Chaplains' Office Stories
Last Wednesday (4/2/14), we hosted the very first SpiritDance Film Festival. This was the culmination of our yearlong Spirituality and Film series and was intended to be an evening of reflection and appreciation of six different student films that had been made by Colorado College students concerning spiritual or religious themes. Many people came out to the Celeste Theater to see these films, which included:
Spiritual Life at CC, by the Communications Office and Arielle Mari. A documentary-esque profile of the active spiritual life of Colorado College students.
Enlightenment, by Courtney Blackmer-Raynolds and Emilia Whitmer. A documentary on the healing power of body-based psychotherapy.
Pilgrim, by Ben Grund. A spiritual travelogue following twelve student pilgrims as they traveled across Ireland and Scotland, following the footprints of Celtic Catholic saints.
Tremble, by Ben Grund. An experimental science-fiction following three scientists in their disturbing journey to find God in another dimension.
More After This, by Bennett Krishock and Will Schube. A stylistic exploration of fate and chance through the eyes of disillusioned private schooler.
Roots, by Arielle Mari. A documentary originally part of an art installation that explored spirituality and ancestry in India.
The filmmakers all gathered onstage afterwards for a short Q and A session with the audience. People asked great questions and really got into the conversation about what we were trying to say with these stories. Overall, a wonderful experience for both filmmakers and audiences to explore the spirituality involved in the creations of these young students.
Stories of Spirit was a wonderful evening hosted by the Chaplain’s Office. It was a night of stories, songs, hilarious personalities, and heartfelt testimonies. Here are some excerpts from the evening if you didn’t get a chance to come to the event.
This week, at a very special Shove Council, we discussed Apocalypse and End of Days narratives. It was a wonderful, thriving discussion about what it means to talk about the end of the world. We spanned a broad range of topics, from sensationalist Hollywood Apocalypse stories and the eventual heat death of the universe to personal epiphanies and the clarity that comes from ending a story.
People of every generation seem to have their own Apocalypse narratives, whether it be impending nuclear armageddon or inevitable climate change. Things become even more complicated when you consider what the “end of the world” entails. The end of our personal experience of the world (death)? Or the end of a certain world (what’s the difference between the collapse of the United States versus the collapses of many other countries that seem to already be happening)? Additionally, what happens when we consider apocalypses that may already have happened? The one species of mammal that survived an otherwise mass extinction. The Jewish community that was forced to reevaluate its relationship to God after the destruction of the 2nd Temple. The early Christians who were told Jesus would come back in their generation and then had to re imagine what all those stories had meant.
On a smaller scale, how do we envision our time here as an apocalypse? With every 4th week comes a certain kind of “end of days.” With every block break, a utopia. And then the cycle starts again.
In this week, may each of your own apocalypses bring the clarity that only comes with an ending.
Ben Grund, Chaplain’s Intern.
I’ve been celebrating Shabbat since I was a child with friends and my local Jewish Community Center. Since I’m Roman Catholic, celebrating Shabbat has always meant that someone opened their home and their table to me, and this last Friday night was the most meaningful expression of that tradition thus far. The Chaplains’ Office and Hillel here at CC put on a special Shabbat service in Palmer that was attended by about forty students. The tables were beautifully decorated with tapestries, collections of candles and paper plates decorated with red, orange and yellow tulips. I arrived in advance to set up, following the direction of a Jewish student to get everything in its proper place.
Once people started arriving we were tasked to find someone we knew very well and learn something new about them and then find someone we knew not at all and learn their favorite Shabbat memory. This way, I told my great friend Helen for the first time about how I was writing a children’s book (something I can be very shy about, so kudos to this event for revealing it!) and then found a classmate from my current class, with whom I shared stories about my childhood Shabbats and heard about his experiences with Shabbat in Jerusalem. When we sat down for dinner I ended up at a table half with people I didn’t know and with some of my closest friends at CC. Though I didn’t know all the prayers when the lights were off and the blessings began I truly felt closer to God and thankful for the the opportunity to open a day of rest in my life. After the blessings over the food we ate a lovely meal!
