Monday, September 28, 2015

September 28, 2015

Those who know me well, know that I love music of all kinds. This week as I was driving, I heard a beautiful piece on the radio:  “Im Herbst” “In Autumn”, Concert-Overture Op. 11 by Edvard Grieg.  I invite you to listen and to reflect with me.

I often pray with music and I was so moved to reflect on autumn after listening to this.  Autumn is a time when the earth is curling up for the long winter in anticipation of being reborn in the spring.   With the dying of many leaves and grasses on the vine also comes hope, and a remembrance for what was.

In this autumn, we come to the anniversary of events in our city, in Ferguson, on our campus.  Just like the leaves and grasses slow down but spring back to life, so these memories of the challenging times in our city and campus ebb and flow.  Even through the dead of winter, we can never forget the life within the earth.  We also cannot forget the issues and challenges we have personally been presented with throughout the last year, and we are called in a special way to continue to honor those issues and challenges.  We are called to honor those images which are both fragile and beautiful, those images which provide us with both a harvest of reflection and hope for the future, and those images which call us in a greater way to not only honor and care for the earth but for all creation, including every living being.

As we move into this period of dormancy, we ourselves cannot lie dormant about the challenges and issues which call us to our faith that serves justice.  Perhaps now, in this period of quiet and fragility, it is time to revisit some of the important questions we are called to ask ourselves.  These questions were presented to the campus last autumn from the Department of Campus Ministry.  I invite you to call them to mind again this autumn:

·         Do I condone prejudice by my participation or by my inaction, particularly when speaking out seems like a greater inconvenience than silence?
·         Do I make the connection between faith and action by critiquing structures and attitudes that diminish others?
·         Do I make an effort to get to know people who are different from me in appearance, beliefs, and lifestyle?
·         Do we listen to members of vulnerable communities, both on and off campus, who can help us to see our own blind spots about how our unchallenged assumptions perpetuate hostility?

As always, please remember that there are resources on campus that will engage in dialogue with you around these challenging questions.  My hope and prayer for you is to consider these questions in light of your faith tradition, and in light of the mission which you are a part of here at SLU.  Autumn is a good symbolic reminder that we need to take some time to reflect on our own greater purpose.

Sue Chawszczewski, Ph.D.
Director of Campus Ministry

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Never again, never forget: commemorating to make a difference

This upcoming week, August 29, marks the ten-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Many of my friends and fellow New Orleanians - and I - lost everything, relocated, rebuilt their lives and their homes. Plenty of people I knew found ways to commemorate that moment: leaving up the spray paint marks left on front doors by the National Guard, saving memorabilia that survived the flooding, and lots and lots of fleur de lis tattoos. All of them shared the goal of demonstrating the change that this event had on our lives, how we have been wounded, and how that wound does not just heal but leaves a permanent impact on us from then on.

This evening, Sunday August 23, SLU will hold a vigil for peace and justice, echoing the vigil we held in the same spot one year ago, the Sunday immediately before classes began, to share our desire for peace in a city that so desperately needs it and to challenge ourselves to be engaged in making that change happen. The university is working on plans for a memorial of last year’s #OccupySLU and the Clocktower Accords that concluded that challenging week - a week for which SLU’s leadership has been hugely lauded and hugely criticized - but statue or no statue, we still have a long way to go as a university to be more connected to the city around us.

Last year opened more, and more serious, dialogue about race, privilege, and the place of our university in St. Louis than I have seen at any other time during my seven years here. It was a singularly difficult year, but one that challenged us to pay attention to problems that have been going on for decades and centuries in this city, but which we on our campus have mostly had the privilege of not having to look at. As our newest SLU students and staff and faculty join us, I wonder what it is like for them to come here, knowing at least something of what has taken place in St. Louis and on our campus in this past year. I can’t abide hearing tour guides on campus talking to prospective students and parents about how safe the campus is as long as people don’t go north of Delmar or into this or that neighborhood. The so-called “SLU bubble” is made more real by telling people they should be afraid of this city, particularly in neighborhoods that are poor and/or mostly African-American, but our SLU Mission is made LESS real by reinforcing that prejudice. On the contrary, in one of his essays on the role of Jesuit higher education in the world, the superior general of the Jesuits talks about the importance of engaging with the “gritty reality” of the world, and last year forced us to do so; we did not keep this city’s racial issues north of Delmar, and to our benefit. I think of that week in October of last year when we were “occupied” - some of us tried to minimize our contact with the disruptions, keep focused on the alleged “real work” of being a student or professor or staff member, while others of us tried to listen, or dialogue, or challenge, or keep a respectful eye on the proceedings. One of my new colleagues recently discussed with me the difference between “safe spaces” and “brave spaces” - being able to risk a conversation or an encounter that is challenging rather than being so focused on keeping everyone feeling safe that no hard realities can come to light.

