If you can make it safely down Route 94 through the weaving traffic, the procession of billboards, and just past the exit for the seminary, you will reach the door of one of Detroit’s hidden treasures. Much of my instruction in this first year here has been at the seminary, but some of the most poignant lessons have come outside of it. Pierce through a rough exterior, and you will find a warm center. At the Adams-Butzel Recreation Center, you will be greeted by bright faces and warm smiles, and shockingly, for $10 a year, you will be allowed to use the ice rink.
Venturing out onto the ice the first time, I felt the truth of something our formator, Fr. Mark, once told me with his characteristic penchant for relatability: “Beginnings are hard.” It looked so easy, so natural for others. Why, for me, did it consist of baby-stepping around the rink like Bill Murray in What About Bob?
Sometimes small efforts lead to existential questions. As I approached the thirty-minute mark, still waddling my first lap, I felt waves of doubt and frustration arise, tapping questioningly at more basic senses of security in my life. I found myself completely inept and had no choice but to focus on baby steps, looking for the Paraclete, the helper, to arrive to my aid.
In many ways, skating has been like my time here in formation. Thanks be to God, the Paraclete always arrives both from within and without. I’ve slowly begun to get accustomed to the ice and learned that if I give a little push, I’ll get a little glide. My core temperature rises, my limbs loosen up, and I am buoyed by the presence of my brothers who beckon me along the narrow path. Sometimes, as others spin effortlessly around me, we will collide because I lack the skill to adjust. (At other times, in a spirit of jocularity during a hockey game, a brother might dash me into the boards.) The protective environment of formation allows for the ice to be kept smooth so that a new skater such as myself can gradually gain strength in his legs.
I have not gotten far, and frequently, completely untouched by any causal explanation, I will sprawl on the ice. When I went home for winter break, I had an overripe black eye from one such incident. My sister, Sister Christine, on the other hand, was unblemished and beaming in her white veil. I felt this to be an emblematic contrast. I am grateful for the patience of God and my community as, with a hand from Mary, I learn bit by bit to keep my balance.
Br. Gregory Rice