When I first began my studies at Baylor, I stumbled upon a ministry at a local church for graduate students. At the monthly gatherings, we “talked shop”: discussing anxiety over tough assignments and piles of reading, laughing over niche things we found in our research areas, and discussing plans for looming seminar papers and dissertation chapters.
But what made this interdisciplinary gathering of graduate students meaningful is that it didn’t stop there. We also discussed what it might look like for our teaching practices to be congruent with our spiritual practices and our research to align with our beliefs. Our meetings always included spouses of graduate students who enriched our discussions by broadening them beyond the academy.
Our monthly meetings never strayed far from the realities of life. Growling stomachs signaled that our formal discussions were over, and dinner and its own brand of comfortable conversation ensued. Smaller circles formed, as we extended our discussions or pivoted to chatting about life that week. Punctuating these conversations were the comments of the children who had now joined us. The noise level in the dining room would reach a happy pitch as we shared stories and food and life together.
In a 2007 commencement address at Bellarmine University, Wendell Berry describes two governing logics for life: the “logic of success” and the “logic of vocation.” The logic of success has a kind of single-minded focus on advancement. This logic promises satisfaction in success. Ultimately, however, it is an isolating logic, because its priorities are not your health or your home or your relationships. Berry warns, “you cannot live in a career, and … satisfaction can come only from your life.”
The logic of vocation, on the other hand, fills up our lives once again with all the relationships and responsibilities that belong there. It frames our work in the context of a whole life, a practice Berry helps his readers imagine again and again through this fiction. This logic “refuses to accept the common delusion that a career is an adequate context for a life.” I think as graduate students it can be tempting to think that the logic of vocation is for the “next season”—the one when we’ve got our degrees and we’re not this busy. But I’ve been told that season never comes.
How, then, do busy graduate students invite this logic into their lives? Like all good things, there is no easy answer to this question. Instead, there is the beautiful, difficult work of living in relationships and community—of finding spaces, and creating ones, where we can show up with the whole context of our lives and speak about it. And if our deadlines and full Outlook calendars have forced this embodied existence far from view, then we need to find spaces where we can be reminded about the whole context of our lives.
For me, this graduate student ministry modeled this kind of life for me—a messy, rich mix of intellectual discussions and relationships, of faithful work and real responsibilities. These students, who were living out their graduate work within the context of full, rich lives, made me think I might be able to continue this graduate school thing beyond my master’s degree. So, here I am, a third-year PhD student, now leading this ministry at my church, and deeply grateful for friends who modeled a logic that acknowledges the reality of life.
Christina J. Lambert is a third-year PhD student in English literature. She studies twentieth-century fiction and poetry, and her research is shaped by questions about ecotheology, feminism, and food studies. She has forthcoming publications in Christianity & Literature and Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature. She teaches food-themed research writing classes at Baylor and is a local coffee shop enthusiast.