Fourth Year Reflection: Asher Noble
The majority of my experience at the Center for Christian Study has been spent inside the comforting walls of Jay McCabe’s office. It’s 10am, and I’m desperate for a cup of coffee after an all but restful night. As is so often my morning routine, I show up at the Study Center for some free joe—my anti-sleep, recovery medication—and head up the stairs to get some reading done before class. Right at the top of the stairs, I look right. Jay is in his office, clearly in the middle of something, but nevertheless he rises to his feet to greet me—something I’ve never seen him fail to do for anyone in my four years at UVA. We quickly recap the night in sports, but he can probably tell that the erratic twitch in my left eye is a product of yet another troublesome night in an anxiety-induced state of doubt and increased heart-rate. I’m invited to sit on his futon for a minute to chat. My inkling that he recognizes my distress is confirmed, and the look in his eyes is telling me something he’s told me time and time again: He’s been there, and he gets it.
In my first year of college, the Study Center was a bit of a mystery to me. Basically, I still didn’t know if I wanted to be a Christian in college (much less live like a Christian in college), so I tried my best not to get too seriously involved with any group or any community that was going to tell me what to do. Unfortunately, I lumped the Study Center into that category of organizations that wanted to change my life in some way—to make me holier. Despite my cautious and calculated level of involvement, I managed to get to know Jay and some other classmates who spent a considerable amount of time around the building. My continued involvement in the UVA Christian community, specifically at the Study Center, was more of an effort to appease my nervous self-consciousness than anything else. Even if my life was enveloped in sin, I could still fall asleep at night (and get out of bed in the morning) because at least I hadn’t completely abandoned my faith. I was still doing something, and that was enough for now. I managed to manufacture some provisional salvation for myself until, of course, it proved to be a farce.
As I continued into my wayward second year, I became even more entrenched in my attempts to engineer some level of self-justification. My need for control—the deliberate effort to stay connected with the Christian faith in any attainable capacity—morphed into a means of temporary anxiety relief. Deep down, I resented this seemingly fraudulent faith. Wishing I could abandon it all together, or conversely dive head first into the “Christian Life," and so clearly unable to force myself into either option, I was stuck. There was obviously something attractive about the community at the Study Center, but the world tasted better than the Spirit, and grace was a weightless concept.
To my surprise, Jay approached me toward the end of my second year and asked if I would be interested in becoming his intern for the next school year. Was he serious? If he knew me at all, I thought, there was no way he’d be inviting me into this role. But Jay knew exactly what he was doing. I was not his personal project, nor was this an effort to draw me away from drinking and into Christian fellowship (as I feared)—at least not primarily. What Jay did in this simple stretch of a hand sums up what I’ve come to understand and love about the Study Center, and more importantly, the nature of God.
I hesitantly accepted Jay’s offer to begin my third year, and started working with him a few hours each week on Study Center logistics. What I’ve come to learn in the past two years, however, is that there is so much more to ministry than simply making things (i.e. events) happen. Jay and I spent countless hours getting to know each other. Relationships actually matter. I’m sure it did not take long for him to realize that I operated out of a constant sense of anxiety. Once again, I felt like a fraud. When I would walk into his office on Wednesday mornings, I often feared he would smell the cigarettes and beer on my breath from the night before. But instead of scolding me, he simply listened, extended a loving hand, and allowed me to begin a personal journey of understanding the truest thing about myself: I am loved by Jesus.
Over the course of the next two years, my involvement at the Study Center has grown alongside my understanding of grace (shout-out also to Dave Zahl and Christ Church). To be freed from the burden of self-justification, to know that what I have done and even what I continue to do or will do in the future, has already been forgiven on the Cross gives me the guilt-free ability to actually love Jesus in return. This is the essence of what the Study Center has imprinted on me during my time here at UVA. Having gone from a place of sheer terror that my true self would be brought out into the light, I was graciously brought into the understanding that God’s grace is sufficient. It is my prayer that this building continues to make that clear.
In my experience as an undergraduate ministries intern over this past semester, I have already learned more than I expected. Though it is still hard to fully embrace my identity in Christ, I trust that He has begun a good work in me, and will fulfill His promise in bringing that work to completion. By working alongside Jay and Lane, I am beginning to understand what a life in ministry looks like. It can be frustrating and exhausting, but also entirely riveting and rewarding. Through the Study Center’s staff, programs, and students, I am reminded that we are all human: broken, suffering, and desperate for a shred of Good News. Thankfully, we know where to find it.
Asher graduated in December 2015 with a B.A. in religious studies, and joined the Study Center as a part-time staff member to assist with our undergraduate ministries. This fall, 2016, he will participate in the Christ Episcopal Church Fellows Program here in Charlottesville.