I have been student and faculty and staff member here over the years, and cliche though it may be, I am increasingly convinced that the “real work” of Jesuit higher education only makes sense to the degree that it puts us in contact and keeps us in contact with the world around us - not in sterile, abstract, numerical ways alone, but through real solidarity with real people and stories of their real lives. A lot of us got our butts kicked last year by being shown how out-of-touch we were with what is going on just a few miles, just a few blocks, away from the comfort of our offices and classrooms. Many of your friends, your professors, and your classmates put themselves in the thick of the action over and over again, both to help magnify the voices of those who have gone unheard and to educate themselves about what is going on away from campus. As we begin this year with a vigil for peace and justice, I hope that we will take seriously the goal of transformation - we are not praying in a light, easy, “hope-to-God-something changes” kind of way, but out of an earnest desire to learn about what is going on and to be a part of building a better reality.

Patrick Cousins is a member of the Department of Campus Ministry.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Choosing Vulnerability

Vulnerability has been a theme in my life for the past several months. Why? Because I made the decision that for Lent I was going to practice being more vulnerable in various areas my life. The topic of vulnerability had been one that kept showing up in my life in the months prior to Lent, and so I decided that Lent might be a good time for better understanding how vulnerability can play a part in my faith life. I will admit that this decision was a little frightening. Choosing to be more vulnerable is somewhat of a daunting task, but through this process, I have come to see many fruits I had not expected. Several of my relationships took on a deeper level as I learned to better trust others with myself. I also found myself becoming aware of what’s going on inside of myself in a whole new way, and this has spilled over into my prayer life, allowing me to be even more vulnerable in prayer.

What is vulnerability? Brené Brown describes it as “the cradle of the emotions and experiences we crave. It is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, accountability and authenticity.” It creates space for us to shed our false selves and become the person God calls us to be. It leads us to become a resurrected people. While in my mind I saw it as a “Lent-thing” associated with suffering, I’ve now come to appreciate it at as an “Easter-thing” because it invites me to go through the suffering and experience the resurrection.

I found myself during the Triduum reflecting on the vulnerability present in those events of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter. It started with the Last Supper and Jesus’ washing the feet of the disciples. It’s a gross act (their feet would’ve been pretty disgusting) that requires vulnerability on all sides of the parties involved. Then he moves to the garden where he holds nothing back. He’s crying, he’s in distress, he’s scared, he’s asking God to take this suffering from him. Then we find him on the cross, abandoned by most of his friends, exposed to everyone who sees him. It’s not really a great advertisement for encouraging people to embrace vulnerability, but what happens afterward is. He is resurrected and, as a result, those in his life are changed. They gain a new understanding of themselves and their mission as followers of Christ.

Vulnerability isn’t weakness. It’s courage. It is in this space that we can best live out our life of faith. We break down walls and discover our true selves rather than the person the world tells us we should be. Where before, we kept our distance from others out of fear that they might judge us, when we’re vulnerable we’re brought closer to others. When we practice vulnerability, we have more compassion for ourselves and as a result we have more compassion for others.

It what areas of your life is God inviting you to be more vulnerable?

Robby Francis is a Campus Minister in Griesedieck Complex.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

He is Risen!

One of the conversations that I remember having with my grandfather when I was a teenager was on the resurrection of the Lord. My grandpa was a Free Methodist minister who modeled Christ’s love to me beautifully. Undoubtedly his reflections came out of a devout prayer life along with a deep love for life in general.Though I do not recall his precise words, I remember him marveling at Jesus’ resurrection.
In some moments, Jesus was there and then would disappear. At other events he simply appeared or became recognizable. There are passages where he seems to walk through walls, and we have to question in the Gospel passage today whether or not Jesus might have eaten with the disciples. He could be identified, but not always. Mary of Magdala thought he was the gardener before he heard Jesus call her name. The disciples on the road to Emmaus only recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread though he had journeyed with them throughout the day.
I wonder what resurrection was like for the early disciples? Could they have really understood the fullness of resurrection even as witnesses to the event? And how did they recognize Jesus? Every story seems unique to the person or persons seeing the risen Lord. Not only did they see the Lord risen, but it changed their lives, their understanding, their way of seeing the world.
What if a time machine existed to take us back to that first Easter morning? Would we be astounded as many of the disciples seem to have been, or would we simply apply science and worldly knowledge to the event in order to classify it differently? I wonder if the same story would have reached our hearing if it had happened in 2015 AD instead of in first century Palestine.
This is not to say that scientific knowledge is not essential, but as with all human knowledge, it is limited to our understanding. And ultimately Jesus’ resurrection is beyond what can be dissected, quantified, or perfectly analyzed.
First century Palestine was not privy to reality as we now have come to understand life. When Jesus rose from the dead most people professed that the Earth was flat and believed it to be the center of the universe. The Eastern world had yet to perceive the West (North and South America and probably Antarctica). And I suppose heaven was a place up in the atmosphere just beyond our reach.
Human constructs of God have certainly changed over the years. The question I often think upon is what do we lose when our construct of God shifts? If it is lost, then perchance it was never God at the onset, but merely our limited perception of who we name God to be.
In a few thousand years, many will look at and wonder perchance at our unknowing. Science tells us that human knowledge is accelerating faster than it ever has. And yet, around every corner there is something we do not yet know or have not perceived fully as yet.
Thus, I continue to wonder and pray into the mystery of that first Easter morning. Though Mary of Magdala, Peter, John, James, Thomas, Didymus, Nathanael, the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and many others might have witnessed Jesus’ resurrection, I cannot say they knew exactly what was happening to them.

