Due: October 16, 2004
SCHOOL OF SACRED MINISTRIES at PEBBLE HILL
STUDENT REFLECTIONS FOR SEPTEMBER 26, 2004
By Brian S. Weis
Saturday night, September 25, I couldn't get to sleep. At least, I couldn't get to sleep right away. I was too jittery. I'm sure some of those jitters were a direct result of Bat Boy: the Musical -- I had only just returned home at around 11pm, following a quick post-performance cleanup at the Montgomery Theater. It had been a strong performance, with a sold out crowd, but that was now in the past. I had to concentrate on the Sunday matinee, which would be upon me in less than 20 hours.
But before that, I was going to attend an initiation at the Pebble Hill Church.
The Sacred Opening Ritual and Initiation for the 2004-2006 Interfaith Ordination Class was scheduled for that same Sunday, scheduled to be a part of the church's regular Celebration. This was the first time that the School of Sacred Ministries had included the church and her congregation in the program. It was meant to be a special "welcome" to the new students, and a chance for these students -- us -- to meet the church members who help make the School a possibility.
Was I more nervous about meeting my fellow classmates? Or the congregation? I didn't know what to expect in either case. But I did know one disappointing fact: I could only be present for the Celebration itself, and the short lunch period afterward.
Earlier in the week I had spoken with Tom -- one of the current students going for Ordination this December and a volunteer advisor for our group. I had contacted him as soon as I had noticed that an afternoon class session was also on the agenda for Sunday. With the exceptions of weekend retreats and the Sept. 26 Celebration, I had been under the impression that all classes would be held on Saturdays, but that our first meeting would be an opening ritual during a regular Sunday service. And I had adjusted my schedule accordingly, fully believing I had the afternoon free to conduct my theater responsibilities. And it was now too late for me to get out of the performance -- there was no time to train another person to do my job, even if such a person were available.
After our talk, Tom assured me that due to the uniqueness of my situation, the school would be able to make an allowance for my afternoon absence. Tom and I were in agreement that I would depart Pebble Hill directly after lunch. Although the issue seemed to be resolved, and there was little else I could do about it at this point, I was anxious. I had not actually discussed the matter with any of the instructors or administrators. So it was certainly possible that my "pass" would have to be forfeited come morning. And I had no idea what I would do in that event.
I know that sleep finally came to me because I clearly remember awakening tired, but with a sense of relief. Make that a dual sense of relief: I was glad that I had been able to eventually quiet all my inner voices and conflicting emotions and achieve a restful state. But perhaps more than that, I was glad I had not overslept.
Still, I puttered around too much and almost left later than I wanted. I barely had enough time to do my morning devotions before I flew out the door. But I did manage to squeeze in two standards (Song of 144,000 and the Invocation for the Avatar of Synthesis) just so I could have some sense of a normal morning in the midst of my excitement and trepidation. I recited a third invocation in the car and sang a few songs on my way to Pebble Hill. As the miles passed, I grew a bit calmer but a restless excitement still circled my stomach.
Tom greeted me with a fantastic message just outside the Red Barn: "You're here at a good time. You're not early; you're not late. You're just right here in the middle of the road." It truly struck me. You see, in the past, I always strived to be early. Since moving to Bucks County in 1991, however, I have usually been late because I have a terrible sense of time and distance when it comes to driving. Yet here I was, at the beginning of a new journey, splitting the difference between arrival modes. There may be a deeper message there for me.
I joined the others who were already in the basement meeting room. Nothing was really going on just yet, and it took me a while to find out about our "information packets." I will admit to a mild annoyance at the seeming disorganization displayed by the class leaders, but I could not really get upset or anxious over it. Instead, I immersed myself in the act of merely enjoying sitting there in the midst of my fellow students and the advisors. I enjoyed looking around and seeing faces I recognized from the Open House I attended. I marveled at the new (to me) faces. And generally just listened to everything. It was nice to not have to "perform."
We were not present for the beginning of the Celebration. But what a grand entrance was permitted to us! We walked into the sanctuary one at a time, said a few words of greeting to the congregation, and then took a seat. We are a large class, and it took a while before we were all seated.
There is a lot of music in a Celebration at Pebble Hill. I don't know if we experienced a standard set of music and singing, but I have to say that I was not really into it. For one thing, I never felt we were adequately taught the words for most of the songs, the one exception being the lyrics that were printed in the bulletin. Words, sounds, and patterns have meaning and purpose. And that meaning can be lost or the purpose distorted with sloppy recitation. I just felt we did not do justice to the songs/chants. The other thing that hampered me was that each song, for me, went on longer than I needed. I could go so far … and then I was done. This could have been due, in part, to the fact that I wanted to have as much time with my class as I could before leaving for the theater. And the longer Celebration took, the less class and lesson time I had. No one else seemed to mind.
I must, however, say that the lesson on Ganisha (via a children's' story book, no less!), the Water & Stones Ritual, and being ushered to the Yellow Barn by a drumming and chanting congregation were all high points in my book -- very high points.
During the break, I spoke to Beverley* and told her about my scheduling situation for that day. She was very understanding, but was sorry that I was going to miss the labyrinth walk. Now that she mentioned it, I felt sorry that I had to miss it, too. I wanted to know more about it, but didn't ask. And she didn't offer. But she did suggest, "Before you go, if you can find some quiet time during lunch, perhaps you could go into the Red Barn and walk the labyrinth yourself." I nodded and filed that away.
I don't remember much about lunch. I could probably tell you what I ate. And I could pick the classmates I sat near out of a lineup. But there are no specifics – it was just a pleasant, sunny afternoon; I was enjoying the day and some nourishment with seemingly like-minded people. Wait, one conversation does stand out. Somehow my interest in theater arts came up and a long-time Pebble Hill member whose name escapes me was very interested in my experience and desire to fuse drama and ministry. I could tell she wanted to do some of that work at Pebble Hill. Was this synchronicity at work?
It was nearing the time for my departure, and I was struggling to stay on schedule. It was becoming more difficult to leave than I had expected. But I remembered what Beverley had suggested, so I quietly packed the remains of my lunch, went in search of my bag, checked in with the labyrinth.
But all I could do was look at it.
I did not walk the labyrinth that day.
It seemed to me that I was not called to walk it. In fact, if anything, I was counseled to wait. In the silence, that message was loud and clear. And after waiting so many years to take the step and join the School … well, I figured I could wait until the time was right to walk a labyrinth. I left and rushed to the theater – I was going to be late for that call time. (In theater, the "call" time is one hour prior to curtain; it is the deadline, if you will, for actors and crew to arrive and prepare for the performance). As we ran through the show that afternoon, I noticed once again how holy the stage is, what an organism the theater is. I also noticed spiritual lessons and threads running through this musical comedy. There were lessons obvious in the lyrics:
He never knew what he was worth; I could not stop his fall. But in his precious hours on Earth, he taught us all:
Love your neighbor.
Keep your vows.
Revenge is something G*d forbids.
To scapegoat folks is wrong.
But there were other, more subtle -- and valuable -- lessons as well:
Don't judge a person by his or her looks.
Every person has something to contribute to the community – they just need a chance.
One person can make a difference.
A family should be a group of people practicing earned trust; people who won't let you down.
Home should be a place where people accept you.
Home is a place where people accept you…
I think the School is that kind of home.