By: Michelle Wheatley
A professor on campus describes divine mystery as an encounter with God which brings us to silence—not because there is nothing to say, but because even after we have exhausted everything there is to say about God, there is still something more to experience.
As a campus minister, I am privileged to stand with students as they both seek and meet the mystery of God in all aspects of college life. I can attest to the fact that, even in this post-modern and technological age, when we fear that our students no longer find anything of value in institutionalized religion, they have not given up on the notion of experiencing God in community, in Church. In fact, their questions and needs hold us accountable as parents and educators. Students expect us to model and teach the path of an integrated faith with both personal and communal meaning.
What do our religious rituals mean? Why do we participate in them? Do our liturgies inform our lives, and do our lives inform our liturgies?
In my experience, our students have a very low tolerance for “going through the motions.” Their time is precious, they have many tasks to accomplish quickly, and they are accustomed to being entertained. They also notice our inconsistencies, and they do not blindly accept policies that run contrary to their daily experience and to their concepts of justice. We need to deepen our understandings of our traditions so that we may hand them on in a way that is relevant and transforming.
On the other hand, we need to challenge our students to be intentional in their spiritual development, to take greater responsibility for their impact on their communities and to not resort to rugged individualism in the quest for God. We should encourage them to keep asking questions, keep wrestling with doubts and keep confronting us when we present them with rituals that don’t ring true. We should encourage them not to give up.
College is a wonderful time for students to face both their certainties and misgivings about God and Church. When this process is met with guidance and encouragement, students often arrive at the mystery of God—a vast, authentic and unmediated experience of the divine which radically redesigns their images of God, community and self…and brings them to a profound and awe-filled silence.
Conversation-starter with your student: What do you do at Gonzaga to explore and deepen your faith?