I’m on campus on a Sunday. A first for this return to academic life… Various factors made it feel necessary to violate sabbath today and having access to a quiet library was desirable so I worshipped at the Episcopalian church on campus at 9:30 and then settled in for a day of reading. I’ve never worshipped in the Div School chapel with such a crowd, of all ages, and with such diverse and lovely music. I rarely worship without Kev and/or C. There were adorable wee ones all about me… I missed my beloved and baby. The priest rather apologetically turned her attention to wildflowers at one point in her sermon. Apparently she’s known to go on about wildflowers and she indicated, playfully, that this is wearying for her congregation. She spoke of there being well over 100,000 (see facebook for a more precise number!) wild larkspurs in bloom at a lake/park less than five miles from campus. Wildflowers about the existence of which she was totally unaware for years. Wildflowers of which I, until today, have been unaware. She paralleled this surprising sign of radical abundance with the haul of fish in the John 21 account. There were many nice moments in the sermon. I’m not sure what she wanted my take away to be, but I texted Kev before the sermon was over and told him I’d like to set a goal of being done in time to head to that lake/park to walk with K and C and see this radical abundance hidden from view. I am now sitting on a bench on a lovely spring day waiting for them to arrive so we can do just that. All these things they’re strange… but good.
So here’s another strange thing… I’m heading into my last week of classes for the semester and I am not posting a menu of things to be accomplished. Really one would have expected me to post my dramatic to-do list last weekend or before as this past week I delivered my first academic lecture for a real live theology class and had a teaching presentation in another class on the same day and had a draft due for one of my final papers (on Hegel and Schleiermacher, aie.) And I was coming off a terrible stomach bug and I was due to help host a baby shower yesterday. Oh, and I have 13 8-page papers to grade. I accomplished all this (well, 8/13 papers graded) in the past week in fairly good form. I also requested permission to take an incomplete in my Aquinas class. It is possible I’ll be able to get the final paper written, but as my paper topic is related to my dissertation interests I really want to carefully read for it and learn something and I have a lot to read… so I decided to take the pressure off and give myself permission to finish it in May (or over the summer) as need be. Both profs are fine with that. So… while I have a lot of work to do yet for my anthro paper, and have a curriculum unit to design, and will have BIG revisions to do on that draft (I’m sure)… here’s the strange thing… I’m not feeling all that stressed. Every now and then the stress spikes, but… really it’s not too bad. Maybe I’m keeping my resolution to be more chill after all. I’ve had very few freak outs this semester… only occasional moments of deep insecurity. This is a very strange thing. But I’ll take it. Not sure how I’m going to get everything done, but not feeling a need to carefully plan it out… We’ll see how this goes.
And for the category of “life is stranger than fiction” a story from a bus ride this week…
I got on a bus one lovely spring afternoon. I had a book in hand that I intended to read on both legs of the journey. I also had a big and bulky backpack that I decided to place on a shelf for such things near the front of the bus. Whenever I use this shelf I try to get a seat nearby so I can keep an eye on it. The three seats immediately next to it were being fully occupied by one fairly large, African-American woman and her stuff. There were two seats across the way, one of which was occupied by a young, slight, African-American woman and the other was empty. I slipped into the empty seat. Shortly after I sat down I heard the woman across the way talking, fairly loudly. At first I thought that maybe she was talking to the bus driver as folks in that seat often do, but then I realized she didn’t seem to be talking with anyone in particular.
I tried to focus on my book. I was reading about theories about the social construction of disability at the moment, in particular about some who wonder if Schizophrenia is an invention to cover a whole host of things we simply don’t understand. At one point I thought maybe I had put my legs out too far as I seemed to bump the woman across the way.
A few moments later I heard the young woman next to me murmuring quietly to herself. I thought I heard her say “Jesus,” then the woman across the way became very agitated and started aggressively acting out towards the woman next me- she would throw things at her (a bag, for example) and would kick her legs, repeatedly, and with increasing intensity. Then I realized that the woman next to me was praying, I thought, perhaps, she was praying in tongues as the only word I could understand was “Jesus” which surfaced from time to time from a sea of gentle and strange sounds. The woman across the way kept holding up her keys and pointing them at my seat mate and making a motion like she wanted to scratch her eyes out. She pulled a card out of her wallet and was waving it menacingly at the woman next to me. My seat mate only said one thing out loud to the woman across the way, that I heard, something like “Now really…” but then slipped back into calm and quiet praying. She would occasionally hold up her hands and wave them gently in the direction of the woman across the way. She called somebody on her cell at some point and said quietly “I’m on the bus. There’s a woman trying to attack me. I’m just calling to ask you to pray with me. Will you pray with me? I’m alright. I’m getting off soon. Just pray with me.” And then she hung up.
It seriously seemed that the anger of the woman across the way was getting more and more intense. I was afraid she was going to try to seriously hurt my seat mate. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out what I should do. I was silently praying, a bit. But mostly I was thinking “Crap. What should I do? Should I start praying out loud? Should I tell this woman to calm down, back off? What should I do?” All the people around seemed to be at a loss. When the woman would kick my seat mate sometimes there would be nervous laughter or gasps, but no one said or did anything. There was a caucasian woman on the other side of me who apparently knew my seat mate. She was knitting and before the conflict escalated she and I chatted a bit about knitting.
My seat mate, the knitter, and I all got off the bus at the same time. My seat mate practically danced off the bus. She ran and skipped and jumped in the air “Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Jesus!”
It turned out that the knitter, my seat mate, and I were all getting on the same bus for the second leg of the journey. I heard the knitter call her “Shekinah.” Seriously? Shekinah???
As we waited for the bus the knitter said “The bus is not usually that strange. I’ve never seen that happen before.” I asked her first, “Did you say her name was Shekinah?” And she confirmed that it was. And then I asked her if something had happened between them before I got on the bus. And she replied “Well, something happened, but nothing visible happened. Nothing we could see.”
Shekinah was having an animated conversation on her cell phone and I caught fragments of it. “Praying in tongues…when I’d pray she’d get mad, real mad, but only when I’d pray…” When we stood in line to get on the next bus I was in line with Shekinah. I told her that I was impressed that she was able to remain so calm and that her impulse was to turn to prayer. And I asked her if something had happened. She shifted somewhat uncomfortably on her feet and said “Well, let’s just say she and I had an understanding. It’s pretty hard to explain unless you’re real spiritual.” I said “Well, I’m a pastor…” She raised her eyebrows and then relaxed a bit and said “Really? What church?” I explained that I’m not serving a church right now, but that I’m a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) So then she tried me. She said “The Lord told me, showed me that she wasn’t right, that there were bad spirits all around her. And the Lord told me what to do. And so I did it. And the spirits they didn’t like that, they got all worked up, I could see them, and that’s what was making her do what she was doing. I was able to stay calm because the Lord takes care of us, we’ve got nothing to be afraid of, nothing!” And then we went our separate ways.
As I reflected on this I realized that in a world of possibilities her interpretation of the events could certainly be so. I also realized that the woman across the way is likely mentally ill and perhaps she perceived herself being judged and was legitimately mad about that (if acting out this anger in inappropriate ways- who kicks people? after a certain age? in public?) And, my goodness, Shekinah- the name for the feminine presence of God in the Hebrew Scriptures? I can’t make this stuff up.
It was a strange thing… what would you have done?