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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Letters from Scotland -1

Dear Helen,
Your invitation to be a guest in your blog offers me an opportunity I might not otherwise have had to reflect on the time spent as a student in your International Online Certificate Course in Spirituality Studies. Five years have gone by since I first noticed your web-advertisement class at St Thomas University and since I decided to apply for a place. How well I remember my apprehension over that application. Miami was a long way from Scotland; studying had not featured in my life for over thirty years; my spiritual experience was limited; I worked in a decidedly secular retail environment. On the other hand, deep within myself I was experiencing a longing and huge lack that felt like emptiness; from that feeling of isolation and separation came the uncertain courage to have a try at your course.
At the time of making application, all those years ago, the only feelings I could identify were negative ones – a disappointed feeling of being stuck in a rut, there was not much growth to report in my life, God felt a long way off; my prayer seemed to be: Why have you hidden Your face from me? Only now, looking back with some of the insight your course would bring me, I see I couldn’t have been more wrong about my situation: God was, in fact, as near and as close as He ever is; longing was a real prayer; the Spirit was stirring my soul, my hopes and my desires; the first tentative signs of growth were there and as for that rut – I was about to be shaken out of it big time.
How well I remember the warmth of your welcome and the reassurance that I was going to cope! Soon there were things to look forward to. Fellow students, fellow seekers, were introducing themselves. Books were arriving in the post. The programme was unveiled: how others sought and found God, the theme of the next two years, was a satisfying prospect. Mystics, monks and mendicants would be on the menu; early fathers, the wisdom of desert, and the beginnings of Christianity would bring to life the earliest days of Christianity; Ignatius, Teresa and John, de Sales and Jane Francis would meet us as great teachers; contemporary writers would complete the course. And all this would be experienced through collaborative learning, an exciting new experience for me, where there was no competition, no comparing with others, but only a pooling of learning and discovery. A happy and respectful atmosphere would prove the course a comfortable place to be.
So there I was – conscious of a distance between me and God but excited to be on the road, to have made a beginning, to have joined that vast number of those who had sought and found God through the centuries. The feelings I experienced at that outset make me wonder if they were like those of that other prodigal who had distanced himself from where he belonged. Did he feel isolated, ashamed to have lost contact, to have squandered his inheritance, to have done little to nurture himself, to have cut himself off seemingly irreparably? But did he not also feel that stirring of the Spirit sensed in trust, hope and expectancy, that would let him start afresh on the road, thus becoming one who would leave us with an incomparably poignant picture of a prodigal who sought and found God, a Father of love, forgiveness, fatted calves, new robes, fresh sandals and welcome home parties. As that oh-so- familiar story tells us, But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him....he rushed forward to greet him, embracing him and showering him with love. As the course unfolded that was my experience too; God would be waiting to give Himself – but for the moment I was still a long way off.
Your student in Scotland, Jane

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