Director's Column December 2021
Center Director's Column
By Dr. Michael Trice
December 2, 2021
December 2021 Director's Column
The Center for Ecumenical and Interreligious Engagement, as you know, is turning this academic year into a listening year. To listen is not to be a passive instrument to every passing sound. This year is instead a time of discerning between sounds, between what should and can matter to the future of the Center in this university, in society, and within the world.
This month: Center students create video and audio content that is rooted in listening. We include an interview with Professor Diane Jacobson on the nuances of Hebrew Wisdom Literature in our lives. You’ll also hear from Professor Patricia Killen’s reflections that include the pulse of religious and spiritual identity emerging in a current context where society’s relationship to organized religion is shifting. We hear as well from the Taizé Community leadership – Brothers John and Emile – on how contemplative communities inspire us to respond in a unified way when the systemic evils of society distort our world.
Last month, in November, we listened to our twelve Center Scholars on how (given recent scholarship in the field of psychology on compassion or empathy fatigue), we can still pursue deeper reserves of generosity even amid exhaustion in a Pandemic Age. And then in the month before, in October, we presented a new multi-modular and interfaith resource on a spiritual and religious response to the environment, called Faith for Earth. We did so in recognition of COP 26 in Glasgow that in significant ways did not respond to the crises of climate change or of global biodiversity.
Let’s take a step back: In November of 2019, many of us were attuned to news of a virus that was impacting a local community in Wuhan, the capital of the Hubei Province. Two years later, we are still living in a pandemic, mindful now that even with a vaccine to address the current Delta variant, none of us are immune to breakthrough infections or to vaccine decisions that inhibit our health and effect the health of others.
Religious and wisdom traditions help us this month to listen anew. This is a time in the calendar year starting with the glowing of Diwali in November, as that season of light celebrated by Newar Buddhists, Hindus, Jains and Sikhs, and a triumph of the victory of light over darkness. Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights in the Jewish tradition, includes themes of recovery and rededication this week. And the western Christian tradition of Christmastide, following Advent and into the Feast of Epiphany, prepares the heart and mind for the anticipation of the Christ child, and the illumination of a new promise for abundant life through the heart of God to the world.
This is a time as well, in which we listen to our own lives and of those we love. It is a time where we welcome silence too. If our inner lives include judgment, clamor, and chaos, then silence will be difficult to hear; we require ways of cultivating an inner peace. Perhaps yearning for the ideal of a monastery on a hill or restful valley is more often a projection of our own hunger for locating that inner reservoir of silence within ourselves.
Silence is never empty space either. A well-known 2011 report by the World Health Organization called noise pollution a “modern plague” noting how “exposure to environmental noise has adverse effects on the health of a population.” You and I know much more now about how a plague feels. What is the vaccine to so much cultural, societal, and global noise? An appeal for silence is not an invitation for an escapist moral response to the world. Rather, when you take the time to reconnect in silence you can be replenished. We learn this month that preliminary scientific studies reveal that your hippocampus, a key neural region for processing learning, memory, and emotion, can develop new cells, and assist with depression and Alzheimer’s disease associated with decreased rates of neuron regeneration. Religious rituals include intentional times for silence, meant as well to be regenerative for the soul.
This month one of our student affiliates created a Sparking Your Imagination Video on Silence (viewable below), and she concludes the brief video with a question for you: How do you find silence in your day? It is an important question. Rather than wait for it, the Center is encouraging this month that you intentionally seek it and make time for the cultivation of your own internal stores in a pandemic age that continues to exact so very much from the world.
Finally, in a time of Hannukah, the sacred text of 1st Kings 19 reminds the reader that after the calamities of our time – after the shattering and splitting, after the whirlwind and quaking earth – the eternal is found in a soft murmuring sound, often times in a whisper.
And this is why we are grateful to our Center Advisory Council, who in December and January are offering us reflections and meditations. These are read aloud by our Center Student Affiliates. I encourage you to listen to these in the newsletter. Please continue to reach out to me with any questions or suggestions. As the Center’s Director, I value that conversation with you! Now how about some silence.
Michael Reid Trice, PhD
Spehar-Halligan Professor and Director
Center for Ecumenical and Interreligious Engagement