One of my very favorite ministerial tasks is to teach. I wish I had time to do more of it. Last night, I started a three-session course called “Encountering Jesus” and we began with Jesus As Healer and the healing miracles. I happened to look up just as a participant got an “ah ha” light in her eyes — that “I just learned something really cool” expression, and I felt an actual thrill go through my body.
I did get a call to ministry, but the first and really supernatural call I got was to be a teacher.
When I was in college, I dropped out of the music major my second week of school. I knew it was wrong for me. I ran from the School of Music to the English Department and nicely and desperately demanded that they enroll me late in a Freshman Seminar. My only requirement was that it be meeting that day, that hour. The administrator was aghast. “There are waiting lists for all the seminars,” she said. I stood there and pointed at the enrollment list. “Just add me to that one,” I said. “That one looks good. Yes, that’ll do. That looks like the perfect seminar to add me to right now” until she relented and gave me the pass slip to class. (I actually couldn’t even see the title of the seminar — I just knew I needed to get into one). I arrived late, sat next to a guy who would wind up becoming one of my best friends and who would introduce me the boy who would be my boyfriend for the next seven years, and switched majors.
I never doubted my impulsive decision. Not only was it the prompting of my own soul, I decided that my dad had come through from the spirit world to give his support and approval. I felt it was a sign that, as I was crossing campus to bolt for the English Department, I heard someone playing “Clair de Lune” on a dorm piano in one of the quads. That was the last song played at my father’s funeral two years prior.
People ask how God works in people’s lives who believe in God. To me, God works as a felt presence, intuitions and uncomfortable and often disturbing inbreaking of inconvenient truths. When I try to detour around the promptings of the Holy, I inevitably get busted. And I mean truly, deeply busted in real time, and sometimes for a long time.
God is an energy with which I try to sync myself; a wave I try to ride without flailing against it. I love the last line of our church affirmation, “to the end that all souls shall grow into harmony with the Divine.” I am always trying to be obedient and grow into harmony with God. It doesn’t make me sweet, it doesn’t make me nice, it doesn’t make me not irritated or angry, it doesn’t necessarily make me more likeable to others. I used to think it would. What it does make me is peaceful and very happy. All is well with my soul. The peace that passeth understanding, and still no time for foolishness.
I understand now that God blesses and graces — God doesn’t grant personality transplants.
You may wonder what caused me to bolt out of Concert Choir that fateful morning in September of 1988 in Evanston, Illinois at around 10:00 AM, rush to the registrar’s office to find out what I would have to do to quit the School of Music and be admitted to the College of Arts and Sciences and make a break for the English Department in time for a noon seminar.
Here’s what happened. I had started classes a couple of weeks prior, and had felt a sense of real grief and dismay when I looked at my course line-up of all music studies, all semester. Voice lessons, Italian lessons, keyboard, music theory, concert choir. No literature, no history, no humanities? My advisor assured me that I’d have some electives in junior year and could diversify at that point. My heart sank, but I wasn’t old enough yet to respect that sensation and get the heck out then and there.
Holding onto that unexpressed dismay and sense of loss of broader academic study somewhere in my heart and soul, I stood that morning to sing with a large ensemble of other first year music students. We were singing “Carmina Burana.” The sound was extraordinary. The young singers were serious and amazingly talented, happy to be there, excited to devote their lives to music, and all skilled at sight-reading. I knew I was out of my league and more than that, that I was not willing to do the work required to become as good as any of them. I had neither the discipline nor the desire. I felt like laughing out loud. “Oh my GOD, I am SO not qualified to be here!”
I have always had the happy ability to recognize talent and appreciate it, and not to feel threatened by other people’s talent. I felt great admiration for my peers and in no way diminished by their excellence. I simply knew that I couldn’t rate and that was okay. I had such clarity.
The funniest part of this story is who God/Fate/Trickster put me between that morning. On one side of me was Sarah Pfisterer. On the other side of me was Mary Dunleavy. Both of these lovely, now highly-acclaimed sopranos lived in my dorm and hung out with me after I quit the voice major, telling me that I had a great voice and shouldn’t be discouraged. I said to both of them, “No, you guys — YOU have great voices. You have great voices, you stand a chance at really making it, I’m fine but I’m not anywhere near your calibre.”
(I see that Mary just played Musetta in “La Boheme” at the Met in January, which I actually saw on the 13th for my birthday!!– I’m sorry I didn’t see it one of the nights she was singing! I was happy to be able to see Sarah play Christine in “Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway and as Magnolia in the national touring company of “Showboat”).
The next year, after the dust had settled on my dramatic transition from voice to English major, I was required to choose a major within the English major. The choices were English Literature, The Teaching Of English and something else I have forgotten — maybe writing? Or poetry? Anyway, I do remember sitting with my course catalogue in my lap wondering which one I should choose. I idly flipped through the pages, assuming that I’d choose the literature track but glancing at some of the other track’s requirements. I had no desire to take the boring education courses, and I wasn’t a writer, so…
And then I heard a voice, as loud as if the person had been standing right next to the bed where I was sitting. It said, “You are going to be a teacher.”
Here’s how I reacted. I said to myself, “Hmm. Okay, I guess I’ll go for The Teaching Of English concentration, then.”
No fanfare, no questioning, no wondering, no second-guessing. A mystical experience that set the course for my life and I was completely matter of fact about responding. I still marvel at that.
I was to hear that same voice speak one other time the next year, but that’s another story.
I heard a voice say, “You’re going to be a teacher,” so I obeyed.
And that obedience has given me a life of joy and fulfillment, although the forms of my teaching have changed over the decades.
Last night, the thrill of that original calling returned to me full force. It may not be a big thing, but because it has been exactly the right thing, I shall not want.