by Blair Buckley
This past Tuesday YAV alumni who are students at Louisville Seminary met for lunch to talk about our experiences transitioning from our YAV year to seminary life. Cheri Harper, the Director of Recruitment and Admissions at the seminary, had noticed the large number of YAVA’s (YAV alumni) coming to the seminary in the past couple years. She noted at our lunch that there were now a total of 12 YAVA’s at Louisville Seminary, three of whom have just finished their YAV year and will soon leave for the transition retreat. In facilitating the discussion, Cheri asked each of us to do an Examen reflection of our YAV year, noting one particular time when we felt distanced from God and one particular time when we felt joy or a profound sense of God’s presence. She then asked some of us “veteran YAVA’s” (those of us who have been in seminary for at least a year) to share our experiences of transitioning to seminary life. She invited each us to share what has been difficult and what we have found to be good resources, and also any other advice for the new YAVA’s.
One particular sentiment that was shared among a few different veterans YAVA’s was how difficult it has been to know how to tell our YAV story. This is partly because people— even close friends and family—often don’t know the best way to ask about our YAV experiences. But it is also because it is difficult to find the right words to sum up the many experiences from our YAV years. How do you share the impact and transformative power your YAV year had on your life? How do you acknowledge to people that your YAV experience had difficult, frustrating or even painful elements without letting that overshadow the many moments of joy, peace, spirituality and sense of purpose? How do you describe experiences that are so foreign to our own American culture? Words tend to be elusive in helping others understand an experience like having served as a YAV.
Unfortunately, I do not know the answers to these questions. Knowing how to best tell what my YAV year meant and continues to mean is a struggle for me. Words and answers have also proven to be elusive in my seminary learning. One of the most important lessons I have learned from seminary—and also my YAV year— is to be at peace with the not knowing, the not having everything figured out. In many ways my time in seminary has humbly taught me how little I really know and how much more I still have to learn. I have learned to cling to the words of Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem as a reminder to be patient:
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
-Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, 1934
This poem reminds me to live the questions now, and not feel like I have to have all the answers now. It reminds me to trust that God will reveal the answers and the words in due time. So I encourage all the new YAV alumni out there—and perhaps even YAVA “veterans”—to not feel pressured to tell your “YAV story” and figure out what YAV meant for you. Instead, live and love the questions. Be patient with yourself as you continue to process your many experiences and to wrestle with whatever feels unsolved in your heart. More importantly, remember that if you feel like you don’t know how to tell people about your YAV year, you are certainly not alone. In fact, this was a topic that we discussed in length during one of the Open Space discussions at the recent YAVA Reunion in Texas. And perhaps one distant day each of us will live into the answers without even realizing we have. Perhaps we will be able to find the perfect words to say. But then again, maybe we never have to.