Friday, September 28, 2012

Yom Kippur - Harry Enten '11

Harry Enten '11 writes for The Guardian. This reflection can be accessed at: ...

It's Yom Kippur – the most religious holiday on the Jewish calendar. I'm here at the office acting like today is just like every other day; I'm supposed to be atoning for my sins in synagogue.
I haven't been to temple, as some call it, in many years. I found it excruciatingly boring and mentally unstimulating. I went to Hebrew school for two days before refusing. The only reason people might confuse me with a religious Jew is because I had my bar mitzvah in Israel. I only did so because it meant I had to memorize less. I can to this very day recite my Torah portion with the correct inflections flawlessly, but that is more because of a good memory than any connection I had to the experience.
Still, I feel some unexplainable connection to my past. Hard as I try, I feel that I have to recognize what my ancestors went through so that I can be here today. I feel the need to commemorate Yom Kippur in some fashion.
Yom Kippur is all about self-reflection: about understanding what I've done in the past year and what I can do to make myself better in the next year. Perhaps, it's not complaining as much during the Guardian's morning meeting. Perhaps, it's compromising a little bit more when it comes to familial relations.
So, I've decided that in order to self-reflect, I can't share my thoughts on Twitter for the day. Twitter is almost all about self-indulgence for me. Yes, I read what other people write, but it's really more about hearing myself talk that keeps me on the site. I get a thrill up my leg whenever I see someone prominent respond to say something I say or retweet it.
I know I'm not alone. People like sharing on Facebook because they somehow feel that if they share something on the internet, it's truer and more important, in some sense.
During my darkest hours, when I didn't have a job, it was these social tools of communication with others that kept me going. They were a way for me to say to myself, "I'm still important. People still care what I have to say."
When the Torah was written, and for many years after, we communicated with others by going to work or meeting up in the local town. Once at work or at, say, a local eatery, we saw our friends and shared a word and/or a bite to eat.
It's not that we don't go to work or eat out with friends, but these exercises just don't pack the same punch that they used to. The reason is that we talk with our friends online, and many of us would probably eat online if we could. I know that I usually eat with my laptop beside me.
But I wonder sometimes if I don't lose something by almost never logging off Twitter. With constant tweeting, I lose the ability to look within myself. I often find myself cursing at the screen when I see someone write the same article I was thinking or writing. It's worse when I feel that I published a piece just like theirs, but theirs got more retweets for some reason.
Instead, I might be a better person, and maybe better writer, if I stopped caring about others' work so much and concentrated on my own.
So, for one day, I'm going to be by myself. It's certainly not perfect in the religious sense: I'm still using a computer to write these words. But not writing on Twitter is my own way of keeping my faith alive.
Others are going the whole nine yards (synagogue, no electronics, no eating, no bathing, etc). I'm happy that they have found a way to connect with God in their own way. But with self-reflection, I'm also secure with my own means of acknowledging that today is Yom Kippur.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Keeping God in Mind - Judy Williams, Temporary Assistant Chaplain

