To hear Nicole read her piece, click below:
Trust in the slow work of God… Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.
-Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Some people are soothed by the certainty that they hold the one irrefutable true interpretation of Scripture, the “right” answers everyone else outside their group is missing. Seeing the world in black-and-white, in tidy boxes to be checked off and answers given to them, brings them comfort.
I used to be one of them.
But as the world around me became greyer, I was no longer satisfied by packaged ideas handed to me without the ability to ask “Why?” The unraveling began decades ago when I fell in love with the cultures not my own and my Muslim friends taught me about faith.
I stayed despite great distress . . .
Then came my engagement with contemplation and some around me pushed back against what Catholics had to teach me. As a woman, I had never been comfortable with my denomination’s view of what women could and could not do, but I thought it was the sacrifice I had to make to fit into the community that introduced me to Jesus.
. . . until it was too damaging to my own soul to stay.
I entered an Episcopal church through the doorway of a centering prayer group. After practicing Lectio Divina (a method of meditating on a Scripture passage) together and sitting for twenty minutes in silent prayer, we discussed what we heard God say in those moments. I had found a kindred group.
“You’re Baptist?” they asked when I told them a little about myself. “Well, kind of,” I said, unsure what to call myself anymore. “I have been a member of a Baptist church since I was a teen, but during my years in college and living in South Asia and the Middle East, I have attended Episcopal, non-denominational, Coptic Orthodox, and Assemblies of God churches. I have learned from Trappist monks and Jesuits and attended house churches and international churches in Muslim and Hindu communities. I’m kind of a denominational mutt, I guess.” They laughed and said they welcomed my perspective and were glad I was there.
A few weeks later my family attended an Advent service at that same church. With rapt attention, I hung on every word of the woman priest. When I kneeled at the communion rail and she placed the bread in my hand, it was a coming home meal. For my husband and children, it wasn’t home. We decided to try to walk separate spiritual paths and see if we could make it work.
Over the next few months, I moved timidly from the back row into coffee hours and Wednesday dinners. I wasn’t sure what people would make of my complicated history or my family now divided between two churches.
I answered questions with my eyes down when people asked about my family. But the judgment I expected didn’t come. “Your spiritual journey isn’t your husband’s,” the Priest told me over coffee. “It’s brave that you are seeking your own paths and supporting each other in that.” I found a place where exploration and curiosity were valued, where questions were welcome, and not everyone needed to come up with the same answers to belong to each other.
A fire was rekindled in my heart I thought I might never discover again.
I voraciously read about contemplative prayer and theology on my own, but I had always wanted to finish the seminary degree I began right after college. I had put it on hold to move overseas and then to have children.
When I re-entered seminary in early 2021 and people asked why, I simply said I wasn’t sure other than to finish what I had started. A spiritual director I met with put it best when she said she had felt called to seminary, not specifically to a particular vocation yet. It was during her time there that God called her to be a pastor. I knew studying theology was my next right step and that was all I needed to know.
I was so excited by all I was gaining: an experience of God, a welcoming community, and deeper knowledge. But I was still hung up on the losses. Extended illness had wreaked havoc on my family. We all crawled out of the pandemic that year slowly, a little dazed and uncertain about what the world around us was becoming. Friends I had known for decades disappeared from my life when I didn’t return to the same church building as they did (or to the tidy boxes of what they considered right belief). The grief of what I lost hit me in waves, even as I excitedly moved toward some new gains.
Some days I felt awake and free. On other days, I felt the tendrils of fear pulling me backward. When the silence from people I had long loved was deafening—or worse, when they outright criticized my deepening, widening faith—I stuttered. I waffled. I wept. I teetered between defensiveness and despair.
The chaos in my heart spilled into my seminary work. When writing a position paper in which I was supposed to say what I believed, I hedged. I didn’t want to say the “wrong” thing. My professor reminded me it wasn’t about right and wrong. It was about wrestling with God and growing. I turned in work and another professor chided me for not having a stronger theological voice. They assured me I had it in me, but I needed to learn to use it without apology.
No one had told me it was okay to have my own theological voice before. My first experience in a denominational seminary taught me to learn the “right” answers and parrot them. Here, I was told to read widely, to struggle with the text myself, and to weigh tradition and my experience alongside it.
Even though I had a degree in Religion, had served in various ministry roles in the church and in non-profits, and had been publishing spiritual writing for nearly a decade—I didn’t believe in myself as a theologian until someone else named me as one.
For the next year, I questioned every person who believed in me. Certainly, they were missing something: The priest who told me she wanted to share the pulpit with me, the mentor who challenged me to take a preaching class, the professor who challenged me to consider a doctorate, the bishop who asked if I would consider entering a discernment process for those considering ordained ministry.
Over the course of the year, I kept saying I didn’t know what the next step for me was. I was just afraid to name something so large and frightening—that God was calling me toward something I never believed possible. What would it mean for my family who attended another church? How would I tackle all the school requirements with a job and two growing children?
For years I said, “I’m a writer, not a speaker” because I was afraid to use my voice. I said I felt called to be in a place where women were allowed to preach but not to preach myself because I didn’t believe in myself until someone else did first.
The more people saw and named in me the gifts of God, the more I saw them in myself. The more I was willing to see them, I took steps to claim them and be bold enough to use them. Then God did the unfathomable: called me to take the long, uncertain journey toward the Priesthood. God called the person with a thousand reasons why someone else should go.
Every day, as I step forward, I try to give God the benefit of believing God is leading me. I would never have chosen this path if I didn’t believe that because it’s not an easy one. I am not sure if I even chose it. I feel launched into it—compelled, more and more each day. To not walk it feels like the worst kind of disobedience.
Only God can say what this new spirit gradually forming within me will be. I try to remember that it is only God that I answer for it. So, I attempt to focus on the gains rather than the losses. I struggle to accept the anxiety of feeling in suspense. And no matter where this journey ends, I would choose it over and over to become what God is making me.