Holy Grail

I am thoroughly excited that chasing the unicorn has led me to enroll in a Doctor of Ministry program at Wesley Seminary (I think I told that story already) and on January 1st, I spent New Year’s Day traveling from the DFW Metroplex to Washington DC for my first intensive class. Before I left, I knew it would be cold in Washington and since I was taking a class, I would need to bring many books. I managed to get my checked luggage in 47.9 lbs (airport limit is 50). Since my flight was supposed to arrive at Reagan at noon and I was planning to take the Metro from the airport to the station that’s just a one-mile walk from the seminary, I didn’t think there was going to be a problem making it to the dorm between 4-7pm for check-in.

There was a four hour delay at the DFW airport because flight crews weren’t in their right cities. Then someone had a medical incident on the plane so we all had to wait until the EMTs removed the person before the rest of us could get out. This was not an auspicious way to begin my DMin program, but eye-ing the time (4-ish), I was confident that I would be able to make it to the seminary by 7pm.

When I arrived in DC, I had no troubles getting my luggage, finding the Metro station, and navigating the lines to get to my destination stop. When I was waiting for the train at the airport, it was light outside. When I emerged from the station one mile from the seminary, it was dark. And cold. Very cold. And it was after 5pm. I was tired, because I had been up since 5am, thinking my 9am flight was going to be on time.

I pulled out my trusty iPhone with its maps and got the shortest (not the most direct, mind you, the shortest) route. Dragging that 47.9 lb suitcase (on which I put my giant pocketbook, which was also stuffed with books), I began to follow the route through the winding neighborhood streets of the Tenleytown neighborhood. The residential neighborhood was deserted (smarter people were inside – it was only 19*F out there) and I went up and down the hills, turning right and left and right and right and left, and oops, missed that one, right and left. I had to change arms many times as my elbows tired and I just couldn’t pull any longer on that side. Oh God, is that another hill?

About 3/4 of the way there, my phone decided it was too cold, and it shut down. Battery zero. No warning. I was in the middle of a neighborhood not knowing which direction I was to go next. It was dark – no streetlights, no signs. Just houses arranged in crazy non-linear streets that have hills. My sense of direction isn’t great to begin with and I was all disoriented. I imagined becoming lost in this neighborhood forever. And it had recently snowed so there were giant piles of salt that made it hard to drag that heavy bag (you didn’t forget the heavy bag, did you?) No amount of coaxing on my part could convince my phone to be valorous. Which also meant I couldn’t call the dorm and ask directions. Or beg them to stay open so I wouldn’t have to sleep out here in the cold. I couldn’t even call Lyft or Uber. It was like the old days. Sometimes I wonder how I ever got anywhere back then.

Continuing in the same direction I had been going when the phone shut off, I could see a larger street up ahead, so I headed for it, and although I had a paper map of the campus in my pocket, that wouldn’t help much until I actually got ON campus. I was afraid that I would give up and die while (unbeknownst to me) within 50 meters of my destination. Where is that unicorn when I need it? There was a beautiful full moon – back in the direction from which I had come. That didn’t help.

I looked up and down the street, trying to read the signs and comparing them to my campus map, hoping one of them would be the main road that passes by on one side (there was only one outside street labeled on the map, and that didn’t appear to be it). Then I looked up, across the street and down the way a bit, I saw this, like the Holy Grail beaming over the castle Anthrax (God be praised!):

bas relief

At that moment, relief washed over me, even if I remained somewhat daunted by that hill and which way to go around it. The bright sign you cannot read says “Wesley Theological Seminary.” I had arrived. It was 6pm (yes, it took that long to lug that thing with all the stopping to switch for frozen fingers and aching elbows – up and down hills; I consider myself to be pretty active and healthy, but with the cold and the weight of the suitcase, this was really rough). I took it as a good assumption that this was the chapel building, so if I could just figure out how to orient the map, I should be able to find the dorm before they close. Wouldn’t that be awful: being on campus but not finding the right building in time? It’s New Year’s Day – who’s working?? Nobody, except the resident on duty, and that only until 7pm.

Long story short, I was able to find the right place to check in and could warm myself with a cup of tea (see, the heavy bag was totally worth bringing tea and a mug to drink it in). What I remember about this experience the most was the hopelessness I felt before I had a sign, a symbol specifically, that I was heading the right direction. The wave of hope that came upon me when I saw Saint So-and-So (I didn’t even care who it was, I was just thankful that it was there) brought such relief to my fears.

When I got my phone into its own warm place, it obligingly came back on – with 67% battery, that faker! I relayed the story of the unknown saint to one of my colleagues back home, who jokingly said (because I was on my way to Wesley seminary), “Was the statue riding a horse? Like John Wesley (the circuit rider)?” Ha ha. Very funny.  No. No horse. I’d have sent a picture at the time, but oh, right: my phone wasn’t working. Having gone back to the statue now to get a closer look, I’m sure what I mistook to be a Saint must be a bas relief of Jesus – which is theologically more appropriate, even if it is a United Methodist seminary.

My class this week was an intensive study of theological aesthetics (basically a philosophy of the transcendentals: the One, the True, the Good, and the Beautiful). Clichés about Christ as the Light of the World aside, for me in that moment there was nothing more Beautiful than the sight of that beacon of hope: my struggle, my seeking is at an end. I’m not arrived yet, but I have found. And been found. Even though I had never been there before, suddenly it was like coming home.


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