I studied Religion in college. When I began seminary at Vanderbilt Divinity School last year, friends and mentors from my college days asked me almost the same question every time I talked with them: “Is divinity school hard?”
Well. That is a tough question to answer.
On one hand, honestly, no–this kind of learning, this cooperation between book learning and experience and theological imagination, this is the kind of learning I have always wanted to do. My classes–Hebrew Bible, New Testament, Formation of Christian Traditions, Preaching and Social Justice Ethics, Pastoral Care, Youth Ministry–were all classes that I felt like I had waited forever to take. Finally I could let my everyday experience into my academic work.
On the other hand, yes, divinity school is hard. Sometimes it’s the academic work that is hard, but more often it’s the people factor that is challenging. In divinity school, people are all together who have widely varying theologies and life experiences, and we are learning all at once how to read ancient texts and interpret responsibly while also trying to support each other as we are stretched emotionally, spiritually, and theologically by life’s twists and turns.
The good news about this new school year is that I feel more prepared to enter year two of my MDiv. I went through a lot with my cohort during the first year of divinity school and I learned how to be present with folks in new ways. I learned to love people who held vastly different theologies from me. After taking a short break from my studies to do a year internship, I found myself sitting in organized rows in the classroom, not sure how to insert my voice into conversation, fretting about whether I looked or sounded smart enough or professional enough. Through affirmations of friends, classmates, TAs and faculty, I became more willing to take risks in the classroom and really honestly say what I was thinking and feeling, calling out misuses of privilege and power and calling folks into conversation. Entering school this year, I am more ready to step up and take my place among the theologians and friends in my classes.
Perhaps most importantly, I re-learned how to love myself. I found “my people” among my classmates and formed groups for studying that also were lifegiving and emotionally supportive. I learned how to take time for myself and lessen the judgmental voice in my mind that accused me of wasting time or not being productive enough to deserve a break. I learned how to prioritize things that make me healthy, like sleeping enough hours and cooking food at home and spending time with people who truly see me for me and lift me up. I also learned (or really, continue to learn) how to step forward and speak out against injustice, in that way caring for my community. I learned how to find spiritual sustenance at the same time as critiquing major aspects of my tradition.
This incredible journey of divinity school would not be possible without the support and laughter and unconditional love of my friends, family, churchfolk, mentors and classmates. I am so grateful for the blessing of having people who love me and encourage me to follow my calling.