A Different Kind of Exam: Practicing Lent in Seminary
The season of Lent is a time of penance, reflection, and for many, the taking on of disciplines in order to clear a path for spiritual awakening. At Candler, it also happens to begin the same week as midterms.
The Reverend Ellen Echols Purdum, assistant dean of student life and spiritual formation at Candler, says this juxtaposition makes the time ripe for theology students to embark on a journey of self-reflection.
"There’s always this lovely tension between the academic and liturgical year," says Purdum. "The season of Lent is an opportunity for students to be intentional about the observance of spiritual practices in the same way they are intentional about studying for exams."
In order to make the most of this opportunity, Purdum and Audrey Hindes, program associate for academic and international support, are leading Lenten small groups to help Candler students pause and look inward.
The groups will meet four times over the course of the 40 days of Lent to allow students to gather in an intimate setting and develop introspective habits that will lead to personal revelation and growth.
"Lent is a time to be honest, to move from the inauthentic self to the authentic self, as spiritual guides from the desert fathers and mothers to Henri Nouwen have taught us. It’s a time of self-scrutiny and self-examination that can guide our steps forward," says Purdum.
Both groups highlight balance and vocational discernment, which Purdum sees as a subset of spiritual formation—one that needs explicit attention as a part of a theological education.
Hindes’ group, "Following the Threads: A Lenten Experience," will explore the practice of The Examen, a spiritual exercise credited to St. Ignatius of Loyola.
"The Examen is a way of praying and reviewing the day. It’s a way to ask, ‘Where did I sense God’s presence today? Where did I see a barrier to this presence?'" explains Hindes. "Over time, intentional awareness of these things can help you see the overall picture of your life and bring about balance."
Purdum’s group, "Spaces of Transition: The Journey of Vocation," will give graduating students a chance to reflect on this stage in their lives within what Nouwen calls "movements of the spirit"— from loneliness to solitude; fear to gratitude; hostility to hospitality; and illusion to prayer.
"By identifying their transitions over the last few years, students can ask themselves, ‘Can I look at these patterns during my time in seminary and see things that are helpful to me in discerning my path beyond Candler?'"
The hope is that through these Lenten study groups, students will learn practices, gain resources, and be educated about traditions that can help them discern more about themselves and their call.
"The disciplines students take on during this season go beyond helping their worship life,” says Purdum. “They help them ‘listen with the ears of the heart,’ as St. Benedict says. And that will help guide them toward a life that has balance."
To register for "Following the Threads: A Lenten Experience," click here: bit.ly/1k08n89 To register for "Spaces of Transition: The Journey of Vocation," click here: bit.ly/1k08n90. For more information, contact the Office of Student Programming at firstname.lastname@example.org. Groups begin the week of March 17.