September 23, 2012
 "Keeping God in Mind."
Sing the Shema. :Hear, O Israel, The Lord is one God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)
That was the Shema. Every night, when I put my children to bed, I sing this to them. The Shema articulates the heart of the Jewish faith: a bond between the Divine and a people called to be in relationship with that One God. The practice of singing or saying this prayer at bedtime is based on the idea that the Shema should be the last conscious thought in one's mind before falling asleep, and the first thought in one's mind upon waking.
Ideally, the last thought before death should also be the Shema. There are moving stories of Jews enacting this practice, including that of Rabbi Akiva, often called the father of rabbinic Judaism. According to legend, he died at the hands of Roman torturers while speaking this prayer (for them as well as for himself). Akiva ben Joseph is said to have sought to love God "with his whole soul." Therefore, it is said that in his death, he fulfilled his deepest spiritual desire.
I sing the Shema to my children because they're Jewish. Most of you are not. Why am I speaking about this traditional Jewish practice at a Christian chapel service? While the practice of the Shema itself may not be relevant to your faith lives, there is something relevant about this practice that is vital to Christianity, and is related to our theme for this term.
As many of you know, the theme of this term's Chapel explorations is "Mind." We are approaching a text, present in slightly different forms in both the Hebrew and the Christian scriptures, that admonishes us to love God with every part of our being. Our Chaplain discussed the theme last week in terms of the phrase, "Loving God with your mind," and I'm going to continue that theme today.
As a generally over-educated bunch, we are prone to think of "mind" as delineating the intellect. But, there is more to the mind with which we can love God than just our cognitive faculties.
Now, don't get me wrong, I do love the intellect! There are great delights in contemplating the mysteries of existence and meaning with those capacities. It is certainly an important part of what we are here in this academic environment to do.
High intellectual approaches to Christianity have produced great things. The Scholastic movement was responsible for enfolding the wisdom of the great Greek philosophers into Christianity, bridging the gap between the Classical Era and the second millennium of the Common Era. The techniques of analysis and of teaching developed by the Scholastic movement made an immeasurable contribution to the development of every field of academia.
But Scholasticism is also known for its excesses. The somewhat hackneyed joke about the movement is that, at its worst, it encouraged discussions about "how many angels could dance on the head of a pin." Getting caught up in theological minutiae, while it may make for a great Ph.D. thesis, is not, in my opinion, a good way to have a fully-realized life of faith. To do so, I believe that it is also necessary to also have another kind of knowledge of the Divine. Without it, we risk pursuing God with only a part of the "mind" which we have been given by our Creator.
A very different thread from Scholasticism is that of mysticism. I come from a mystical tradition, myself. As Scholasticism was waning, there was a great flowering of Christian mysticism, and my small sect arose at the tail end of that era. The purpose of mysticism is to come to "know" God in a different, transformative, and inherently non-intellectual way, that of the experience of communion with the Divine being.
That thread has been far more prominent in the Eastern Orthodox tradition than in Western Christianity. To pursue theosis, or union with God, is considered a prerequisite for all subsequent pursuit of religious knowledge. This is not to say that mysticism need be inherently anti-intellectual. The idea is that knowledge that is not informed by revelation and grace is lacking. The Quaker tradition asserts that one cannot know the Scriptures without a familiarity with "the Spirit which gave them forth."
Okay, so why am I banging on about mysticism, when it may seem incompatible with the whole idea of "mind"-based knowledge? And how does all this relate back to the Shema?
The title of my talk tonight is, "Keeping God in mind." With the practice of the Shema, the first thought, and the last, is of God. The alignment of one's mind toward God is intended to create an experience of closeness with the One which is both thoughtful and mystical.
While you are here at Dartmouth, deeply immersed in the pursuit of knowledge, where is your mind? How can we keep God in our minds, despite all that is going on in our lives?
Without being monastics, we are unlikely to have God at the forefront of our conscious thoughts at every moment, and that is not a condemnation of us. But can we have God "in mind," despite our need to concentrate our attention on many thoughts and activities that may not seem related to faith? Can we ground our intellectual pursuits, whatever they may be, in our spiritual being? Is it even possible to obey that overarching commandment?
Despair not! I do believe that it's possible. (There are many practices related to prayer that can be a part of this, but that's not what I'm talking about tonight.) I'm talking tonight about something far simpler. There is a simple act of choice that has the capacity to align us with God in all that we think and do. I'm talking about devotion. By electing to devote ourselves to God, all of our thoughts and actions can become grounded in our faith.
 With devotion, we see our lives, and all of our gifts, as being given to us by God. They are not owned by us, but held in stewardship. The purpose of our lives is to serve God, obeying His leadings to us, which are revealed to us through Christ, our Inward Teacher. As God's servants, whether we are healing the sick or exploring the movement of the earth's plates or participating in the flow of commerce, all that we do can be part of the flow of Divine Love.
Of course, the choice of devotion isn't a one-shot deal. It's something that we need to constantly renew. We are distractible, forgetful beings, and so we need to keep our commitment in mind, one way or another.  Find ways of doing that for yourself, and you will find yourself living a life that fulfills God's requirements.
Like all growing things, turn towards the Light that gives life, and your own will be whole, and real, and as it should be.
Judy Anne Williams

Monday, September 24, 2012

Prayer at the appearance of Vice President Joe Biden
September 21, 2012
Richard R, Crocker, College Chaplain

Almighty God:

We pause amid busy-ness to ask your blessing on your world and our nation.

          We pray that we may always be a nation blessed with peace, prosperity, and the promise of justice, and a force for good in the world.

          Bless our leaders, we pray, with wisdom and compassion. Inspire and sustain all who seek office with a sincere desire to serve. In this election season, we pray for all candidates, that they may help us, by their conversations and debates, find our way forward, toward what is best, for everyone. Amen.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Loving God with All your Mind - Richard R. Crocker

Loving God with all your Mind

Richard R. Crocker

Rollins Chapel

September 16, 2012

Mark 12:28-31

I have suggested that our theme for chapel services this term be the question: “What does it mean to love God with all your mind?”

