s worked. When you jump to a lower spot, you can’t plan ahead. You have to land and hope there’s not a hidden rock in the grass, or that the soft dirt won’t slide downhill with you on it, or that your weight won’t disturb the equilibrium of a hundred years of stone. You can’t think of falling, only of doing the movement perfectly.

I scramble to different summits and survey the land. I am the king of Pride Rock. Sometimes I chase the black lizards who live in the clefts, but by the time I take a step they have flown into hiding.

When the boulders are sufficiently conquered I visit the horses. Jenn’s dad gives me a halter to bring them up the hill to the stall to brush their coats, which are full of shed hair and dirt. Something spooks one of them and I cannot coax him near the barn. Unwisely, I pit my weight against his. A toss of his head gives me a rope burn that hurts for hours. He wins.

Later I take myself to the boulders again and touch them. One hand is tough. One hand is sensitive, missing some skin, and tells me small details of texture in granite and lichen, good New Hampshire stone. I put the rock under my hands and haul myself up again.

Bookshelf.

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I know better than to let myself go to the library too often. The result is always the same. Only sometimes my professors assign research papers for which I am required to read books.

 Tonight I went to pick up two books on Tanzania for my paper which is to prepare me to spend time in that country. Like any sensible person, I started with the online catalogue and jotted down three titles that looked promising.

 On my way to acquire said titles, I decided to look up Evelyn Waugh, whom I’ve been wanting to read, and grab a couple of books by him. As I wandered the stacks with my list of call numbers, it just so happened that I passed through the section on Orthodoxy. Had to grab a couple books there. While searching out the books by Waugh (a process which requires much squinting back and forth between shelves and lists, because most of the spines have let their titles fade and you can only read the stickers with the call numbers), I saw a bunch of books on Tolkien and took about half of them.

 This inspired me to drag my armful of books back to the catalogue station and look up books by Barfield, Weil, and, just for the heck of it, Gogol. After writing down the call numbers for every title under each name, I began to see the magnitude of the stack before me and of the list in my hand, cramped though my handwriting has been. “Fools,” I said to the eager dwarves of learning, “I should want hundreds of years to bring it all up, were I fifty times as big and Smaug [the librarians] as tame as a rabbit.”

 Thereupon I checked out the books already in my possession—two Orthodox books, two Tolkien books, and four Waugh books. Oh, and I didn’t get three books on Tanzania. I got four. And I brought the list of other titles with me, so that when I return the books I have I can go through the same process again.

21.

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Obstacles to proper celebration:

Lent.

Contract.

Expired driver’s license.

Good feelings keep coming, however. My lovely Eagles’ Nest coworkers burst out in song as I reached for the time clock this morning. Thirty facebook salutes later, I’m ready to go to class and share “homemade” cookies with everyone for a hobbit-style birthday. (Albertson’s lied to me: there are no oats in their oatmeal raisin cookie mix and never were. If I had had fridge space and time to eat ingredients, I would have made better cookies myself.)

Mom, I’m glad you had me. Thanks.

We interrupt this homework broadcast to bring you a commercial break.

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Exciting things are happening on the Tanzania front. I got an email from my in-country contact today and we are finally working out the dates I will be there. I responded with a range of possibilities that he will run by the bishop. It looks like I might leave right after finals, stay eight weeks, and be back in time to celebrate Mammaw’s century.

This is the story of how my internship has unfolded up to now.

July/Augustish 2010: I start attending St. Nicholas in Portsmouth as I explore Orthodoxy. I meet this girl whom I haven’t seen since and we talk about missions. She mentions a friend of hers who’s a missionary in Tanzania. A few weeks later I decide to send him a donation. Around the same time, I contact OCMC to see if they will take me as an intern for summer 2011.

October/Novemberish: The missionary (James) gets my email address and writes to find out who I am and why I sent him money. He doesn’t know who the girl is I met at church. We talk back and forth about the work he is doing in Tanzania.

