I've been here in Boston for three months now, and I'm starting to feel adjusted into the assignment. Term papers are starting to take shape and I'm thinking about what to do next semester. Off in the distance of imagination are the first thoughts about my reading list for comprehensive exams, and--dare I say it--dreams for a dissertation proposal.
Settling down into this new kind of student life reminds me of some of the things I miss from parish life. I was just thinking about some of them this morning:
A regular and stable liturgical matrix. At the parish, liturgy had an intense regularity; every day the same chapel, the same church, the same altar. Liturgical time cycled through days, weeks, seasons, and years. The linear time imposed by the steps, grades, and goals of something like school or religious formation starts to fade away. Cycles replace time-lines. In the cycles of prayer, the Now of eternity starts to peek through. I miss that. Here in the student house, liturgical life is very different. I offer Mass at four or five different altars in the course of a week. Not that this isn't without its gifts; I'm really enjoying my weekly visit to the Poor Clare monastery, for example. But it can feel scattering. Here in the house, in the morning we sometimes have Morning Prayer in common and sometimes have Mass, a practice which feels choppy and scattering to me. I like to have a regular early-morning routine, but I can't really because sometimes I have to pray Morning Prayer in private and sometimes I don't. So I miss the regularity and stability of Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours in the parish.
Days off. The parish is always going. It's active seven days a week from early morning until the middle of the evening. For a priest, the only way to get a break is to leave, so that's what they do. They 'go on their day off.' I look over my posts labeled 'Day Off Adventures' and I see a certain lightheartedness and freedom from care that I no longer have. When you are a student the books are always there, and the papers always need to get composed. This isn't to say that I never take any time with friends or a day just to relax, but somehow there just isn't the same ability to leave the whole business behind and get away for a little while.
People. The parish priesthood is a personal service kind of job. From the parlor to the confessional, from running meetings to praying with folks at the funeral home, you are always with the people. It's one of the greatest blessings of the parish ministry; the people keep you sane and are very encouraging for the most part. The job is so social that you have to be careful about getting the solitude that you need; it becomes a treasure, really. Here I think of some of my 'Sunday Afternoon' posts. In the doctoral student life, the situation is quite different. It's a solitary life for the most part. Yes, I have new friends at school and I spend time with the brothers here at home, but most of my days are just me and text. I read text, I struggle over text, I try to make text about text. So here I must take the opposite care, of making sure I find some social time. Such is far harder for me than making sure I find time for solitude, so I miss being in the opposite situation in the parish.