- Pamela Jolicoeur
- Paul J. Dovre
- Anna Rhode â€™09
- Arland Jacobson
- Larry Papenfuss
- Polly Kloster
- Roger Degerman
- Stephanie Ahlfeldt
- Susan Oâ€™Shaughnessy
- Kristi Rendahl
- Dr. Heidi Manning
- Roy Hammerling
- Pamela Jolicoeur
- Jan Pranger
- Nikoli Falenschek '11
- Bruce Vieweg
- Dr. Paul Dovre
- Whitney Myhra '11
- Bruce Houglum
- Dr. Lisa Sethre-Hofstad
- Dr. Paul Dovre, Interim President
- Nick Ellig
- Virginia Connell
- Per Anderson
- Vincent Reusch
- Larry Papenfuss
- Carl-Martin Nelson
- President William Craft
- Dr. Olin Storvick
- George Connell
- Robert Chabora
Anna Rhode â€™09
The Concordia community gathers daily for chapel in this space. I’m wondering: What draws a small group of folks here each morning? What makes it a meaningful practice? Why do people who question the life and death of Jesus come, as well as those who are sure of Jesus’ reality? Why are they here? Why are you here? Why do we gather? I don’t imagine it is God who says, “9:50 a.m. is the exact time each day for people on Concordia’s campus to worship me.” I think instead it is we, humans, who choose this time and this space to recognize God who is already present, and to ritualize the recognition of beauty, pain, and holiness in the world and this community. The sacred nature of life is already there, but we gather to recognize it and claim it as important as a community—over time the rituals of chapel become a part of us and the practice becomes sacred to us.
I’ve had similar experiences with the importance of ritual outside of chapel: In one of my classes this semester (British Literature with Dawn Duncan) I have been newly exposed to the Great Victorian Poet Laureate of England, Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Tennyson endured a challenging childhood, experiencing poverty and witnessing his father and brothers struggle with excessive drinking and mental illness. But the greatest hardship of his life was the sudden death of his closest companion, a fellow poet and classmate named Arthur Hallam. The deep, painful, and enduring grief that Tennyson experienced lead to his greatest work of poetry, In Memoriam. In Memoriam is a collection of 131 poems that Tennyson writes over the course of 17 years. I am captivated by the expanse and depth of Tennyson’s thoughts and emotions in this work, all revolving around the loss of his closest companion. The work conveys some of life’s greatest questions: questions of life, death, healing, loss, doubt, religion, science, God, loneliness, and friendship. And it conveys these questions in deeply personal, thoughtful, tenacious ways.
I think I would venture to say that one of the more powerful learning experiences I’ve had at Concordia happened while studying Tennyson. Our class is very unique, largely made up of junior and senior English literature majors. We are generally excited to be there and eager to learn. By now we feel like community to one another, bound by our enjoyment of each other and our love of literature. Many of us also have a close relationship with Dawn Duncan, our professor. This class rarely feels like “work” or like filling in the hours to get the credit; rather, it is a time of learning to love literature and learning to live in the world. Because of Tennyson’s rich and intense life experience which is poured whole-heartedly into his literature, he often causes the reader to resonate with his work in powerful ways. Grief and loss are familiar experiences for many in that classroom; poem 22 from In Memoriam evoked our passion for the ways that the practice or the ritual of reading literature can open up mysterious, painful places inside of ourselves and give us words to articulate those emotions. Here is poem 22:
The path by which we twain did go,
Which led by tracts that pleased us well,
Thro' four sweet years arose and fell,
From flower to flower, from snow to snow:
And we with singing cheer'd the way,
And, crown'd with all the season lent,
From April on to April went,
And glad at heart from May to May:
But where the path we walk'd began
To slant the fifth autumnal slope,
As we descended following Hope,
There sat the Shadow fear'd of man;
Who broke our fair companionship,
And spread his mantle dark and cold,
And wrapt thee formless in the fold,
And dull'd the murmur on thy lip,
And bore thee where I could not see
Nor follow, tho' I walk in haste,
And think, that somewhere in the waste
The Shadow sits and waits for me.