The scripture passage today poses the question. When Jesus is asked by a sincere questioner “Which is the greatest commandment?”, he replied by quoting, from Deuteronomy, a central text of the Jewish tradition, known as the shema: “You shall love the God your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” That’s what the text says in the Hebrew scripture. But when Jesus quotes it, according to the passage today in Mark and also the similar passages in Matthew and Luke, he adds the phrase “with all your mind.” It is an interesting addition. Loving God with all your heart and soul and strength means loving God with all with the center of your being – with your emotional life, with what is at the very center of you, and with all your energy. While we could examine each of those in turn, let us be content to ask tonight, and perhaps in future chapel services, what it means to love God with all your mind.

This is a question that seems appropriate in a college chapel. After all, you who are students are here, aren’t you, to develop your minds – not so much your heart or your soul or your strength – though I think Dartmouth students, and students in general, are often far more interested in issues of the heart and the soul and the body than in “intellectual questions.” But all of those are secondary to the primary purpose of the college. The purpose of college is to cultivate the life of the mind.

And the purpose of this college chapel service is thoughtful worship. That’s how we advertise ourselves: a brief thoughtful worship service is what we say. Thoughtful means we are trying to love God with our minds.

So, what does it mean to love God with all your mind? When Jesus said “mind”, whatever he meant in Aramaic was translated into Greek by the word dianoia, which means reasoning. Love God through the way we reason. What does that mean? I suggest that it means at least these three things.

First, it means that we reason our way back to mystery. Life is mysterious. Our very existence is amazingly, wonderfully, incomprehensibly mysterious. We are here. That’s really all we know. We don’t know how we got here. Now, scientists of all kinds can give us some clues about how things have developed, but inevitably, the pursuit of our origin, our evolution, takes us back to fundamental mystery. So our reason takes us to mystery. That’s the first step in loving God with our minds: acknowledging the wonderful mystery of existence.

Second, loving God with our mind then means asking questions and trying to answer them. If you enter a class with no questions, you will learn little. The essence of learning is asking questions and considering answers. We ask questions with our minds. Some are trivial questions, some are logistical questions, some are existential questions. Sometimes we ask questions according to our temperament. For example, you may be interested in asking questions about how things work. If so, you may become an engineer. I am not so interested in those questions. When something is wrong with my car, or my body, I am glad that there are mechanics and doctors who have studied how cars work and how bodies work. They are important questions. But the questions I ask, by my temperament, concern what things mean? What does it mean? What does it mean? These are commonly called spiritual or philosophical questions. But we must use our minds in answering all kinds of questions. That is what our minds are for.

Third, loving God with all our mind means not only trying to answer questions that arise in our own minds, but also taking seriously the questions that others pose to us. Sometimes we think that having faith means that we don’t have to think about things or try to answer questions. We can even become defensive when people ask us why we believe a certain thing, such as: why do you believe in God? Or why do you not believe in God? Or why do you believe that abortion is wrong, or why do you not believe that abortion is wrong? Often we are more comfortable when we are around people who do not ask us such questions. But loving God with all our minds means, certainly, that we take the questions that others pose to us seriously, that we try to answer them, honestly and thoughtfully, using the tool of reason.

Loving God means loving the mystery of life and loving others. Loving God with our minds means, at least, taking questions seriously. It also means, for those of us in every particular faith, learning about answers that constitute our own particular tradition. That does not mean that we adhere to a tradition uncritically. Far from it. But if a tradition is not questioned, it is not alive for us. Only when we answer the questions for ourselves, using our minds, do we feel that it is really ours.

At Dartmouth, I hope that you will take questions seriously. Do not fear the questions.Trying to answer them, in humility, but doing your best, is part of what it means to love God, and it is part of the greatest commandment of our faith. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Opening Convocation Prayer - Richard Crocker

Richard Crocker, College Chaplain
Opening Convocation Prayer
Dartmouth College
September 10, 2012

God of Truth and Hope:
We are here to seek truth.
Sustain us in that task.

Help us not to be distracted by trivia,
or the fickle tyranny of college rankings,
or the foolishness of harmful traditions,
or illusions of self-importance.
Sustain our search for truth.

And sustain our hope
that this search is a human blessing,
not to be feared, but embraced with joy and perseverance,
and that it will lead us to a better life,
not for some, but for all.
Sustain us, O God of truth and hope,
in our common life,
this year and always.