Applying to the Mormon Theology Seminar was something of an exercise in confronting vulnerability for me. I have always been interested in theology, but my career path thus far has taken me in a decidedly non-academic direction, and I felt a bit fearful that I would be out of my depth in a project of this kind. I needn’t have worried; what I found during the seminar was a group of people from different backgrounds who were all brilliant, unique, and unfailingly kind and gracious.
It was fascinating to observe how each of us approached the same scriptural passage with our own individual lens, and through those lenses found layers of meaning within the text. We thoughtfully considered different (and sometimes opposing) ideas, and creativity was highly encouraged. We made each other’s work better, I think. That kind of collaboration is a rare and beautiful thing, and words really can’t express how exhilarating an experience this was for me.
I have sometimes been frustrated by our tendency as members of the church to focus so much on testifying about the Book of Mormon—its truthfulness, its miraculous origin story, etc.—while sometimes neglecting to focus as strongly on what it actually says. The Mormon Theology Seminar provides a model of how to actually engage with scriptural texts in a way that brings richness and depth to the material.
During our study of Mosiah 15, Abinadi spoke to me most strongly of a God that teaches us by example how to confront loss, pain, and death, while still choosing life and love. As someone who works in the mental health field, it’s no surprise that these are the themes that stood out to me—most of the time, these are exactly the kinds of themes that dominate the work I do with clients.
What I am a little surprised by, though, is how much studying theology in the context of this seminar has, in turn, influenced my daily work and made me a better mental health clinician. So often we tend to talk of theology and doctrine and philosophy in a way that seems abstract and far removed from life on the ground. One of the most powerful things about this seminar project was how it made theology relevant to my own lived experience again, and made me think a lot about how to be a better Christian.
And really, isn’t that kind of the point of studying theology in the first place?
The 2017 Mormon Theology Seminar recently wrapped up at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. We asked seminar participants to reflect on their experiences, offering a glimpse at what the Seminar is all about. This post features Michelle Lee. Originally from Canada, she is a licensed mental health therapist in the San Francisco Bay Area, specializing in the treatment of anxiety disorders. See more reflections here.