Last night I attended my first last worship service as a seminary student. It was quite the affair as it was the first worship service for the incoming students. Allen read scripture with power and clarity and Carrie filled the room with her bright, angelic voice. Jonathan and Jacob sang some melodious sonnet and we all enjoyed the feast with Dr. Lord presiding. Kallie and Rachel meticulously ensured that it all ran without a hitch. Dr. Wardlaw, from the pulpit, preached with honesty and conviction while making us budding preachers jealous of his giftedness (he told me he just had a lucky night).
All of the ‘stuff’ changes from year to year – texts, songs, presiders, sermons – but there is one moment all students have experienced: reciting the Declaration of Intent. It’s this small paragraph we recite in unison as incoming students but will probably never glance at again. And why would we? We’ve paid our tuition, attended orientation, made friends, and signed the book. We’re in and doing the thing.
That small paragraph is a lot like those terms of service agreements I casually breeze through whenever I’m updating my computer. I don’t read the words – I just check the box and trust that I haven’t sold my soul to Dell. As I was in my pew last night listening to the incoming students recite that paragraph, I couldn’t help but take stock in my own declaration: have I been living up to those words?
There are five big things in that paragraph: live responsibly; be persistent in pursuing learning; diligence in prayer and praise; responsive to the needs of others; open to others equipping me for service. These are great ideals and I appreciate that we are to commit to them, but, like those terms of service, I have glossed over them.
Sure, there have been periods when I’ve been consistently pursuing all of the things I said I would. There have been moments when I’ve had to put them aside, quickly picking them up again when I could. But honestly, there have been times when I’ve failed miserably in my declared intentions. I have not always looked out for others, nor have I always lived responsibly, and no, I’m not always open to the suggestions of others. Seriously, sometimes I’m an ass.
My saving grace is that it’s a Declaration of Intent, not a Declaration of Requirement. I said those words with hope and determination to act in those ways, but I am in no way required to live that life all the time. Because I can’t – I can’t do all of those things, all of the time, for all of the people. I recited and signed with intention, and I’m going to fail. On more occasions than I’d like to admit, I’ve received abundant grace from faculty, staff, maintenance members, the occasional squirrel, and my fellow students. They all know and recognize my intention to be all I said I’d be, but they also know I’m full of faults.
Grace…mercy…pardon…reprieves…they all come into play in seminary life. While I should work towards those declared intentions, I will be sure to fill my life with grace and mercy, both for myself and others. If I intend to do anything in seminary this year, let it be living and giving in grace and mercy, full of forgiveness.
.much love. sheth.