My favorite part of the event was the way I saw so many students lead the dinner, from leading a blessing of the Inner Child to leading and teaching songs and prayers and candle lighting. I felt as if I could stay in the space for hours just talking and singing with those gathered. My favorite song of the night was an old favorite of mine: Lord Prepare Me to Be a Sanctuary. It was a first for me this time, however, because we sang in Aramaic.
As I get closer to graduating from Colorado College, this Shabbat dinner was a reminder to me of all the things I love and value about the CC and the Spiritual Life Community and what I will look for in a community when I leave: inclusivity, kindness, sharing and participating. As I said before and at the dinner, sitting down to a Shabbat dinner means to me that someone has welcomed me to celebrate their tradition with them. I really feel honored and grateful to have shared Friday night with the Jewish community at CC.
There is something comforting about service. Many things in this world are complicated, but there are only so many ways to vacuum a pew cushion. Today, the Chaplains’ Interns and Chaplains Kate and Bruce gave Shove some gracious tender love and care. We cleaned the entire sanctuary, from the floors to the dust on the very top of the doors. Far from being just a logistical necessity, we tried to dwell on the idea that this was a spiritual revitalizing. Touching and bringing new energy to a building that has not been touched like this in a long time. There is something beautiful about running your hand over a wooden rafter that has probably not been touched in years. Additionally, as much as you give new life to old places you also discover relics of old life you never expected. A pair of old reading glasses in the choir pew. A nailfile in the loft. An ancient tripod that no one remembers using.
Of course, there was also fun music and some spontaneous dancing. And much gratitude that amongst the craziness of the block plan and the immensely increasing complexity of work and responsibility, we have the simple blessing of service.
This is the day for spiritual journeys in the Chaplain’s Office. Spiritual Journeys is a blockly event held in Sacred Grounds that invites people to gather together and listen to a member of the CC community talk about their personal journey and how their life and work have affected where they are today. On this grand day we listened to Devaka Premawardhana, the new professor of Global Christianities in the CC Department of Religion. He wove an eloquent and beautiful story of how his academia has intertwined with his understanding of his personal journey. It raised a number of exciting questions in the room, such as how does surrender of self work in an academic sense? How does one reconcile the sometimes paradoxical relationship between living, active religious communities and the written theses and doctrine that scholars often use as categorical markers of their faith? What is the witness to these stories that a scholar means to undertake?
Perhaps the most interesting part of the conversation was about the nature of living communities. How are our assumptions, presuppositions, and categorization of different communities challenged when we actually enter those communities? Even within our smaller Colorado College community, what complications will be stirred up when we stop observing categorically from afar and actually break into the nuanced, complex, living world of people? I’m not sure, but I know it’s exciting. Stay alive and complicated everyone.
Ben Grund, Chaplain’s Intern.
“God and I have become like two giant fat people living in a tiny boat. We keep bumping into each other and laughing.” -blessing shared by Anneliese Rice at Stories of Spirit
During fifth block, a group of students came together to celebrate the spiritual diversity of ColoradoCollege. The evening was called Stories of Spirit and was one of several faith week events with the theme of faith and humor. Students from many religious and spiritual traditions and identities including Muslim, Baha’i, Catholic, Hindu, Evangelical Christian, Buddhist, Seeker and Humanist shared stories, songs and reflections on the role of humor in their spiritual practice and tradition. The group laughed together through stories of poop jokes, sacred elephants sneezing on worshipers, friends screaming “Allah” in airports, ceilings crumbling and falling mid-meditation and Dan Lewis’ soprano gospel choir performance. The reflections and humor offered glimpses into the individual spiritual journeys of our peers. The evening was an important part of an ongoing conversation on the life of the spirit for CC students and demonstrated the power being on a spiritual path and part of a spiritual community has for many students in our community.
