Week One:

As expected, there are several things that have happened in the past few weeks that have shaped my understanding of both God and humanity. The pandemic is terrifying; I am shocked, continually by the goodness of people in these troubling times. I watch the community build itself up. Protecting one’s own. We all have those pockets of people we would do anything to keep safe.

It’s been hard, though, to even think about God. 

I can’t write this blog post if I don’t tell you that. 

I was on Spring Break like the rest of BU when it became increasingly clear that the pandemic was hitting hard. Much harder than anyone had expected. My girlfriend had been telling me to Lysol our stuff for a couple weeks now, but for me, not nearly as farsighted as her, it wasn’t until Break that things got real. I wanted to pray to God, as I lay in my sister’s guest room, late at night, contemplating the enormity of what was happening. But when I tried, I felt like I was just hitting a wall.

My spiritual mentor, and mentor in all things really, Dr. Br. Larry Whitney, no longer worked at the Chapel. So it was difficult. And I’m not saying this for the sake of being difficult, myself. I’d much rather have been able to pray and meditate as normal in a time when the world was literally crashing down around me. I just genuinely was so sad and lost and confused and angry that I no longer got to have that space with him. And I didn’t know for the life of me how to reach out to God. Because, for the last two years, Br. Larry was the one I came to with all my questions about God, the Hindu texts, my grappling with the rise of Hindutva, any sect of Hinduism. Hinduism is very insular and, in modern times, tends to be very conservative. Because I often felt unsafe and unheard in spiritual discussions before I met him, he is my first ever mentor on spiritual matters. His office was a sacred space for me, just the same as any other place of meditation, where I could dissect Godliness. And now it was gone. Even though I could, and do, still connect with him outside of Marsh, it was still a space that had been lost to me.

It took a long time. I was like, there is no way that Br. Larry wants me to sit here and be sad about him not being at Marsh and in doing so not reach out for God. But when a sacred space is lost, I think it’s important to mourn. To intentionally remember what has been lost so we can carry it with us always. So we know how to find new sacred spaces. And in this time, that is more important than ever.

Prayer Practice

Over the past few weeks, my prayer practice and form of worship has had to completely change. Before all of this, I already started to believe that I focus and get closer to God when I am with family or alone in nature than when I am in Mass; however, that was before there were no more masses.

The past several weeks, as you all know, have gone virtual. As a practicing Catholic, to not receive the Eucharist for this time has left me with a feeling of longing. Instead of mass on Sundays, my family and I gather to watch the service on TV and pray together as one group of people. While we may not be receiving our sacrament, we are blessed with an hour of time to give thanks and praise every week. It has quickly become a beautiful time for my family and I to connect and strengthen our faith.

However, this moment has not been the only way that I have found myself close to God in the past few weeks. I have found myself even more focused and in a meditative state when I am in the woods painting. Recently, I have started a practice of painting a watercolor in the woods every day in order to create a sort of schedule for myself as well as maintaining my artistic practice. Often during this time in the woods, I find myself alone in thought, wandering, and thinking about where I am and how it came to be. If nothing else, those are the moments that I am most thankful for during this time. When I can share my gifts and give thanks for what I still have in this time of great loss.

In the end, no one’s prayer practice will be, or should be, the same. Every person is different and every person will pray for and to something else. Therefore, I encourage every person reading this to think about what gets them closest to God. How can you better focus in and give thanks for what we still have?

Big and Small

Each new bullet of bad news seems to ricochet off yet another, creating a torrent of projectiles. And in this process, the unknown location of the path of each ricochet makes the fear of being hit by bad news even greater.

How do we cope with the uncertainty of life? How do we cope with the uncertainty of bad news?

For many, long-term plans have shifted from a perspective of years to months. All the while, the present moment feels eternally long. My current Personal Finance class asks students to consider an 80-year life plan, a 30-year stock portfolio, and a 20-year mortgage in its assignments. The unpredictability within these time constraints are made much more real by the COVID-19 crisis.

For me, uncertainty is terrifying because it results in my furthered understanding of humanity’s frailty.

While our collective existence of over 200,000 years appears vast, its position within the context of our universe is so infinitely meager.

It appears to me that in a two-week period, humanity has taken a step back to consider just how small, or how big, things really are.

