As a Presbyterian pastor I am required to have earned a Master of Divinity as part of my ordination requirements. The M.Div. is 90 credits, but we could also measure that in pages read for class, which are uncountable. Seminary requires what sometimes feels like endless reading. Articles, books, blogs, every week there is a list of required reading.
To complicate things, I added a second degree: a Master of Arts in spirituality from Bellarmine University. It was there that I fell in love with the mystics, including Thomas Merton. It was bound to happen as many of my classes were held in the Merton Center in the library. We would gather to sing compline at the end of class surrounded by a museum-like display of artifacts from Merton’s life. In fact, we were even able to travel to the monastery where he lived several times. I was able to stand on the corner of Fourth and Walnut in Louisville, Kentucky, where he had his experience of profound love for all the people he could see. Above my desk sits a card from the Merton center with his prayer that begins: “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me.” Yet despite my amazing experiences occupying the spaces Merton did, regularly seeing artifacts from his life and the connection I feel to his body of work, I have never taken a leisurely read of his works. I always read them in the context of a class.
After seminary, I was hesitant to take on big reading goals because my brain and eyes needed a break. I am seven years out from graduation and this is going to be the year when I tackle reading Merton for the sheer joy of it! I am not sure where I will start or where I will end, but I am looking forward to his autobiography “The Seven Story Mountain.” I am sure that I will be better for having read his works again and taking time to digest them, reflect on them and perhaps even practice a bit of the solitude that profoundly effected his life of faith.
There is something life giving and necessary about reading the works of others who have lived or live a life of faith. In those pages I often find myself hearing a sermon, going to church and getting to worship in ways that are typically no longer available to me as a worship leader. There is a sacredness in this reading. The Spirit works to breathe new life into me as my eyes and brain make out the words on the page. The stories of fellow sojourners inspire me, challenge me and renew me. Sometimes I see God come to life on the page, and sometimes I receive the gentle reminder that this big, loving, grace-filled God knows my name and offers me some of that grace and love. The deeper my faith grows, the better I am at being the pastor God has called me to be.