The first day of 2014. Can you believe it? I remember thinking on the occasion of my first uni graduation (more than four years ago – eeek) of the scary wide-open-ness that my life seemed then to contain. Although there have been periods of more or less wide-open-ness in the last four and half years, it’s now, at the end of one year and beginning of another, that this feeling of the unknown seems to come back to me most strongly. At the end of every year, really. I’ve never been one for huge stock-takings and lists of a dozen resolutions all bound to be broken in the year’s first fortnight, but I do see the wisdom in spending the ‘time between the years’* in reflection about the past year and pondering what might come in the year ahead, and how to live into those ‘mights’ with a bit more intentionality.
I took the train up to Norwich Cathedral yesterday, hoping to find a bit of space for said reflection. Although the Cathedral was altogether a busier and noisier plan than I’d expected, there were plenty of chapels and alcoves and nooks in which I could curl up to think, write and pray. Somewhat unexpectedly, as I began to sort out a mental timeline of what 2013 had brought, I was continually hit with just how many things there have been for which I am immensely grateful. The year began darkly – Dad had just died and I spent a low Advent and Christmas trying to navigate the new laws of gravity brought about by his absence. I hid a bit, writing essays, getting started on my dissertation, wishing for snow (and occasionally having the wish granted).
Things began to look up. I began my final meetings with the C of E about the becoming-a-vicar process and began seriously thinking about where I should do my training. I got out of London in January, February, and April to see friends near and far. My mom, brother, grandma and her partner came for an Easter-time visit which was fantastic in many ways. The last term of my Masters’ ended and I began my dissertation; the British Library became my second home and my knowledge of the coffeeshops in East London improved (who knew there was room for improvement?). We had a party on the estate for the Jubilee.**
I worked hard at Methodist Central Hall and it was good to me – the place and the people in it. In June I had a walking holiday in northwestern Italy, a delightful adventure which colored an otherwise uncertain month with happiness. At the end of June I finally had my Bishop’s Advisory Panel and was recommended for ordination: the end of two years of official ‘discernment’ but really many more years of making increasingly poor excuses why I should not pursue ordination.
The rest of the summer was taken up with dissertation, dissertation, planning a move to Cambridge for training, dissertation, Greenbelt (about which I have written here), and the End of Dissertation, Praise Ye The Lord. My last week in and around London was a burst of creativity in all my favourite haunts, and some new ones: Shoreditch/Spitalfields, Hampstead, Bethnal Green, Marylebone, The City, Rye.
And Cambridge. The oddness of this place has not completely given way to a sense of fondness on my part, but I feel this term has given me space to grow and helped me to identify the many ways and areas in which I so badly need growth, too. I am grateful for new friendships, for a good environment in which to study and a chance to study in depth the things that fascinate me, for challenging placements, for lots of sunshine and for the open minds around me. I am grateful for old friends who have come to visit, making it easier for the pre-Cambridge*** Erin and the in-Cambridge Erin to be the same person. The term and the year ended in a whirl of activities, less than perfect health and frenetic diarying (occupational hazard for clergy and future clergy, I’m told) but there has been more than enough space at the very end, in the time between the years, to reflect.
There’s an old tourism campaign slogan for my home state (Michigan) that goes, ‘If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.’**** Besides the delightful alliteration, generally pleasing poetry and utter truth of this statement, I hang on to it as a kind of reminder of how easy it is to overlook the beauty in everyday life. One of things that I recognised yesterday in Norwich was that every time this year that I have sought God – in anger, in joy, in frustration, in worship, in sarcasm, in grief – I have found her. It has almost never happened in the way that I expected, but I have found her, or been found, nonetheless. And there are few things about which I could be more grateful, especially embarking on the crazy ride that is becoming and being a clergywoman. Learning to see God’s presence in the quotidian, to expect Jesus to surprise and subvert the careful theological structures I like to put him in, and to be unafraid of the holy spirit’s disorganised, generous leading towards ways of living more justly: well, that’s quite a lot to be thankful for, and quite enough to be getting on with for 2014.
So here’s to another year of wide-open-ness, of hard work, of love and justice, of (undoubtedly) learning and re-learning things the hard way. Because that’s pretty much how I roll. Happy New Year.
* A delightful turn of phrase I’m enjoying blatantly stealing from the Germans: it’s their term for the week between Christmas and New Years’ Eve.
** Two words: baking and bunting.
*** Not to be confused with Pre-Cambrian Erin, whoever she might be.
**** It’s also the official state motto. In Latin: Si Quæris Peninsulam Amœnam Circumspice.