The Atlanta Dwellers have been taking turns leading community nights which USED to be Tuesdays but is now Mondays. On February 20, Hannah used her first community night to talk about vocational discernment. She shared some passages from a really interesting book by a Quaker called Parker Palmer. The book is called Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.
In the passage Hannah read, the 45 year old Palmer has gone to a Quaker retreat center called Pendle Hill on sabbatical from his job. The women and men who work there, Palmer assumes, are wise and contemplative Quakers who give him this advice about his life crisis:
Way will open.
This is not what Palmer wants to hear, of course. How long do you wait for way to open? What if way never opens? What do you do in the meantime?
Eventually, Palmer opens these questions and doubts to an older woman at Pendle Hill. She says, “I’ve never known much way to open, but when I look back, I see a lot of way closing.”
This resonated deeply with me. Way has closed in front of me and at times I have tried to push through but other times, I have mourned and moved on. Two moments in particular stand out to me.
My first year in seminary, I was taking biblical Hebrew and planning to pursue a PhD in theology. I worked hard in the class, but it just wasn’t sticking. When I finished my first semester, I had eked out a C, barely enough to go on to the second semester. Over Christmas break, I met up with a professor from college who had always encouraged me to go to graduate school and post-graduate. I told him about the semester, the grade I had made, and he looked very grave. He told me very kindly, and very seriously, that he did not think I would be accepted in a PhD program with a C on my transcript.
His recommendation was that I take the class again, raise my grade and GPA, and drop the first semester from my transcript. I considered taking Hebrew again, by choice. And then I started looking for a new way.
The second event involves a dream that didn’t come true. I became familiar with Sojourners Magazine during high school when my mother and father ordered a subscription for me for Christmas. I read issues from cover to cover and was fascinated at their work in the heart of policy-making in the USA. Since discovering I had a talent for writing, I had thought about applying for their editorial internship: a year of working, living, and writing in Washington, DC.
Each year, I thought, is this the year I should apply? But every time, the answer seemed like no: I don’t want to graduate a year late. I don’t want to take a year off between college and grad school. I don’t want to stop grad school after one year and lose my momentum.
My academic adviser at seminary was supportive and excited about this. After discussion, she and I decided that if it was to happen, it should happen between my second and third year at Emmanuel. I filled out the application, wrote my spiritual journey essay, and updated my resume to show the writing I had done.
The answer came back: No.
I thought I was a strong candidate, but I wasn’t even asked to interview.
I don’t have a good conclusion for that. No ending, no tying up loose strings. Maybe that’s how it is with way closing; there’s not an obvious reason for it, it just happens. As a Christian, I do believe that God’s hand of grace is guiding the way.
On another note, during community night, we took a career aptitude test and it said I should be an adult education teacher! Put that on the list of things I never thought of.