Prior to two weeks ago, I considered a piece of Wrigley’s chewing gum to be small. Now, the membranous layer of a COVID-19 particle reframes the chewing gum as gargantuan.

Throughout all of this, I feel grateful about our mind’s ability to reframe and reconsider. I hope to never lose sight of the immensity of one’s mind, as we collectively enter the next months of recovery and reconsideration.

“One who brings

A mind not to be changed by place or time.

The mind is its own place, and in itself

Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”

-Paradise Lost, (I.252-256)

 

Purpose

It is a rare thing to be able to say that we have all unanimously experienced something that is the same in origin and nature. These times have been trying and continue to push us to find ourselves and our own purpose in all of this. Thus bringing be to the subject of this post. Purpose.

On March 11th I got home from a trip with some good friends to find that the home I left was not the same I came back to. It looked the same, but it was shrouded by a cloak of concern and confusion. Eventually classes were canceled, dorms were closed, and social (I prefer the term physical) distancing began. As I made my way home on an early morning commuter rail train back to Rhode Island, I sat in sadness and frustration, I could not fathom what had happened. By the time I entered the car with my mom that sadness and frustration had turned to panic. The social structures and systems that shaped my life suddenly became painfully apparent to me as they were erased away from my life. Suddenly, I had not campus, no work, no church, nothing that could not be in my home. This was the hardest thing to process. The clear outline of what my life really is and how unprepared I was for these circumstances.

It was not until one evening when I talked with my mother that I could find footing in order to move forward. She explained to me that it was all about Purpose. My purpose before was as a student, as a teacher, as a friend but now it must be as a human. All of our purposes have been wiped and restarted as it is now our responsibility to work as a tool for others versus a weapon for ourselves. She told me to think of my grandparents, our friends and family in hospitals, those who are truly in harm’s way. Those who are forced to sacrifice every aspect of their lives and are left unable to get food, childcare, and other necessities. These people and others like them are our purpose now. To help them, to care for them so that they can care for themselves or for others. This is our purpose now.

The irony is that this was meant to be our purpose all along, it’s just that it took this pandemic for us all to realize and eventually except it. It is now the time for all people of all nations to really come together as brothers and sisters in order to put ourselves aside and be present, aware, and open for those who cannot do the same for themselves.

On Mentorship

It was not without trepidation that I stepped into Marsh Chapel for the first time.

I was uncomfortable. Of course I was. The space is beautiful, but I’m a queer brown woman, so I simply did not know whether yet to trust this burgeoning interest within me that had called me here. The stained glass reflected the late morning light in rainbow slats across the floor of the nave. I didn’t yet know it was called a nave, but this blog post will be littered with its fair share of anachronisms. I peeked inside and saw a few young adults scattered in the pews, head bowed, deep in some personal meditation. I wondered, again, what I was doing here.

It was not my first time in a church, but I could count on one hand how many times I had dared to enter these Christian spaces. Growing up as a brown person in a largely white community, Christianity, to me, simply meant a host of people who saw my traditions as “exotic” and me as a body for what the students of color not-so-affectionately named “the diversity cam” – pictures on our school website. I fully admit that I equated Christianity with whiteness and whiteness with my own pervasive experiences with racism. I associated Christianity with privilege. And to some extent, in this country, I maybe still do. And that’s in part because in my country (if it can be called that) Hinduism is associated with privilege. So I know all about the lack of a separation between church and state. But that’s a story for another time.

I walked in. We’re still lingering on this moment. I’ll let you savor it with me: the fear, the whisper of betrayal I felt by simply being present in a church instead of a temple, a moment of awe for my own damn bravery. Hold these things with me.

I walked downstairs. The belly of the beast, I thought, so afraid, so aware of my own self-situating in a place of not-belonging. Shame bit at me again. 

It was in the midst of all these conflicting emotions that I met Br. Larry. 

White, I thought, when I saw him. It’s a white man. I don’t have a ton of great experiences racked up with white men. Oh, god. My first job interview in college is with a white guy. 

I rattled off my schpiel to him. I am curious, I said. I am brown and Hindu and exploring what faith is to me. I am a queer woman. (I am afraid, deeply, of religious institutions.) I want to be a part of your interfaith program. (I am also afraid to want to be in your program). I’m a sophomore in college. (I grew up in the aftermath of 9/11. You must know what this means for me). I want to learn. 

