What if, upon arriving at your desired destination, you learned that your entire stay would be spent carefully unpacking and then re-packing your suitcase? That, I have learned, is seminary.
We each came to seminary with varying experiences and depths of service in our “previous lives”: serving on prayer teams, leading meditations, serving as licensed Unity teachers, serving as prayer chaplain coordinators, or serving as a community’s spiritual leader. We were not new to Unity, and had acquired years, if not decades, of Unity teachings. We “knew our stuff” and had passed all the tests (including psychological) and the interviews, to be where we were—at Unity Village, Mo., in the M.Div. program.
I arrived, as did all my fellow students, with carefully, meticulously packed, metaphysical suitcases stuffed to overflowing with the years of our experiences. Within the recesses of our bags were all our celebrations, our tears, our tremendous joys and our agonizing sorrows—all those experiences which shaped and formed who we had become. We arrived only to find that each idea would need to be extracted, unwrapped, and thoroughly examined before being repacked. Each belief was to be held to the light, inspected, and cross-examined for embedded theologies, unrealized patterns and family dynamics, not to make them wrong, but to understand “whence they came.”
Each item was to be laid out for evaluation. Each posed questions to be answered. Does this still fit? Is it truly “me” or was it accepted because it looked good on someone else? Fashion does not apply—do I like it, authentically? And if I like it, why do I like it? Fit does apply—does it feel good on, fit correctly, fit me? And if it does, why does it fit? Does it fit the image I want to project or does it truly fit me at my depths, at the core of my being? Does it fit this situation or that scenario, and if so, why? So very many questions. There are no quick or easy answers.
At various times, while unpacking my suitcase, I would come upon an item I hardly recognized. What was this old, negative belief system doing among my things? A part of me wanted to deny ownership—to exclaim, “Who put this in here? Wasn’t me!” I would examine a belief about myself or others and question its presence, firmly believing I had let that go long ago. Yet, here it was, snuggling up against all my positive thinking, leaving lint and the shadow of unhealed thoughts. Who put these things in here? There was no one else to blame. They were clung to by me and only me, with the assistance of my environment perhaps, but I was the one to accept and hang onto them, carrying them with me unaware.
There comes a point when, temporarily, the suitcase appears to have been emptied entirely of its contents, all pockets and zippers investigated, all seams pulled and stretched for hidden places, and it has yet to be reassembled. The Tibetan mystics call this time bardo, the time in-between, that space between “no longer” and “not yet.” Seminary is bardo, a place of intermittent discomfort, of having feelings and emotions bubble to the surface and then rescind. It is a space of being “off-center,” temporarily shaken from our previous foundation and not yet re-grounded. It is often called the “hidden curriculum,” although there appears to be no attempt to hide anything.
That is the point! What was once hidden will be revealed. If and when it is genuinely and authentically ours, it will be repacked with a new sense of ownership, a deeper embracing, with the full knowledge of why it is ours and why we feel as we do about its meaning. It will have gained a solid place in our “luggage of life”—essential to us individually and as people of Unity.
Seminary is also an exciting time of learning and gaining great confidence in exploring not only new perspectives, but also by delving into the academic biblical process of exegesis. There are times in Unity when we are so content with the metaphysical aspect of scripture, which is truly rich and powerful, that we may neglect the rich and powerful history of the Bible as it was written. Where, for whom, by whom, and for what purpose? We are exposed to this wonderful world of academia, which is new to many of us from a biblical standpoint.
Our suitcase is thus expanded. We gain a broader spectrum of knowledge ranging from biblical studies to Christian history and metaphysical theology, from developing pastoral skills to creating our own credo, and from understanding the administration of churches to the exploration of who we are and what we truly believe, as individuals and future Unity leaders. Judy Beach, second-year seminary student whose home church is Unity of New Braunfels, Tex., shared, “I have found the seminary experience to be stretching my whole self to be a Unity minister both in heart and mind. The academic learnings are supporting me to be an educated professional in ministry, and the process of achieving the requirements has tapped into a capacity beyond my initial imagination.”
I am confident that, by the time of my graduation, my suitcase will have been carefully re-packed, hence reflecting a more solid, healthy and thoroughly explored reflection of my belief systems. This “unpacking and repacking” process will continue throughout my lifetime as issues are brought to the surface and analyzed. There will be fewer surprises, however, and a greater foundation of knowing who I am and why I hold the beliefs that I do. Also packed is a greater compassion for and understanding of other suitcases which may be dissimilar to mine.
Seminary is about gaining awareness. Yes, we all have metaphysical suitcases. Our task is to know and understand our own, as our professors hold the light for us to see and question, so that we may be more fully present to the world around us.