Thursday, November 11, 2010

Wise words of encouragement - a last lecture of sorts - The Rev. Susan Nelson

Hi All,

The following is a sermon given by my friend and former neighbor The Rev. Susan Nelson. Susan and her husband Dave were our dear neighbors for many years here in Pittsburgh, before they moved to California where Susan became the dean of the Claremont School of Theology. Susan passed away from brain cancer earlier this month. Her daughter Kathryn recently shared the following, a welcome address that Susan gave to her students last fall at CST. Susan's words are full of perspective, hope, and encouragement and I'm delighted to share this with you.

Dear students,

I am glad to welcome you

To what I expect will be an exciting

And challenging

Year at Claremont School of Theology.

When I began my journey

Into theological education,

The word “career”

Had not crossed my lips.

I entered my first program, rather,

As a seeker.

I loved to read and muse

And I wanted an opportunity

To think about the meaning of life

And to grow

In wisdom and knowledge

I knew that life is fragile,

But I had not yet learned

How to hold the brokenness of life

With the joy of discovery

That, broken or not

It was worth the journey.

I loved beauty,

But I had not learned that beauty is fleeting

And that finitude is part of what

Makes it so beautiful.

I yearned for loving relations,

And had yet to realize

All the ways in which

I could learn to avoid

The tension of face-to-face relations.

These learnings were critical

To my growth as a human being

And to what eventually became

My calling as teacher and administrator.

I expect that each of you

Is something of a seeker.

Curiosity and possibility

Have drawn you to this place

To this faculty and staff –

To the fellow students you will tussle with

And perhaps enjoy along the way.

I expect that you will not be the same person

When you leave CST

That you are right now.

I expect that you will know moments

When the works feels out of reach,

Your studies less than lustrous

And many other moments

When you will know the satisfaction

Of accomplishment

And the joy of doing something

Really well.

And I expect you will grow friendships

And learn an important lesson,

That mutual respect for all people

Is critical

For the flourishing of life.

May you thrive in your challenges at CST,

May you grow in appreciation

Of the privilege

Of learning

In a community of scholars

May you have stellar teachers and mentors,

May you find moments

When you are surprised by joy

Or struck by a beauty

That totally draws you in

Providing absolute distraction

And, may you risk companionship

And the messiness of life

In genuine community

A year ago,

Students asked me to consider

Giving a “last lecture” –

If I were invited

To give the final lecture of my life,

What would I say?

Since that time,

I’ve had to actually consider

“Last things”

And how to live

In a present reality

That seems so precarious.

What I would say if asked

To give that lecture on this day, is

Practice awareness,

Watch yourselves breathe, -

Every day find at least one thing to be thankful for

- Tell others what they mean to you -



And practice the discipline

Of taking nothing for granted –

Or perhaps, better said,

The discipline of forgiving yourselves

For all the ways

You will take life for granted

And receive it anyway.

Grace and peace

Be upon you.

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