Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A glimpse of my domain

One of the things my university does well is that the grounds crew keeps our urban campus beautifully landscaped, every season of the year. I have really come to appreciate this.

If you were in St. Louis and ever came to visit me on campus (which would very possibly make my day, or week), this is probably the first spot I'd show you. It's a perfect place for a picnic and conversation (my friend R. and I meet there often). There are even goldfish!

There are also lots of nice fountains--four I can think of offhand. This one's actually a series of cascading pools, though that didn't come through in my shot.

Some of the architecture is lovely. This mansion is more than 120 years old and can be toured, apparently, though I have yet to venture inside myself.

Here is a palm tree. Yes! A palm tree! In Missouri!

So this is pretty funny. Every late spring/summer and into the early part of the fall, these large planters contain awkward-looking little palms. Throughout the rest of the year, they contain evergreen trees. On Tuesday, I finally got to see how this mysterious exchange occurs. It basically involves a gigantic truck and crane occupying the width of the West Pine Mall, hoisting the pines, and plopping the seasonally appropriate trees into place. It all seems a touch indulgent to me, but I have to admit, I smile each time I walk past them.

This is where I work. It's...not one of the more inspiring edifices on campus.

Neither is our office, which is totally a locked room in a basement. Fittingly ascetic, right?

My cubicle.

It's nice to know that when I emerge from the grad student dungeon (which I do, sometimes, I promise), there are some pretty things to look at. (As long as you avoid the heinous statues...but that's for another post.)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Pardon my introspection (and procrastination).

I  noticed that I hadn't said much about three of the things I had been most panicked over a short time ago: the Greek translation exam, the second-year comprehensive exam, and the provisional dissertation proposal I had to submit for one of my classes.

Part of this is because I have no results to report to you regarding the first two. I successfully took the exams (meaning I typed things and turned them in without throwing a fit, becoming ill, my computer crashing, or my brain drawing an utter blank -- all scenarios I had imagined), but I am still waiting for results from my department. What drama there was was actually not of my own making, this time; and, anyway, it's all past.

As for the last thing, the tentative dissertation topic I presented to my classmates was quite well received. Even my professor said that I have the makings of a "rich and textured" topic. So, the task of this summer will be carving out precisely what my angle is to be. I'm pretty excited really. Let me enjoy that optimism while it lasts!

All that's left of the semester, basically, is the usual end-of-semester batch of papers. I'd looked forward to this as the "easy" bit, and of course, sitting here, it's not. Even with comps done and the end of coursework clearly in sight, it's the same old wrestling with my will and stamina to do what needs doing. I ask myself the same tired questions about what I've done and where I'm going, whether it will all prove to have been worth it.

Grad school is, undeniably, a privileged and flexible time of life in many respects. (How much liberty I have to reflect on these things!--It's a blessing and, at times, a great curse.) It can be so easy to overlook that, and to fail to wrest what joy out of it one can. It's far easier to look at the piles of half-skimmed books and the empty spaces on the CV and feel it more as burden than gift, more unrealized ideal than opportunity seized.

Of course, grad school has been -- or at least in the past few years has become -- just one piece of a much bigger, more hopeful picture, many parts of which remain fuzzy. It isn't the endgame. It helps to remind myself of that -- it helps me to lay hold of each day a little more firmly, knowing that someday I'll look back on these years, even the more tedious and uncertain parts, with fond gratitude.

In the past couple of years, after all, I've become more focused on quiet steadfastness than memorable highs and lows. I'm more convinced that real joy is found in ordinariness and routine and stumbling all over myself trying to learn to love, not so much in the dramatic moments, or in loving every second of my job. (I could be wrong here, or selling myself short. Honestly though, if I can't "feel" in love with the Lord, or my husband, every second of my life, how on earth can I expect to feel that way about my career?) The only trick I know is perseverance. And also believing that the Lord isn't in the business of wasting us. If the goal is our sanctification, not for our sakes alone but ultimately for His, then real joy is not a feeble hope we muster up, but a promise hard-won on our behalf. Would it make sense to say...all of this is not just a prelude to something better (though in a way, it's that), but it's training us to be able to bear such joy? What do you think?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Worship & emotion -- some of my thoughts

In my last post, I asked some questions about worship and emotion. I'm going to share a few thoughts of my own, in hopes that it'll become clearer where those questions are coming from.

I think this is a very complicated question, because emotions are very complicated. For instance: if someone is having a difficult time being emotionally engaged in worship, it could be attributable to any number of things. That person could be depressed (which can muddle one's affect in all kinds of ways); she could be having a rough morning; she simply might not be a very "emotional" person; or the Holy Spirit could be convicting her heart of something. It could be any of those things, or a combination. Often, the answer isn't clear-cut. I know it usually isn't, for me.