Maybe had the event taken place in 2015 we would have analyzed it all differently, but I suspect the results would be similar. Some would be sceptical and others would believe--and no one would fully understand. So today as we rejoice in the miracle of Easter, I am thankful for both what I have yet to perceive and for the gift of faith that says: Jesus is Risen. Alleluia! Alleluia!

Christy Hicks is a Campus Minister in Griesedieck Complex.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Contemplate Love on Good Friday

Rituals and traditions are important to my own Catholic faith. Some are steeped within the rituals of the Church; some are cultural. Growing up in Chicago, my parents built these traditions into our faith life. On Good Friday every year we observed two traditions. In the morning, my mom and I visited several Catholic Churches to pray and venerate the events in Christ’s life. We always went to the Basilica of St. Hyacinth.

They had a crypt in the lower level of the Church that was set up as a tomb. We prayed there on Good Friday. I remember it being pretty creepy, but as I reflect on that experience, I cherish the image of walking with Jesus in his suffering and death.

I also love the story of St. Hyacinth (in Polish: Święty Jacek). He was born in Poland in 1183. He was ordained a priest in Krakow and in 1217 he joined the Dominican Order. He is known as the Apostle of Poland and had a great devotion to Mary. During his time in Poland in Kijow, he was told that the Tartars had invaded the city. Quickly he seized the ciborium from the Church containing the Blessed Sacrament and was about to leave the church, when he heard: “Hyacinth, you have taken my Son and you leave me behind?” He looked to the marble statue of Mary and Jesus and to his amazement the marble statue was as light as a feather as he carried it to safety across the Dnieper on to Krakow. It is said that he walked over the surface of the waters of the Dnieper.

This image of St. Hyacinth gives us a pretty good indication of the love that St. Hyacinth also had for Christ. This love also manifested itself on Good Friday when my parents encouraged me to be silent from noon to 3:00 pm to commemorate the death of Christ. Who knew that my parents were setting me up for an experience of Ignatian Spirituality? While the silence for me at the time was difficult, as I’ve come to understand my own spirituality, the silence is what I cherish. In experiencing the silence as an adult, it gives me pause to contemplate the life and death of Christ in a very prayerful and loving way.

It allows me to contemplate the love I’ve received and the love which I am called to give back to others. It allows me to contemplate my own actions in a broken and suffering world and calls me to show my love to others through my actions. As St. Ignatius tells us “love shows itself more in deeds than in words”.

On this Good Friday, take some time in silence and prayerful reflection. Contemplate the great gift you have been given and pray about how you can manifest your love for others through your actions.

Sue Chawszczewski
Director of Campus Ministry

Monday, March 9, 2015

It's not about you...

To be honest I am not typically the biggest fan of prayer through scripture but when I was reflecting on today’s reading and gospel in order to write this blog I found that it was very relevant to my life and my own Lenten journey right now.

            I won’t quote the whole Gospel passage for you but long story short Jesus is preaching in the synagogue using examples of the prophets (like the story of Elisha and Naaman from the first reading) and ends with the quote, “No prophet is accepted in his own native place”. Then basically everyone gets pissed and they try to kill Jesus…end Gospel. So what does this mean? I think that we too often get angry like the people in the synagogue when we do not feel like the chosen ones; like when the prophets aren’t healing those form their own land; like when Jesus favors a Gentile as much as a Jew.  Lent is a very personal and reflective time but something to keep in mind is that it is not just about you. I think we need to remember that God is in all people, that God chooses all people, and that God loves all people. You should not think of yourself as better than another because you are doing more for your Lenten journey, sacrificing more, fasting more, going to mass more. It is easy to get caught up in oneself and the “more” that you are doing and easy to forget that God is showing himself through others around you. Too easily we judge and criticize others who are just as loved and chosen by God, and too easily we fail to recognize the voice of God through these others. As we reach our almost-halfway point in Lent, I would encourage you to not only reflect on your own journey thus far but to reflect on how others have impacted your journey and how you can start to see God through all people at all times.   

