The other day, I was writing my last term paper of my second year at Candler, for my ethics class. That week had been full of papers, and I was feeling like I had squeezed out every drop of God-juice that was in my brain. My friend sent me a funny text message, and I sent her back an amused reply and said with resignation that I was working on my ethics paper. She said she was sorry to have bothered me and would let me get back to work.
I was doing exactly what I like to think I never do: taking myself too seriously. A similar thing happened in class the other day. My professor said I was too serious and needed to lighten up and take some cheap grace. I could hardly believe it. Too serious! I called an old buddy of mine on the way home and told him of the professor’s assessment. “What?” he said, laughing, “You?” It was good to learn that he could not believe it, either.
It had shaken me up, this image of myself as joyless and severe. I had come to seminary feeling like I had an intuitive closeness with God. Then seminary really hit. My small arsenal of spiritual maxims had been turned upside-down, and my faith sometimes felt defective. Occasionally during my morning devotion, I felt like I did not even know how to pray correctly, but then whenever I tried to force a change in method, it was like putting a raw egg and orange juice into a bowl of frosted flakes. All were good for a complete breakfast, but there was no need to change everything about breakfast.
I cannot be anywhere that God is not; I just have to look. I remember also laughing heartily with some classmates once during a study session. We were all in the same boat, and this was going somewhere, and we just had to enjoy the ride. When we take ourselves too seriously, we deceive ourselves that we know absolutely God’s will for us, and that we would realize that will if only those around us would get with the program. We stop listening to God. Laughter happens when we are able to stop reacting in fear toward something, and give up any delusion that we can control or explain any of this. Even when we are cracking up with our friends, it’s like we’re sharing an inside joke with the Almighty.
So, I do not have to worry. The glorious symphony, which I know intuitively, is actually not far removed from the theological head-scratching that seminary demands. I must employ the “Under Construction” motif (from 2013 New Student Orientation) that has been so appropriate this year with all the literal and figurative construction on campus. The book of Ezra tells of the Israelites rebuilding the temple after the Babylonian exile: “When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments were stationed to praise the Lord with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, according to the directions of King David of Israel; and they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord.” (Ezra 3:10-11) The music comes from the same place where the foundation of the temple is being laid. When I can accept that, I can throw up my hands, give up control, and laugh, knowing that I am loved perfectly by God.
So I sent my friend another text message: What do you call a fish with no eyes?
Answer: A fsh!
Josh is a rising third-year student at Candler and a ministerial intern at Chamblee First United Methodist Church.