Dear Friends of Second Church,
Back when I was in high school, the school’s “Religion requirement” (two semesters at any point during your four years) was broadly considered a throwback to a different era—say, the Early Federal era, when the school’s mission had been the training of pastors for tiny northern New England churches, the curriculum required years of Greek and Hebrew, and the only tuition was a “candle tax” to defray the cost of so much homework after dark.
Two centuries later, “Religion” was still a small part of our education, but even so, the courses were of a different cast: the course on Buddhism was always hard to get into, and you could always spot a “deep” kid because he or she would sign up for Existentialism as a senior during spring semester—willingly reading Camus when all the other seniors were out playing frisbee on the library lawn. (Ahem…I should also add that it one of the best courses I’ve ever taken.)
But the hottest ticket of all was Religion 425, “The Religious Journey,” which was a course in comparative religion. It was the course that the upperclassmen told you about in your first year—full of personal writing, reading by Hermann Hesse and Jack Kerouac.
Not to knock comparative religion, but Religion 425 was also considered the easiest ‘A’ in the school. After all, God was hard to pin down, and religious journeys involved so much self-discovery.
In practical terms, that meant you could “discover” some things about yourself and talk a bit about “The Mystery,” and the Rev would pretty much let the rest slide.
When I got in, as a first semester Sophomore, I was considered one of the lucky few.
But things have a way of happening, and on the night before first day of class, at the dining hall salad bar, I overheard the school’s Assistant Chaplain talking with someone about the course she would be teaching: Introduction to the New Testament.
From the sound of it, New Testament was clearly not going to be a walk in the park. The first month sounded like they would be reading the Gospel of Mark with a microscope—the assignments were going to be things like “read six verses…write a two page reflection for class.”
The student she was talking to wasn’t convinced this was really for her. Wouldn’t you know it, she was taking Chemistry this year.
“We’ll get into the Greek roots for words like ‘salvation’ and ‘the end times’” said the chaplain. “It’s great stuff.”
Well, the budding chemist didn’t appear for class the next morning during C block. Which I happen to know because I did. I let my precious spot in Religion 425 go to someone else, like a seat in the lifeboat off this strange old curricular requirement, and I dove directly into the water.
For the life of me, I can’t say why.
Maybe it was the slightly forlorn hope in the chaplain’s voice? The seriousness of the study? Because I’d already read Kerouac? Or because sometimes, you just know. Sometimes it’s the water that you want, and somehow you know that you’ll be able to float once you get in it.
I just knew. And thank God I did.
As Vacation Bible School starts on our campus next week, I suppose we can’t promise that each and every student will experience what it is to dive into the water for the first time, much less float.
But if we can teach our campers to dream of swimming, and trust to God’s sense of timing, we won’t just be telling them what others have said about religious journeys—we’ll be inviting them to see their own. One tentative splash at a time.
See you in church,