Grace surprises Angela Schulz in a Native American ceremony: she attends it looking for happiness, for beauty and power, and ends with a life-changing experience that unexpectedly turns her towards the Church. It’s a powerfully written essay, and there are so many layers to it that I almost hate to pick this one aspect of it to respond to.
But it’s what grabbed me. And it also made me think of Seminary. Because I hated Seminary. Especially my first two years of Seminary. I’m from Utah, so I did released time Seminary, which meant that I had to miss taking some other elective so that I could take Seminary. So Seminary and I began badly, because I really wanted to be using that credit hour for something else.
Then too, I had some doozies for teachers. I suspect, looking back, that they were not nearly so bad as I remember them; I was a snarky fourteen-year-old, eager to prove that they were wrong about something. But as I recall, they weren’t that great:
Teacher #1, a timid student teacher, couldn’t handle the stress of mouthy junior high kids, and left halfway through the semester with a nervous breakdown.
Teacher #2, after I made some impudent comment, told me that if all the women in the world talked as much as I did, all the men would be celibate. You’re thinking, no he didn’t! Really? And the answer is yes, really. Says a lot about both how much I talked back then and how well he responded to my jibes. Also I am happy to report that I am Married with Three Kids and have Proven Him Wrong. Hah!
Teacher #3 enjoyed telling lurid sensational stories about people who sinned in a big way, along the lines of “This bishop and this primary president were spending too much time together consulting with each other and then they broke their temple covenants and committed adultery and it was very sad. Don’t ever do that, kids. Let me tell you about something else you should never do . . .”
And Teacher #4 was apparently too busy to do much lesson prep, because he showed us lots of movies. Nearly every day. Movies about things totally unrelated to seminary, like his hobby, which was falconry, training birds of prey. Yes.
So, with these four teachers, my original assumptions about seminary were proven correct: it was a waste of my perfectly good credit. I could have taken many things, and instead I wasted my time in seminary.
I’d had a rough time during my semester with Teacher #3”“not in his class, but just in general. I was trying to figure out high school, flaunting my credentials as a smart person, since it was all I believed I was good at, and various teachers were concerned about my inflated ego. Did they realize the bundle of insecurities and fears hidden beneath my bluster? I don’t know. I do know that they had communicated their concern to my parents, who talked with me about it. I was devastated”“teachers had always loved me, and I had never been in trouble with them in my life. I felt moody and angry and scared.
And in the midst of my depression, I went to Seminary, irritated as always that I had to be there. That day my teacher showed us a movie about the Savior. It showed the last days of his life, him struggling to carry the cross through the streets. That’s the scene I remember from it, him carrying the cross. There was some Seminary-type song playing along with it, but it didn’t register; all I could see was my Savior, carrying the cross, and the Spirit overwhelmed me. It was the beginning of my belief, the beginning of my understanding that he had born my grief, and carried my sorrows. And it came to me, of all places, in Seminary.
Most people wouldn’t think of Seminary as a place where God’s grace surprised you; they would expect to find it there. But I didn’t, and to feel the Spirit, to feel God’s love for me so powerfully in a setting I despised, stunned and humbled me.
Grace surprised Angela Schulz in a Native American ceremony; it surprised me in Seminary. When has grace surprised you?