Many of the speakers talked about community. Colby Diamond, the first speaker of the evening, spoke about the openness of the Jewish community Hillel at CC. He talked about how much it has meant to him to share a meal with people from his tradition, as a child and now on Fridays for Shabbat with Hillel. The strength of these spiritual communities is not grounded purely in common belief, but rather in shared time and love. Nichelle Giraldes, who spoke of her involvement in the CC Catholic community said, “A community is not bound together by teachings and dogma, but by love and laughter.” People coming together to support each other, to worship together or just to share a meal and laugh is an incredibly valuable part of spiritual life for CC students. Candace Datz, who spoke of traveling the world as a Christian missionary prior to coming to CC, said she learned a lot about humanity through that experience and that people can be both the greatest and the worst thing in the world and in her religious tradition. Regardless of the trials community can also present, the foundation of people who care is an important component and draw of spiritual practice. Jaden Hawkinson, who does not belong to one specific tradition, has found this home in many spaces and communities. Jaden explained the importance of “cultivating a heart that can feel at home in many traditions, wherever you are.” Spiritual practice offers a way to connect with people on a deeper level and to form meaningful relationships and a sense of home in new places.
Those who shared stories also talked about how their religion or spirituality has contributed to their own personal growth. Krithika Vachali, who grew up Hindu, explained that spirituality gives you “infinite ways of adapting to what life throws at you.” Jaden spoke similarly of this power of spiritual practice. He said of the gifts of his practice, “When everything is just going so wrong, it is being able to find the joy in that.” Elyse Bassman explained how finding the first noble truth in Buddhism, that suffering is inherent in life, helped her to accept her anxiety. Elyse explained, “I became accepting of my anxiety, gentle towards it…. I let it be. The four noble truths let me relate to my anxiety with care.” Spiritual traditions give us resources to deal with the most difficult challenges of life. Elyse explained that her Buddhist practice makes her feel at peace and it can be as simple as pausing in the middle of the day to take a few conscious breaths. Regardless of the nature of the practice, CC students draw on their spiritual traditions to face challenges and to grow into balanced and healthy individuals.
The spiritual and religious traditions of CC students also provide a sense of something greater and immensely meaningful. Salsabeel Khan who is Muslim explained this feeling of something greater as like looking out at a wondrous view. Salsabeel said, “I like having something bigger to be grateful to, like when you’re staring at a beautiful view and you’re so small and you’re just speechless.” Zuri Randell and Mpesh Shongwe sang a Christian song from The New Testament book of Revelation that expressed a similar sense of wonder at the divine. In angelic voices, they sang, “you are my everything” and “I am filled with wonder at the mention of your name.” This sense of something greater and meaningful many speakers expressed as including compassion for fellow human beings or other livings things. Zoé Santos, who grew up in Bali shared a Hindu chant which he explained meant “May all beings be happy.” Saraiya Ruano, who is Baha’i included this call to compassionate action, to love your neighbor, as one of the things she loves most about her faith. Saraiya said, “What do I love about my faith? It calls me to action and makes me responsible to other humans.” Later Saraiya said, “Be concerned with the needs of the age you live in, man is organic with the environment, the inner world shapes the outer world and is shaped by it.” Many of those who spoke touched on this connection to something greater, and the drive for love and kindness holding this awareness can create.
The evening of Stories of Spirit was only a small part of a conversation that is on-going between CC students, faculty and staff about the importance, power and challenges of religion and spirituality in our lives. Spirituality is an important part of the journey for many CC students, and must be part of conversation. Salsabeel spoke of how it is sometimes difficult to combine the world of her conservative Muslim parents with the world of her secular humanist friends and the science she studies at CC, but that she knows it is possible! At the end of her story, Saraiya said, “We live in a time where people are often afraid to talk about faith and spirituality, but I want to talk about it! And I hope to hear your reflections past tonight; I hope this conversation is ongoing.” With religion and spirituality adding such beauty and power along with challenges to the lives of so many CC students, it is something that ought to be discussed openly and often on our campus. It is only through sharing more fully with each other that we will grow in community and in our ability to love the diversity of our world. At the end of the evening, Russell Clark shared a blessing from his Catholic tradition fitting for the event’s end. He said, “The stories have now ended, let us go forth in peace to love and save the world. Amen.”
Article by Lindsey Pointer ’13
Photograph by Holly Moynahan ’16
Student Emily Conway wrote a paper on Shove Chapel titled The Evolution of Shove Chapel Based on Stories of the Past and Current Perspectives and agreed to share it with us here. Enjoy!