For that reason, I have become rather suspicious of relying on emotions to gauge my spiritual state. While there is definitely a time and place for looking into one's own heart, I have found that in my case, such introspection can serve to turn my gaze away from Christ. I don't think it is wrong to be emotional in worship. But there have been times when I beat myself up over not being able to muster enough or the "right kind" of emotion. I've had to learn that being rather reserved, even detached, doesn't necessarily mean there is something wrong with my heart, that I'm not worshiping "authentically," or not being fed.

In the end, of course, worship isn't about me. It is all about Him. If there's any way that my little faith can glorify Him, I can only imagine it's because I'm forced to cling entirely to Him--even, or especially, when I sense nothing but emptiness on my side. Because it's so rare, when I do feel fully attuned to the liturgy, in heart as well as mind, I can do nothing but receive it as a sheer gift of grace!

I may try to write a third post thinking about the objectivity of worship and whether it's possible to cultivate a habit of joy. In the meantime, I am happy to hear your thoughts (especially if I'm off base on anything), whether via comment or email.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Worship and emotion...thoughts?

Here's something I've been thinking about for awhile. This isn't a "here's what's going on in my life" post, and it's more introspective than I envision most of my posts being; but I know that if any of my Christian friends have thoughts along these lines, I'd be glad to hear them.

For you, what kind of relationship is there between worship and emotion? That is, on a typical Sunday in church, how much do your feelings correspond to what is taking place in worship? How much should they correspond? From your perspective, is worship more of a subjective experience, or more objective, or does neither of those words really suffice?

I'm trying to choose my words carefully, but if what I'm asking is unclear, please let me know. And if nobody answers, whether here or "off-blog," that's quite okay too. It's just something I've been musing over for some time; and while I might follow this up with more personal thoughts, I'm not going to use this space to declare a right or wrong answer, and certainly not as a platform for theological debate.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Finally posting about California

My husband and I just had the opportunity to visit Southern California for a week -- for the first time in far too long. It was wonderful! Even though I took some academic work with me, I was more relaxed than I have been in quite some time. So relaxed, in fact, that I couldn't be bothered to take any pictures worth posting here...sorry about that! (I'm usually preoccupied with capturing good shots of everything, so this was unusual!)

This won't be a narrative of our whole trip, but here are a few things we did, as well as some quick impressions about California in general...

  • I'm still in awe of how beautiful it often is. The rugged canyons and mountains between Simi and Malibu practically overpowered me after two years in Missouri. The Pacific is wonderful; my mother-in-law took us for a memorable birthday lunch right on the beach! Of the natural wonders we saw that day, however, I think the memory of the mountains has lingered with me the most.
  • Speaking of the natural world and its quirks, I like palm trees. Until I spent two years in the Bay Area, I was half convinced that they only existed in Disney cartoons, typically swaying to ukulele music. And to this day, I find the concept of palm trees, not to mention their prevalence, somehow surprising.
  • Spending time with Kevin's college friends is fun. Earlier in our marriage, I let myself feel intimidated by the Torrey crowd, but that is less the case nowadays; I just enjoy them, and Biola people in general. I love spending time on the campus because it holds so many memories for my husband. (He did a great job of lecturing there the night before we flew out of town.) Will & Amanda's wedding was also lovely. It's so helpful to hear a truly good wedding sermon from time to time! It renews my desire to see that my marriage tells the truth about Christ and His Church.
  • It's fun going to In-N-Out Burger every so often.
  • Mostly, I am amazed that California can feel like home to me in any measure. It's something I never had any reason to expect. In the summer of 2006, my mom and I followed a dusty loop through Needles, California, between northern Arizona and Las Vegas, just so that I could say I had set foot in California. I didn't think it likely I would be back there again. Two years later, I moved there. (Admittedly to Berkeley, not Needles. One could argue that Northern California really counts as a different state...!) 
  • In all seriousness, I have been thinking how gracious God is in giving us places to love that we never expected to lay claim on our affections. More especially by forging bonds of love among people. My family is bigger than it was merely four years ago, which is truly a joy for me, something God has been pleased to bring about for His own glory.
Speaking of beloved places, for all that I've almost felt like an honorary Torrey alumna in recent years, I'm reminded that my own college years were spent not in Southern California, but in southwest Virginia; in a pocket of Appalachia I haven't seen in six years and that Kevin has never seen. It would be good to reconnect, I think. I wonder how we might work that into our next travel adventure?