Oh, I learned. And I questioned. It is perhaps the most sacred thing I have ever done. To accept God without questioning is an unholy act, I think. The divine lies in the exploration of the relationship between the Self and God. Is India a theocracy? Who wrote the Vedas? What is culture and what is religion, and what rings true to me? What the fuck is going on in Kashmir and what do I do about it? The Partition – its own gaping question – how are my people and the Partition still interacting? What is queer theology? What does being queer and religious mean? How do I make my way in a world governed by institutions that I simply do not agree with? Who am I? What is God? What are we? Is there a God at all? We talked about privilege. We talked about colorism. We talked about racism and casteism. What it means to be brown in America. What it means to be brown in America after 9/11. What it means to work in an interfaith movement after 9/11. We talked about holding incongruous truths. What God is, again. What the divine is, again. Finding it, continously, through this work. We’re still talking. This is a discussion that will never end.

Unconditional mentorship is the greatest gift I have ever received. 

Marsh became my home. I’d laugh when I said it: Yeah, I work at a church. Yeah, I’m not Christian. And – I love it here. It’s a safe place, you know? A place of such joy, such unexpected and true joy. Being mentored by a person like Br. Larry means that first you do the work within yourself. I mean, you keep doing it. But that initial descent into understanding what is true for you? What is godly and what is divine and where you find light? That shit is hard. It takes a lifetime. Then, you do the work in the community. How am I going to spread this love that I have found to others? Not proselytizing, but simply being in community. You might think we’re in community all the time: we all live within a three mile radius of each other on this campus, after all. We share the same Allston rats and we shop at the same Star Market and we evade the same fare on the same B line. 

That’s not community. Community is intentional. Community is untangling the knots of what we have been taught and instead weaving a tapestry for ourselves. Community is finding meaning together. It takes radical joy and healing to create community – radical joy and healing a whole lot of mentorship. Which is not easy to find, by the way; you know this, if you are Generation Z and have a complete lack of regard for baby boomers. 

Working with Br. Larry also means advocacy. I had never in my life had an adult, let alone a white dude, advocate for me so furiously, so tenaciously. I am still so grateful for that. Br. Larry taught me how to advocate for myself, how to advocate for others, how to allow myself to be advocated for. Working with Br. Larry means learning about institutions. How they work, how to change them. How to work within them and how to work with them. How to find people like you who will uplift you and advocate for you just as much as you will for them. Because now you know how to do those things. Not that you didn’t before – but you’ve been mentored specifically in those skills. So you know, without a shred of a doubt, that you can absolutely do this.

It took so much for me to step into the Chapel that day. I felt it in that moment: I was teetering on the cusp of something, the maw of the unknown yawning before me like an abyss. And from that great and deep unknown a hand reached up to meet me. All I really needed to do was reach back. 

Faith Through the Seasons

As the warm weather fades from the rearview and the leaves begin to fall from the trees we can see the changing patterns of faith in our communities. No longer are we praying to find AC or shelter from the rays of the sun but instead praying for more sun as it begins to set sooner each day. We pray that gloves can remain in their drawers and that the first day below freezing is far off. In the fall, praying for optimistic weather is only part of the prayer. The fall ushers a change in attitude. The life of barbecues in the afternoon, sitting out by the water, and simply being fade away until the winter thaws. Fall is a season of memory where we celebrate many holidays integral to nearly everyone’s life. We have Thanksgiving coming up, a holiday centered around festivities, good food, and most importantly, family. It is a time of celebrating and embracing those close to us, both related and not. In college and among younger crowds, Friendsgiving has become commonplace to celebrate the great friendships that are like family. As we study far away or move into new environments where family isn’t close, our friends serve as an extended family. Faith also changes. It is a time of gratitude. Veterans day is next week. We take certain days each year to honor and remember those who have fought, served, and died for our country. Independence day is similar in that we celebrate our nation’s history and the enduring freedom sustained since that day, but it is filled with many events and food and festivities. Veteran’s day is a quieter day. It is a day of remembrance. On this day we pray for those who have risked their lives in the many forms that it takes and their families. This year, Boston University is celebrating its 100th anniversary of the establishment of its ROTC and the continued call of young people to serve in the Armed Forces. We pray for our friends and family who answer this call, that they may return safe and be with us once again. Our faith allows us not to forget all of those who have spent part or all of their lives serving so that we may be here safely. As we await the coming of Christ in December we pray for the Holy Spirit to be with us. Faith in the Fall makes me think of my high school’s football games, praying before the start, or praying before our races. We pray for God to be with us as we near exams, the end of the fourth quarter, and that we may survive the Winter. There is optimism in this knowing that Spring one day will come, when the gloves return to the drawer, our cars can start with no struggle, and the grass begins to turn green and soon enough we will be praying for AC again.