Tennyson talks about ritual, too. He talks about the seasons that shaped his four year friendship with his best friend and how singing marked this journey, followed by the pain of separation and death. With the reading and discussing of this poem, there in the classroom, faith and academia intersected, emotion and reason converged and the classroom became a holy space, sacred space.
How does “sacred space” like this happen? How do we experience or create holiness? Tennyson did not become sacred for Dawn Duncan overnight; no, she studied, read, listened, taught, talked, and pondered Tennyson for years. Because she has let Tennyson seep into her, our regular English classroom became holy when we gathered together to affirm and uplift an author and his works, after we, too had spent a week or so letting that material sit and brew inside of us. I think that when a community gathers together regularly, over a period of time, whether formal or informal, to uphold, uplift, or claim something, we experience something sacred. It takes being steeped in something, really sitting with something to experience and recognize growth and holiness.
Here’s another example: I spent the fall semester in Costa Rica and my friend, Amanda, and I realized the importance of claiming something as sacred because our experience there often lacked this. For me sacred space was missing in the forms of church community and meaningful peer friendships. Although Amanda is not religious, she, too, felt unbalanced and unsustained because she lacked a community of friends that claims things as sacred through common interests, thoughts, and ideas. We were, however, able to recognize how there were a few times throughout the semester when we came together as a community to celebrate something. My favorite example of this was when a few of us got to watch a sloth inching along the trunk of a tree, reaching in slow motion for a leaf to eat. We watched in amazement for almost an hour, forgetting about group tensions or discomfort, and agreeing to be in awe as a community. To concentrate on this communal holy experience, to even ritualize it, would have done our group dynamics wonders, I think!
In our texts for today, the writers have similar experiences and state similar ideas. In Psalm 30, the psalmist offers words of Thanksgiving to God for healing from illness and from impending death. Part of the psalm is the gathering of a community to celebrate the ritual of thanksgiving in the Temple. The psalmist writes, “Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” The psalmist’s family and friends gathered to celebrate his re-entry into the community. Again, the practice of celebration, thanking God, and uplifting a person’s life and health makes for a holy experience in the community. The community is steeped in the practice of celebration until it makes for holiness.
While I don’t know much about what is going on in the Leviticus text, which sounds like an ancient doctor’s diagnosis of leprosy, I imagine it could be about God’s tenacity in sitting with us until we can see even lepers as holy. We can declare the “lepers” of our society “clean” or “unclean” as much as we want, but I believe God uplifts outsiders as holy and that God will let that profound acceptance brew inside of us until we, too, uphold the “unclean,” the sick, and the outsider as holy.
The author of the Hebrews verses for today instructs early Christians to “endure trials for the sake of discipline” for although “discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time,” God’s discipline like that of a parent’s “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Discipline, like ritual, is a repetitive practice that takes tenacity and yields growth.
I think this is why music, worship, and academia can be such meaningful, holy experiences. Musicians gather daily or weekly to be steeped in pitch, tone, style, and composers’ works, until it is so a part of them that the discipline becomes holy. Congregation members gather to sing liturgy and hymns, to support and pray for one another, to uphold traditions, to read ancient texts, and to celebrate sacraments. They become so steeped in these practices that they are no longer ordinary, regular words and silly actions, but holy traditions that guide their lives. And students and professors in academia study and read and talk and study and read and talk, until the things they study and read and talk about become familiar, devotional, and holy.
Interestingly, all of these texts (Tennyson, Psalm 30, Leviticus, and Hebrews) are in some way about the healing element of ritual. The rituals of sitting with texts, participating in worship, reading literature or studying a discipline, or even witnessing with fascination a sloth, somehow become sacred within a community over the course of time. Recognizing how these communal practices, traditions, and rituals become sacred opens us up to their significant healing power in our lives.