Recently, The Seattle School community marked the end of another academic year at the 15th annual Spring Banquet. This year’s theme was Come Tell the Story, an evening of weaving individual narratives into the collective story of who we are. In case you weren’t there that evening, we’re sharing a few of the stories that were read at the banquet (read a previous post from Beau Denton about the surprising, stubborn presence of God, and one from Mark Demmel about the fears of accompanying a loved one through graduate school). May you hear in these stories an invitation to come and tell your own. Here, Mallory Larsen, an Assistant Instructor and 2013 MA in Theology & Culture alumnae, writes about communion, grading papers, and learning to embrace humanity.
One of my most sacred memories as a student at The Seattle School took place at Convocation in the Fall of 2012. It was there that I had the honor of serving communion alongside some fellow students and members of faculty. I don’t think I was fully prepared for how deeply moving the process would be. As I stood at the front of St. Mark’s Cathedral, the faces of past and present members of this community came towards me, some with warm smiles, some with streaming tears, some with both. It was an honor unlike many others; a unifying moment with my community, with humanity, with God.
It is with that memory held close that I look back on this past year, my last as an Assistant Instructor (AI). My years as a student were filled with grief, growth, and wobbly, toddler-like steps taken as I figured out what it means to live into who I am created to be. It was a glorious mess. But as an AI, I somehow felt scared to be that glorious mess. Scared my “humanness” would show, and others would see me as unfit or unworthy of the position. When would you find out that I, too, am still finding my way? That I’m still only wobbling towards taking ownership of the truer parts of me?
As I graded stacks of assignments, I would read papers two, maybe three times. “Thank you for your work,” I would write as I began my paragraph (or five) of end comments. “Thank you for your work, Thank you for your work, Thank you for your work.” I soon found that I was beginning my end comments with that sentence on nearly every paper. This repetition was deeply troubling to me. Was I sounding robotic, inauthentic, or disconnected? “Thank you, strengthen your thesis, watch your grammar, and nice job,” over and over again. I would wrack my brain trying to think of new and unique things to write to each student in order to escape my monotonous comments.
And then, my friend and colleague offered a new and holy perspective. As I told him of my experience of the grading process, he understood and said: “I think of it like Communion.”
Christ’s body, broken for you. Christ’s body, broken for you. Christ’s body, broken for you. Each person who steps to the front to receive communion hears the same words of truth and blessing. We each bring our tiny-or-huge bit of failures, shame, imperfection, hope, beauty, and goodness to the table, where we receive the elements and are reminded, by people just as gloriously messy as we are, that Christ’s body was broken for us.
So it is with the work in this building. Each student brings to the AI’s table their assignment, written in their own way, with their unique personality & perspective, reflecting their strengths and, yes, their weaknesses, too. I read the words you put together with run-on sentences, missing commas, a stunning thesis statement, or a conclusion that causes me to fist pump with joy. And I thank you (and you, and you) for your work, because this work is anything but easy; whatever the letter grade the paper warrants, I get to witness you doing it, which is an honor much like witnessing the faces of this community walk up to receive communion.
As I bear witness to the courage that takes place within these walls, I can’t not be moved by it. You risk, you live vulnerably, you invite me into your stories and you write the paper that, one week ago, you were telling me you couldn’t possibly write. You expand yourselves for the sake of stepping (or wobbling) closer towards who God created you to be. And when I get to witness that holy scene, it inspires me to do it, too. This year, it’s been the result of constantly being faced with the courage of our students that has led me to begin writing and sharing my work. To risk, to tell my stories, to do the things I thought I could not do, with imperfection, wobbling, and a strong dose of courage.
I see you embrace your humanness and so I embrace mine. I thought I had to be a certain version of someone in this job, when really, I’ve been taught to just be me. So I repeat words of truth to you as I read your papers: Thank you for your work, because not only is it brave, brave work, but it is your bravery that has moved me to reclaim my own.
May you feel the glory of this truth: Christ’s body—it was broken for you.
And, good people, dear friends, world changers: Thank you for your work.