Thoughts on the BU Study on Sexual Assault

There were numerous statistics and numbers on the BU sexual assault survey that came out last week. The quantifiable measurements were innumerable. Many of those statistics were quite disheartening, shocking, and downright demoralizing.

One such statistic that I felt was missing was that of an emotional statistic. What is the response to such numbers by the BU community emotionally? How do people feel answering the study? What are the emotional implications of trauma? If each story is personal and important, how do we then move from a stat sheet to an in-person conversation?

These are questions that I’ve been struggling with after reading over the survey. As a member of the associate team at Marsh Chapel, I feel as though I have a responsibility to help those in all times of crisis. I seek to make people feel whole and valued. I look at these daunting numbers and I feel a bit overwhelmed. It’s hard to clarify a solution in my head about what the best course of action to take is. However, I do know that the quantifiable measurements of suffering will not fix a problem, but are the first step in answering the call to help.

Fostering an Environment of Care and Inclusion on Campus

University culture provides an environment that hosts room for under sight and it becomes the social responsibility of the community to protect one another. Regarding the campus survey of Boston University, the first part of the survey focuses on bystander involvement, intervention, and interaction. I am pleased to see that a majority of students who witness something they deemed wrong or inappropriate in public or heard something that is not tolerable towards another person spoke up or acted upon it. This statistic regarding bystander intervention brings some reassurance that the community of BU is looking out for each other.

But that is not enough. There are still ongoing circumstances where obscene comments, gestures, and interactions occur and do not come to light. The Marsh community has the resources to help change this. While many students and members of the BU community may not be religious or engaged in their faith, the Marsh Chapel community is open and accepting of all and wants students facing these kinds of problems to come and seek guidance and counsel. Many people in the statistic regarded their unpleasant or unwarranted encounters as not worthy or important enough to be made a case of, however it claws away at their insides as they do not know what to do. This is a serious issue if it happens at all. While nearly 7% of students intervene as they see fit, the other 30% where it is silently observed and forgotten does not help those affected by it. It is in this manner that I think more members of the BU community should reach out to the proper care found in the Marsh community where the healing process can begin. I cannot recommend a particular way of getting people to talk or open up about the experiences they have had, but sharing the compassion to help someone in need is the first step.

Marsh Chapel should have an understood advertisement that it does offer counseling services. Students often think that BU behavioral health is not the only place to seek counsel. Clergy and pastoral counselors are trained in these matters and can help where other types of professionals may seek a different method. What pastoral counseling offers is someone who will listen, earnestly and with good intention. Clergy provide a different type of care than many health-based professionals are capable of doing or trained to do. As far as personal experience goes, word of mouth and recommending visiting Marsh is a great tool because it can help an individual based on an intimate system of trust. It doesn’t cast a wide net by word of mouth but if the person follows up on that recommendation it may be of great benefit.

Inclusive Faith

This semester I am taking an American Sign Language (ASL) class here at BU in order to more familiarize myself with that form of communication for my teaching years to come. That being said, one of the assignments for this class is to attend at least two deaf events in the Boston area. As a result, last Sunday I took some time to travel out to Newton Centre to experience a ASL Catholic mass. I initially went in order to fill the course requirement and to become more comfortable in a signing first environment. And while this was accomplished, I was surprised to find myself asking the question, “Why is there not a signing priest?”

This is not meant to be so much of a critique as much as an observation. The priest himself apologized many times for not knowing ASL but each time he did I wondered why he has not learned. Or why haven’t the dioses sent over a deaf/ signing priest to lead this mass more affectively? Surely there is a priest in Boston who knows ASL. And if there is not, then maybe that in of its self has to be addressed. Which leads me to a topic of recent discussion; inculturation. In short, inculturation takes on the idea that every congregation has one culture, and this is the culture that the church should address. However, the debate that comes out of this is that in most every congregation, there is no one culture to address. More often than not, a congregation is made up of countless backgrounds and traditions that may have different means of prayer and faith formation.

