On September 30, 2016, we celebrated the interfaith commitment of Chapman University while upholding our nation’s tradition of holding a worship service upon the inauguration of a President. People have asked for the copy of a meditation I gave at this Interfaith Service of Blessing upon the Inauguration of President Daniele Struppa at Chapman University – so here it is! Gail J. Stearns, Dean of the Wallace All Faiths Chapel
A teacher once decided to have her students memorize one of the most famously quoted passages of all time: Psalm 23. The children were given a month to do so – and one child named Josh was thrilled; but when he went to memorize all he could remember was the first line. The day came that the teacher asked the students to go in front of the class and recite the Psalm. When it came Josh’s turn, he walked up front and said proudly, The Lord is my Shepherd, and that’s all I need to know!
In some ways what we have been reflecting upon thus far in this Interfaith Service is what it is that is all you need to know – really know, as you take on this role as president. I have observed you, Daniele, in your role as Chancellor working tirelessly to create a space for the possibility – or should I say to a mathematician – creating conditions for the probability – for intellectual rigor, research, respectful debate and dialogue to occur. Yet, oddly, one of the things I have most admired is seeing you disappointed, and puzzled, and just not understanding it when others do not respond respectfully and ethically – when you see meanness and manipulation among those who work for you. There are those that do not act out of the same ethic.
Milarepa, mee’-la-rai-pa who lived in the 11th and 12th century near Nepal, wrote of the importance of acting with ethics and compassion, attaining what he describes of as indifference or equanimity, and one’s Bodhi-mind or highest Self: he writes:
To be one with indifference
is to stop all gossip;
To be good and compassionate
is to advance one’s Bodhi-mind
These are things that a wise one should do
But a fool can never distinguish a friend from a foe.
It is disappointing because when persons gossip or manipulate they cause someone else to feel unimportant or excluded. And that has been your work – to create the conditions where intellectually, academically all are included. As President, among your responsibilities and opportunities is creating and holding ever-expanding space where none are unwelcome or excluded. You will invite to the table, or is it allow for dozens and dozens of tables to pop up side by side – boardrooms, classrooms, research labs, office spaces, residence halls, for persons of all identities and cultures to find a home. You will invite those with financial means to have opportunities to give for those with little financial resources to receive an education, so that graduates will in turn go out and create spaces for opportunity for others in classrooms and courtrooms and film sets and hallways and neighborhoods. Upon your invitation others will thrive in ways you cannot predict.
What an amazing week celebrating this inauguration we have had at Chapman University! Wednesday in this space we welcomed Paul Davies, Yakir Ahronov, and Roger Penrose, renowned Quantum Physicists along with scholars of religion and philosophy. The week of meeting amazing people began more than a week ago for me, when I was honored to receive a guest brought to this Chapel by a faculty member: The Venerable Subul Sunim, Master Zen teacher from South Korea. Several of us had the opportunity to visit with him, and we talked of meditation, economics, the election, and peace within. Nobel laureate Vernon Smith and professor of Economics at Chapman University was sitting beside me, and at one point he turned to me and said, I have been thinking what it would be like for me to meditate. But I realized that may not be different from what I do – I carve out a space of 4 hours at a time just alone with my thoughts to think about economics… and I find creativity inside I never knew was there. And the Zen Master remarked that what Professor Smith just said was deeply profound. We heard a similar sentiment from Yakir Ahronov, National Medal of Science winner, when he said on Wednesday that when he faces a problem in Quantum Physics sometimes he carves out some space and just thinks, time disappears until he arrives at a solution.
What an amazing responsibility and opportunity you have – to invite into, and hold this space, so that Nobel laureates and National Science Award winners and first generation students alike can have the space to find creativity inside they never knew was there. You can’t guarantee what happens within the space, but you can create the conditions. When students enter my classroom as I teach, I ask them to turn off their cell phones (and some actually do!). Last semester a young woman thanked me saying those were the only 2 ½ hours all week she could think without being disturbed by her phone. When we teach in the classroom, we cannot guarantee that students will learn, but we create the highest probability that learning will occur.
Some of us were honored to hear poet Carolyn Forché read on Wednesday evening. When she opens her poem The Lightkeeper she cannot not guarantee that her reader will be moved. It begins like this:
A night without ships. Foghorns called into walled cloud, and you
still alive, drawn to the light as if it were a fire kept by monks . . .
but she creates the possibility that we will be encouraged, as she expresses in her final line, to
go toward the light always.
The problem is: I suspect at times it will feel like you not only hold this vision and create the space for creativity to occur, but it will feel like you are responsible for everything that goes right or wrong within the space itself. That everything depends upon you, that even functions that are the responsibility of others fall upon you. There is a story a friend of mine shares that has many layers of meanings depending upon how one hears it. It is a story my friend’s father told him. His father is from the Sufi tradition.
The father used to tell his son that in the early days in the old country, he and his community would prepare all their goods for market, carefully put them into a cart, and begin the long journey to the market. There was a dog that would accompany them that had its own function, including chasing the birds away so the goods would not be stolen or eaten. There was a hammock under the cart of goods available for when the dog grew tired, so he could jump up into the hammock and rest. The father told his son that if the dog stayed in the hammock riding under that load of goods too long, the dog came to believe it was he who was carrying the load.
Create the conditions for the highest probability, invite a wide diversity of persons to this place; and then observe – as creativity and innovation flourish. Amen.