When I try to detour around the promptings of the Holy, I inevitably get busted.
Wrestling the Angel (detail). © 2014 Daniel Nevins. Oil on wood, 24 x 32 inches. danielnevins.com
One of my very favorite ministerial tasks is teaching. I wish I had time to do more of it. Last night I started a three-session course called Encountering Jesus, and we began with Jesus as healer and the healing miracles. I happened to look up just as a participant got an “aha” light in her eyes—that “I just learned something really cool” expression—and I felt a thrill go through my body.
I did get a call to ministry, but the first and really supernatural call I got was to be a teacher.
When I was in college, I dropped my music major during the second week of school. I knew a music major was wrong for me. I ran from the school of music to the English department and nicely and desperately demanded that they enroll me late in a freshman seminar. My only requirement was that it be meeting that very day and hour.
The administrator was aghast. “There are waiting lists for all the seminars,” she said.
I pointed at the enrollment list. “Just add me to that one,” I said. “That one looks good. Yes, that’ll do. That looks like the perfect seminar to add me to right now,” until she relented and gave me the pass slip to class. (I couldn’t even see the title of the seminar—I just knew I needed to get into one.) I arrived late, sat next to a guy who would wind up becoming one of my best friends and who would introduce me to the guy who would be my boyfriend for the next seven years, and switched majors.
I never doubted my impulsive decision. Not only was it the prompting of my own soul, but I decided that my dad had come through from the spirit world to give me his support and approval. I felt it was a sign that as I was crossing campus to bolt for the English department, I heard someone playing “Clair de Lune” on a piano in one of the quads. “Clair de Lune” was the last song at my father’s funeral, two years prior.
People ask how God works in the lives of people who believe in God. To me, God works as a felt presence, as intuitions, and as uncomfortable and often disturbing inbreakings of inconvenient truths. When I try to detour around the promptings of the Holy, I inevitably get busted. And I mean truly, deeply busted, in real time and sometimes for a long time.
God is an energy with which I try to sync myself, a wave I try to ride without flailing against it. I love the last line of our church affirmation, “to the end that all souls shall grow into harmony with the Divine.” I am always trying to be obedient and grow into harmony with God. It doesn’t make me sweet, it doesn’t make me nice, it doesn’t make me not irritated or angry, it doesn’t necessarily make me more likeable to others. I used to think it would. What it does make me is peaceful and very happy. All is well with my soul. The peace that passeth understanding, and still no time for foolishness.
I understand now that God blesses and graces—God doesn’t grant personality transplants.
What caused me to bolt out of concert choir that fateful morning in my second week of college, rush to the registrar’s office to find out what I would have to do to quit the school of music and be admitted to the college of arts and sciences, and make a break for the English department in time for a noon seminar?
Here’s what happened. When I started classes and realized the courses I would be taking were all music studies, all semester, I felt real grief and dismay. Voice lessons, Italian lessons, keyboard lessons, music theory, concert choir. No literature, no history, no humanities? My advisor assured me that I would have some electives in junior year and could diversify at that point. My heart sank, but I wasn’t old enough yet to respect that sensation and get the heck out then and there.
Somewhere in my heart and soul I was holding on to that unexpressed dismay and sense of loss of broader academic study when I stood in concert choir to sing with a large ensemble of other first-year music students. We were singing Carmina Burana. The sound was extraordinary. The young singers were serious and amazingly talented, happy to be there, excited to devote their lives to music, and all skilled at sight reading.
I knew I was out of my league, and more than that, I was not willing to do the work required to become as good as any of them. I had neither the discipline nor the desire. I felt like laughing out loud. “Oh my God, I am so not qualified to be here!”
I have always had the happy ability to recognize talent and appreciate it, and not to feel threatened by other people’s talent. I felt great admiration for my peers and was in no way diminished by their excellence. I simply knew that I couldn’t rate, and that was okay. I had such clarity.
The funniest part of this story is who God/Fate/Trickster put me between that morning in concert choir. On one side of me was Sarah Pfisterer. On the other side of me was Mary Dunleavy. Both of these lovely, now highly acclaimed sopranos lived in my dorm and hung out with me after I quit the school of music, telling me that I had a great voice and shouldn’t be discouraged. I said to both of them, “No, you guys—YOU—have great voices. You have great voices; you stand a chance at really making it. I’m fine, but I’m not anywhere near your caliber.” (Mary has gone on to sing at the Metropolitan Opera, and Sarah to sing on Broadway.)
The next year, after the dust had settled on my dramatic transition from voice to English major, I was required to choose a concentration within the English major. The choices were English literature, the teaching of English, and something else I have forgotten—maybe writing? Or poetry? Anyway, I do remember sitting with the course catalogue in my lap, wondering which one I should choose. I idly flipped through the pages, assuming that I’d choose the literature track but glancing at some of the other tracks’ requirements. I had no desire to take the boring education courses, and I wasn’t a writer, so. . . .
And then I heard a voice, as loud as if the person had been standing right next to the bed where I was sitting. It said, “You are going to be a teacher.”
Here’s how I reacted: I said to myself, “Hmm. Okay, I guess I’ll go for the teaching concentration, then.”
No fanfare, no questioning, no wondering, no second guessing. I had a mystical experience that set the course for my life, and I was completely matter of fact about responding. I still marvel at that.
I was to hear that same voice speak one other time the next year, but that’s another story.
I heard a voice say, “You’re going to be a teacher,” so I obeyed. And that obedience has given me a life of joy and fulfillment, although the forms of my teaching have changed over the decades.
Last night, the thrill of that original calling returned to me full force. It may not be a big thing, but because it has been exactly the right thing, I shall not want.
This essay is adapted from a March 16, 2016, post at PeaceBang.com.
Please note: newsletter on hiatus
The Rev. Dr. Victoria Weinstein is the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lynn, Massachusetts. She hails from Connecticut and has degrees from Northwestern University and Harvard Divinity School. She received a Doctor of Ministry degree from Andover-Newton Theological School in May 2011. Her great loves outside the church are musical theater, cooking, and traveling.
We are community
No matter what issues I have with other Unitarian Universalists regarding our visions of God/Spirit, justice, race, and age—at the root of everything is community, love, and faith.