Sunday, February 7, 2016

Tempting to Remain

Strengthened by this glimpse of glory,
Fearful lest our faith decline,
We like Peter find it tempting
To remain and build a shrine.
-- "We Have Come at Christ's Own Bidding," Carl P. Daw

This is my Transfiguration Sunday story.

Last spring semester was pretty hard on me. I had spent the previous fall in Budapest, and I had loved it. I'd taken five math classes and been part of a community of math students, had studied in cafes and restaurants, had walked the streets of the city in the mornings that smelled of bread and by the light of streetlamps in the night that came so early. I had also grown in faith during that semester, exploring a variety of topics and spending more time thinking about them than I had before. I was part of a more high church community than I previously had been, and I found great value in that.

And then I came back.

From a faith perspective, coming back was fine. Returning to my church at college truly was coming home. I was able to talk with people I trusted about the ways in which I'd grown, and they helped me act on that growth and continue to grow, albeit in a different way. On the school side of things, though, reverse culture shock -- which I had even been expecting -- was very rough. Returning to Olin meant going from a semester of five lecture and problem set math classes to a semester of four engineering classes, mostly project-based. I went from living in a city, easily walkable with amazing public transit, to living halfway between two New England towns. I missed my standard Budapest study spots deeply. At Olin, some studying is done in lounges, but particularly in the upperclassmen dorm, classwork is done more privately. I still had very good friends at Olin, but I felt like I'd lost the sense of community and belonging that I'd had in Budapest.

I dealt with the discomfort by staying apart; I thought the alternative was going back to the places in Olin that had been mine before I left, and the fit seemed too awkward. I did the work, tried to go about life at Olin by seeking out mathematical experiences, but I longed for Budapest. I kept my watch on Central European Time in an effort to feel more connected to the past semester.

When I went home for a long weekend in February, nothing had really changed since the beginning of the semester. I didn't really want to be at Olin, I didn't care much about most of my classes, and my watch was still six hours ahead of EST. I felt like I was waiting for something, some reason to change my watch, some indication that I was "okay" being back.

The Sunday that I was home happened to be Transfiguration Sunday, and one phrase in the sermon caught me, something fairly standard for this particular feast day. "We can't live on the mountaintop. We have to come down the mountain." But no matter how standard, that hit home.

Being okay with being back wasn't really the point. I was back. I had been back in the states for a month and a half, back at Olin for almost a month. I was being dragged down the mountain because I refused to try to leave the mountaintop, and the terrain was rough and painful. I could stand, could walk down of my own power. It would be far from perfect, but maybe it would hurt a little less.

The next day, as I flew from home to Boston, I changed my watch to Eastern Time.

But true worship gives us courage
To proclaim what we profess,
That our daily lives may prove us
People of the God we bless.

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