23 August 2005

summer's end

Summer doesn't actually end, of course, for almost another month, but psychologically it ended today for me as I've spent the better part of the day in my office on campus updating syllabus, preparing for autumn classes, making sure the textbooks are in the bookstore, and so on. I never seem to accomplish as much over the summer as I had hoped and each year the summer seems to slip away more quickly.

I've also not heard back from colleagues regarding a number of different tasks, committees, and events that are planned for this semester, including whether or not I'll be an advisor for a group of incoming freshmen. So I've been busily sending off emails to the appropriate folks trying to find out the extent of my responsibilities beyond simply teaching.

I was cleaning out some files today as well, while preparing for the semester, and ran across a paper I'd written expresiing a philosophy of pastoral counseling, which connects in some ways with my advising role and general role as a professor. I'd written the paper as a result of the fact that, for a few years, I was working on a masters degree in theology here at La Salle, mostly just for the fun of it. But then a full-time faculty position opened up and we had Claire and the degree got sidetracked. As part of that program, however, I took a class in pastoral counseling and the paper had emerged from that.

The class was actually quite useful, though the professor and I certainly did not see eye-to-eye on a whole range of issues, differences that were particularly profound with regard to biblical terminology refering to God as "Father" and "Son" and so on. Nevertheless, in my nine years of university teaching I've had quite a few students come to me with spiritual, moral, and emotional questions and difficulties. This kind of interaction with students, from what other colleagues tell me, isn't that uncommon, at least for certain professors who strike students as sympathetic or accessible.

Sometimes it's a matter of the professor referring the student to the counseling center on campus or simply listening. But on other occasions the student chose to open up to that particular professor and really expects to be listened to and advised and counseled. This role wasn't part of what I had imagined when I first began teaching and it took some getting used to, since I've always felt completely out of my depth in these kinds of situations, especially given the profoundly distressing and complex nature of some of the problems students face.

In any case, talking with others who face similar situations whether as pastors, counselors, religious brothers or sisters, teachers, spiritual directors, and so on, in the context of a counseling class, was tremendously encouraging and helpful. This was particularly the case since the setting was openly faith-based and Christian (and the fellow students were considerably more orthodox on the whole than the professor).

One of the great things about teaching at a Catholic university is that the environment is one in which I am free to talk openly about the Gospel and my own Christian faith (even as a Protestant!) and yet, unlike many conservative Christian colleges, the school attracts a range of students from a variety of religious (or irreligious) backgrounds, who are under little compulsion to put on a show of piety. And one of the contexts in which I can communicate most effectively to students regarding the hope of the Gospel and the impact that Jesus can have on their lives is in the context of students who want to talk one-on-one and who are open to hearing something that can bring change to their lives.

In any case, enough rambling. I must get back to preparations for the semester. Perhaps I'll post some of that "philosophy of pastoral counseling" paper later if I think it still makes any sense after re-reading it.