December/Januaryish: OCMC informs me they are thinking of sending me to Tanzania as an intern. Shortly thereafter, James informs me that he has been told to prepare for an intern and has gotten the bishop’s blessing for me to come.

February/March: I begin pestering OCMC to tell me the dates of my trip and all the logistical details I need.

End of March: Ducks are lining up. I begin obsessing excitedly about my trip. Oh, and I sold one of the hats I crochet in class to stay focused. If I sell all of them, I could make a couple hundred dollars towards my trip.

We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

a personal post

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I tend to be neurotic about my religion. Actually, I tend to be “intense” about everything I love. A friend and I were talking tonight about random, funny things and after I stated an opinion, she responded, “That’s because you’re just an intense person.” There was nothing judgmental in this. I felt valued because I am known and not rejected.

This friend is able to be much more laid back about things, even things that are important to her. I admire that a lot. Unfortunately, I have a weird way even of trying to be laid back.

Minor transgressions can become a form of virtue, as in, “I skipped prayers this morning and didn’t really keep the fast yesterday and haven’t read my Bible except for schoolwork in a while. That shows I’m not a neurotic Christian.” Yeah, except for the part where I count and treasure up each stupid little thing I do “wrong.”

Now that I stop to think about it, I have a funny feeling that Christianity (or having a healthy, balanced personality) really isn’t about evaluating my worth in terms of how good a Christian I am by following the rules or how sane a person I am by breaking them. Don’t people keep telling me it’s about something else? Oh yeah…

It’s hard to see the pattern as you’re falling into it.

We read Frederick Douglass for Torrey yesterday. Something reminded me of the parable of the prodigal son: our God doesn’t keep slaves. Before the prodigal could offer to become a servant, his Father restored to him his position in the household and his “first robe.” The fathers interpret that as the state of innocence we had in the garden of Eden.

The older brother thought he was a servant, but the Father reminded him, “Son, you are ever with me, and all that I have is yours.” Plow the fields today because it is Lent, but tomorrow will be the feast.

In the end, I can’t do much about my personality. The only thing I can do is work on my heart, which is much more mysterious. Thank God for friends who accept me anyway, intensity and all.

Seven quick takes: Saturday

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1. I had a friend who graduated last semester over for a few days. We had a really good time talking and catching up. Speaking of graduation, I thought I was graduating early until I caught my error of arithmetic. It’s a good thing I have such an extensive education.

2. I love working at Eagles’ Nest… until I don’t. My manager gave me a rosary made out of black cord that she brought back from Guadalajara. Apparently people in the cathedral make them, and then they are blessed with holy water and taken to be given as gifts. When I asked about the one my manager was wearing (they’re quite attractive), she promised to bring one in for me. Upon handing it over, she warned me in a flat voice*, “It’s holy,” and then gave me a big hug. All my coworkers were extra nice this week.

Friday I cut my finger open when I was slicing lemons. The lemon turned in my hand and the blade slid onto my middle finger. The very next day I was slicing chicken breast for a sandwhich and slid right into my thumb, making a long cut near the nail. I love working there… until I don’t.

3. I’m thinking about Tolkien, of course. When I’m dying, I hope somebody is there to read to me from the Lord of the Rings. I want to hear the chapter where the eagle brings word that Sauron is fallen and Faramir and Eowyn get engaged. Part of the eagle’s song goes,

“And the Black Gate is open, and your King hath passed through, and he is victorious.”

4. I’m living in a house next year.

5. Where do stories come from? I need to find that place and get dreaming and writing again.

6. In Torrey we get to start leading sessions now that we’re juniors. I’m leading session on John Henry Newman’s “The Idea of a University” on my birthday. That should be fun. Especially since I read it on my Kindle, and the Kindle proves singularly unsuited for quick navigation in search of pertinent text.

7. Tomorrow I shall experience liturgy at the cathedral and vespers at the monastery, thanks to the kindness of a friend.

*This intonation means something different for Spanish speakers than it does for English speakers. I love linguistics.