Saturday, March 8, 2008

Everything on hold

Whenever I teach the Course of Study School for part-time United Methodist pastors in Arkansas, I feel like a couple of days of my life simply drop out of existence. There's the time spent preparing for class -- lecture notes for six solid hours of teaching usually take me about a week to compile, working straight through for three hours or so every evening. Then there's the day of teaching itself, a Saturday, which seems to stand out of time like some kind of extradimensional trial by fire.

Few people would want to sit in a classroom from sunup to sundown listening to some yahoo drone on and on about ancient and medieval Christianity (my topic for this spring course). I enjoy teaching these classes because they give me a chance to communicate the parts of Christian history I find especially fascinating. My perennial themes are the diversity of Christian communities in the pre-Constantinian period and the sincere struggle of people in various cultural contexts to make sense of a tradition they received as mostly foreign but tantalizingly resonant.

After talking about it all day, though, and only barely getting up to a description of the Gnostic sects that flourished in the second and third centuries, I sometimes feel like I've spouted hours worth of words without saying a thing. It's hard to believe the graciousness of these pastors, who not only sit patiently while I scrawl madly on the chalkboard and go off on digressions about transubstantiation, but also reassure me that these ideas are indeed relevant to their lives tending to circuits of small churches in rural Arkansas.

When it's over and done and I'm on my way home, it's almost like I went straight from morning to evening without traversing the day in between. The words are evaporated into the ether, the pastors have gone back to Paragould and Shiloh and Fox. Only the sheaf of homework papers in my bag and the ache between my shoulder blades remain as evidence of the day's work.

No comments: