Final Chapel, Spring Semester1999 * May 7, 1999
I call this meditation "The Ungraded Exam." ... And I now have a definitive answer to the question "Is it going to be on the test?" The answer is "Yes, everything. It's all on the final exam!"
This morning I have seniors especially in mind. Take this journey with me. I Imagine certain ones of you together at the Fire Circle. I build you a fire from the available wood. In our part of the world the woods are always generous. I have swept the rocks clean of the winter's debris, leaves, pine needles. I invite you into that circle to sit in that quiet space. To be there, yes in the company of friends, but also especially in the company of your deepest self and God. We watch the fire settle down from hungry flames into the red glow of heat and transformation.
So I remember with you our experiences together. Some of you have travelled with me to Habitat sites ... where we met some of God's good people working to make real a vision of everyone having what they deserve - simple and decent shelter. We joined those good people who believe in that dream and found ourselves sharing that dream with deserving families in Florida and Americus and Alamance County.
And some of you I have watched go away to distant places like London or Australia, Europe or Costa Rica, and I have talked with your before and after and have seen your horizons expand. The world is both more wonderful and more complex, and afterward you have wondered whether you could be at home again in Kansas. But because you have traveled you have found more of your heart, and more courage, and more brain!
In that circle we talked of ways that you have matured, how differently you perceive yourselves today from the moment you arrived "bright eyed and bushy tailed" ... eager and a little anxious. We welcomed you across the threshold IN and we are about to bless you across the threshold OUT.
Yes, it feels a bit like being a freshmen again. The questions return again: can I make it out there, outside the comfort zone I have created for myself here? You know the answer with more certainty now, but you still have to live the questions. You have learned here how to live your questions. Life's genuinely important questions cannot be answered simply by thought. Questions about identity and destiny, vocation and community reveal themselves as you live inside them, putting on certain answers like a pair of jeans. Sometimes the jeans fit, sometimes they certainly do not.
This process will go on for a few years. When I was about 30, early in my second career ... after high school teaching came college chaplaining ... I recall putting on a cardigan sweater, turning my face to the window, lighting a pipe and putting my fingers on the keys of a manual typewriter, waiting for poems to come. A few lines emerged, but no sustained verse. There was too much posturing, and the pipe gave me a headache.
I was beginning to live into the vocational question. It would be another several years before I could surrender myself to my vocation instead of believing I had to master it. Surrender requires no less discipline or diligence; it means making oneself fully available for what the occasion requires, preparing, yes, for certain eventualities but also trusting, as scripture says, that we are not to "worry what you will say when the moment arrives, for what you will say will be given to you in that moment."
Howard Thurman, who was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s mentor at Boston University, once told him: Life has two important questions to be answered. Where am I going? and Who is going with me? It is important, Dr. Thurman said, to be sure to answer them in the proper order. I wish you all success in finding good companions for your journey. I wish you all success in discovering first of all the path you want to follow.
I know, of course, that some of you, like Captain Kirk, captain of the starship Enterprise, want most of all to "boldly go" where no earthling has gone before. Yes, there are new paths ahead, but as Kirk discovered in each episode, every new experience leads to some unfinished business that Earth has yet to solve: violence between peoples, environmental degradation, greed, scarcity of resources. Go wherever you will, you will still need to know how to live together.
So what do you say, gathered around this firecircle where the fire transforms wood into heat and light, what fire burns in you? What is your passion? How will your life be translated into energy? What efforts will receive the benefit of your labor?
Last weekend I saw a senior who sat here 3 years ago, wondering how her life would unfold. Today she is a teacher, married, with a new little son. She continues to give herself to the process of discovering her authentic life, doing well the job immediately at hand and keeping her spirit free to be open to everything that life presents. She was fond of telling a certain story that answers the question: What is the meaning of life?
A young man found part of a broken mirror. He found, as children often do, that with that mirror he could capture sunlight and shine it onto distant objects. You've done that, haven't you? ... playfully, perhaps into someone else's eyes on the dark side of the room. This young man accepted the challenge of shining sunlight into dark corners. It became a ritual of his life, and then one year, after many years of playing with this ability to cast light, he realized that it answered for him the question of the meaning of his life -- to shine light into dark places.
"Yes, everything. It's all on the exam!" And the Good News is that you've already been assured a passing grade. A passing grade is yours for the asking. Isn't that amazing? ... "Why didn't somebody tell me at the beginning?"
We did, but then you found it impossible to believe. You may not even believe me now. I told you at the New Student Orientation of your freshmen year that Jesus said, simply and profoundly, "Seek and you will find. Ask and the answer will be given to you. Knock and the door will be opened." So, it becomes vitally important what you are looking for, what you seek, which doors you knock on. Trust me. You will find what you are looking for.
You've already been assured of a passing grade. The key is to welcome each day with gratitude for your chance to find the meaning of your life.
-Richard McBride, College Chaplain, Elon College