A few weeks ago, I drove to our parish in a state of joy, anticipation, and a little anxiety. I suppose I was flat out nervous, and for good reason. That reason was my comprehensive examination, the culminating requirement to successfully complete my graduate studies in theology. The exam awaited me on the other end of the drive, and I was filled with a wide swath of emotions as I journeyed the back roads, taking in the lovely countryside. It was late January. The hills and trees and old farmlands lay in the grip of an icy wind, crisp and clear and cold.
Mile after mile, I could hardly believe this moment had finally come as I reflected back on the whole trajectory of my studies. I followed the timeline in my mind's eye, threading the needle through memories of countless hours of reading and writing and, most importantly prayer. As I neared the parish, a rather curious attitude took center stage. I found myself gradually immersed in a deep sense of peace. I began to think of the pending requirement as so much more than a test or some grade or achievement. Indeed I thought of the deeper reality of pursuing the study of theology as I have and the entire academic endeavor of these many years in an utterly different light. All the details, deadlines, and red tape faded from view and I was profoundly overcome by a clear recollection of why I did all this in the first place. I remembered what this really means to me.
It's all about love. It always has been. Job opportunities and improved professional acumen are all commentary. "What will you use that for?" some have asked and no doubt, some will ask in the future. The short answer is - to hopefully help me be what I was always meant to be. This would never have been worth it, I realized, had it not been about entering into a never-ending, grateful consideration of how much God loves me and the ways in which he shows that love. At some point years ago I just knew I had to do this, and I always trusted that the Lord would complete the work he had begun in me. Now that the moment drew near, I realized above all that nothing was really ending. I was beginning a lifelong journey, better equipped than ever before to walk with him and to see with new eyes.
Twenty minutes after leaving home, I pulled into an empty parking space at the church, turned off the Jeep, and I smiled ear to ear. I was not on my way to take some test. I was about to have the opportunity to write as exhaustively as possible in the time allotted to me about the One I love more than anyone or anything else. And so, that day presented me with the very best, most authentic comprehensive exam, one that amounted to this:
"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways..."