|art by Suzanne Vinson, 2012|
The energy and the anxiety on campus is palpable. After a long quiet summer, the momentum and noise is building as students return to campus. It's a trickle now, but by Thursday we'll have all the new students, followed by the rest of the community over the weekend. It's exciting for staff, as this is what we're here for, but also overwhelming as we think about the responsibilities that loom. It's been said that the first two weeks are critical in getting students connected, and that is a big concern to me as so few choose to connect with their faith anyway. Some are so concerned with cutting ties with family that religion is severed as an artifact. Others want to explore for themselves, while the majority of students these days have no identified spiritual connection to begin with.
And yet, this is the time when young adults seek to establish their identity and search for meaning, and faith is a crucial part of that. According to the book Big Questions, Worthy Dreams: Mentoring Emerging Adults in Their Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Faith,
"Faith is not simply a set of beliefs that religious people have; it is something that all human beings do...Though faith has become problematic, the importance of meaning has not...the purpose of an organism is to organize, and what human beings organize is meaning...It is this activity of composing and being composed by meaning--this "faithing"--that I invite the reader to associate with the word faith."
The task is huge--to connect students with one another and to their studies, as they also seek to figure out their roles and identities in this new culture, and in their new world of emerging adulthood and independence. So much rides on it, and so we have created so many different opportunities to learn, grow, and explore, As I look over all the programs and events that have been planned, I'm simply stunned. There is just so much...I can't even keep track of all I've planned or figure out a simple way to share it with the students. I have the sinking feeling that my plans are counter to that still small voice inside that keeps imploring me, "Do less. Be more." In this community of overcommitted women, I feel that my calling is to show an alternate way, to model a life that makes room for the spirit, for nurturing the soul in quiet and still moments. But I bought into the culture, with the pressure of the community asking me at each interview and in each meeting, "What MORE will you be doing next year?" when my inclination was to do less. But I am not paid for less (well, I'm sure my pay would be less if I went in that direction).
So my struggle now is to work against the system I have created, and to carve out those moments to pause and reflect and to encourage the students (and faculty and staff) to do so as well. I've named our weekly worship service "Sanctuary" for this purpose, and the logo for this, "find Sanctuary", will soon be plastered all over campus as a call to do just that.
It's appropriate that my devotional reading for today included this:
"Augustine of Hippo said, 'Let us leave a little room for reflection in our lives, room too for silence. Let us look within ourselves and see whether there is some delightful hidden place inside where we can be free of noise and argument. Let us hear the Word of God in stillness and perhaps we will then come to understand it."
"Teach us to listen, Lord. Quiet the noise of our lives so we can hear your voice. Amen."
In these moments of preparation, I'm soaking up the moments of stillness and silence, hoping they'll take root in my heart and soul, carving a place I can retreat to even while the chaos swirls around outside me.