Friday, February 27, 2015

“Rabbi, it is good that we are here!”

Generally, I do not tend to watch the Oscars, and in fact, would likely not have even known that they were on television had my roommate not alerted me to the fact that they were taking place. But, this past weekend I spent a little over an hour of my Sunday evening being entertained by Hollywood.
The world of entertainment certainly draws our senses and peeks our collective (or at least our mainstream) interests, for after all, the cinema’s portrayal of real and fictional events are a collect of our stories and the dreams that we have for ourselves. Even when the narrative is inaccurately portrayed or the experiences are not our own, there is something in these stories that connect our lives to one another.
In her book, We Live Inside a Story, Megan McKenna writes:

There is a saying among storytellers around the world that goes: ‘If there is no one to listen, then there is no story to tell.’ The understanding is that if you hear a story often enough, you begin to believe in it. If you believe in it, you will begin to tell it yourself. And then in the telling, you will begin to make it come true in your own life. In fact, you will come true as the story begins to tell you! This may sound fanciful to some, but stories are the most ancient and revered form of communication and expression among peoples. Stories were chanted, drummed out, carried on the notes of musical instruments, danced and mimed, even ritualised, and then in a cycle of the seasons, passed on by elders and tellers by word of mouth and remembered through generations (We Live Inside a Story, 15-16).

In this light then, besides entertaining us, the Oscars are a collection of tales both obscure and mainstream that human beings have worked hard to share with the world throughout this past year. Storytelling is powerful, and throughout history we have connected our experiences through story.
What is your favorite story, and who is your favorite character in the tale? What about this character relates to you?
The gospel that we read together this Sunday is truly one of my favorites, for upon witnessing the unexpected, Peter proclaims: “Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Peter was likely blown away by the fact that he saw the great heroes in his own faith narrative alive on a mountaintop speaking to Jesus. And his first thought was one of welcoming...Let us make three tents. But, I also suspect that Peter felt much like we would feel if we were suddenly to meet one of our heroes or heroines (those people in our lives that we admire whether they be real beings or fictional characters).
Ironically, (and a twist in plot we cannot miss here as a crucial part of the gospel narrative), we meet the most extraordinary of heroes in the person of Jesus: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” Though I cannot precisely guess how Peter would have known Jesus when He was being transfigured on the mountaintop, I speculate that he had yet to imagine the extraordinary gift that had landed in his day to day life. This ordinary man that wandered the earth, ate food, tasted drink, spoke wise words, but did not seem altogether out of bounds--was and is the greatest story ever told.
Mark’s gospel is the earliest of the gospel accounts to have been written, and in many ways the most dire. In fact, when one reads the text from beginning to end, it turns out that no one is faithful to Jesus; all turn away and reject him in the end. Alas, I am not a Markan scholar, so I will refrain from pretending to know more than I do. But, I think it is important to note where Jesus tells us that we will find Him throughout the gospel texts, namely,  in the least of our brothers and sisters.
When do we fail to notice Jesus in our midst because she or he does not look like us? Are there stories that we neglect to tell or repeat because the people in them have less of a voice than we do? When do we focus on are own needs at the expense of those who are less fortunate? Do we spend too much time entertaining ourselves, and not enough time giving ourselves to others? And finally, who in our life today is most in need of care, that is, who among us is most vulnerable?
Like Peter, I am all too often entranced by the appearance of things, people, and ideas that distract me from the main scenario. In the ordinary and everyday moments, Peter found Jesus in his midst. What is extraordinary in our lives that we manage to miss because we have yet to grasp transfiguration and the richness of life found in the ordinary?
And back to the Oscars. My favorite scene among those I saw came when a Polish director expressed his gratitude after winning the Oscar for best foreign film. The clip is shared here, but his words transfigured me a little as he shared:
O God, how did I get here? We made a film about, as you saw, black and white...about the need to withdraw from the world and contemplation. And here we are (laughter) the epicenter of noise and world attention. Fantastic! Our life is filled with surprises (Oscars 2015).
My prayer then for all this Lenten season is that we will be delighted to find God in unexpected and new ways, just as Peter did that day atop the mount, and that we will have the grace to see clearly what is before us with reverence and awe.

Christy Hicks is a Campus Minister in Griesedieck Hall.