So to tie this back to my visit: the dioses may have sent one, English speaking priest to this congregation after seeing that most of the population is hearing. However, how can this system be improved so that the other families who are deaf, or who have cultural differences do not have barriers that make it difficult for them to more fully benefit from a weekly mass?

I also should also clarify that this is not subjected strictly to Catholicism so much as Catholicism is the only example that I have in experiencing this divide. But maybe this is something to be addressed in all religions. How can we make our faiths more inclusive to all? Not just in morality which has been a massive battle in the 21st century. But in accessibility which seems to be overshadowed by its equally important cousin.

Acts of Faith: Lessons from Las Casas

“El entendimiento conoce voluntariamente cuando aquello que conoce no se le manifiesta inmediatamente como verdadero, siendo entonces necesario un previo raciocinio para que pueda aceptar que se trata en el caso de una cosa verdadera[…] procediendo de una cosa conocida a otra desconocida por medio del curso de la razon […] El entendimiento es el principio del acto humano que contiene la raiz de la libertad […] Efectivamente, la razón toda de la libertad depende del modo de ser del conocimiento, porque en tanto quiere la voluntad en cuanto el entendimiento entiende.” (Las Casas, 1942: 81-82).

“Por el contrario, Las Casas se propone un doble acto de fe: a) en el Otro como otro (porque si no se afirma la igual dignidad del Otro y se cree en su interpelación no hay posibilidad de acuerdo racional ético), y b) en la pretensión de la aceptación por el Otro de la propuesta de una nueva doctrina, lo que exige por parte del Otro también un acto de fe.” (Dussel, 2008: 175)

A few weeks ago Br. Larry suggested that we write blog posts on NYT’s 1619 Project. As you can tell, basically nobody has done it, which I’m so sorry for – oops. Sorry, Br. Larry. But I’m finally doing it. I will admit that I was overwhelmed about it. I didn’t think I would be able to write about it at all, and hopefully everyone would forget the prompt was even issued, and then we’d just – move on. Because I don’t know how to write about the brutality and genocide of slavery. I am so terribly afraid of doing the great injustice of America even more injustice, even if through a singular blog post in this little corner of the Internet.

Then I heard Jess’ sermon last week. She talked about how a mustard seed size of faith can uproot a mulberry tree and how doubt and fear are the opposite of faith and how the world is a terrible and awful place and it makes us feel small, but how the next generation of leaders, especially faithful and interfaithful leaders, is working hard every day to recognize the dignity and wellbeing of all people. And I thought: Damn Jess, how did you know I was putting off this blog post??

Then, also, I read a lot of Las Casas and Dussel for one of my Spanish classes. Las Casas says that understanding is the human action at the root of all liberty. Dussel says that this understanding is constituted by a “double act of faith,” and that Las Casas is the first criticism of Modernity and also perhaps the first real Modern philosopher.  It was Las Casas, after all, who grew up in a world that relied, both culturally and economically, on the commodification of humans. A capitalist society built on the exploitation of land and labor. And it was also Las Casas who took a critical look at his reality and chose to reject it. Talking about privilege is uncomfortable and hard and that takes faith too, because what you know does not manifest immediately as what is true. Las Casas had the radical faith to step into a world unknown because the known world is unforgivable. And, when you are in a position of power, it is a radical grace that allows you to grant all others equal dignity.

Implicitly, Las Casas suggests that truth and knowledge are two very different things. By extrapolation, I believe that to understand the real significance of one’s knowledge is a means to truth. Yet the threads of eugenicism woven into the very fabric of our society, the enormous brutality and violence born of a persistent and foundational racism, feel too great to be countered by the ‘double act of faith’ that Las Casas proposes. It’s my mustard seed size faith staring at a mulberry tree. It is through daily actions that faith allows me to step forward, foster understanding, reject the pieces of reality that I do not see fit to accept. The act of decolonization relies on the refusal of the status quo. The process of liberation relies on the construction of understanding.