Religious & Spiritual Life — Faith
Religious services, learning, community and mentorship
An interfaith message for the Amherst College community from the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life
Harrison Blum (00:11):
Hi there. I wish I could gather with you all on campus here in Chapin Chapel or maybe out on our beautiful first-year quad, but as we know, these are very different times. All of us here in Amherst's Office of Religious and Spiritual Life are thinking of you. We hope you're safe and getting by well enough and we wanted to share a few words, words to acknowledge the many types of loss our community is experiencing and also words of reflection and encouragement from our different religious and humanist perspectives. In the following messages, Amherst's religious and spiritual life advisors each speak from their own traditions. They may not all speak to you and some of you will have worldviews that we don't represent. My hope is that this interfaith offering will provide some witness, some comfort to you that in some way the sincerity of our care will be able to bridge the differences in our beliefs. With that, I welcome you to some blessings for these times.
Deacon Thomas Lynch (01:20):
Welcome. I invite us all to enter into the presence of our merciful God and to place all of our cares, concerns and worries in his hands.
Prof. Jyl Gentzler (01:32):
One of the best things about this health crisis is that through Zoom, I've been able to peer into so many people's homes that I otherwise wouldn't have had any chance to see, so welcome to my home. This is my daughter Eliza's old bedroom that I've converted into a home office after we could no longer go to campus.
Rabbi Bruce Bromberg Seltzer (01:50):
B'ruchim Hab'im. This common Hebrew greeting of welcome and blessing. It speaks to the possibilities that any gathering is one where we're open to God's presence and the possibility for the encounter to lead to a better future.
Rev. Anna Woofenden (02:09):
I invite you to still your bodies, quiet your mind, and open your heart to God's loving presence here with us.
Dr. Mark Hart (02:24):
I invite you to rest in the presence of your being at this moment and be at peace.
Manju Sharma (02:32):
Namaste. I invite the divine presence and welcome you to the sacred space we are creating together
Mohammed Abdelaal (02:41):
In the name of a law, the most compassionate, the most merciful. I pray to Allah almighty to be with us, to guide us and to bless this beautiful gathering of our hearts.
Rabbi Bruce Bromberg Seltzer (02:55):
Judaism views the flickering light of a candle as representing the fragility of humanity and the impermanence of our lives. I light this memorial candle to remember that each person is created in God's image.
Prof. Jyl Gentzler (03:11):
We've all experienced loss. Some of you like me have gotten off fairly easily. We've lost half a semester on campus and we've lost close contact with our students, our teachers, our friends, and some of our family members. But some of you may have suffered much more. Your parents may have lost a job or you may even have lost a loved one. The hard reality for all of us is that we just don't know what the future will bring and when this will all be over
Deacon Thomas Lynch (03:43):
Jesus Christ brought light into the world. A light that did away with the darkness of sin and death. At this time, we pray for all of those who have suffered a loss of a loved one or a friend as a result of the coronavirus. We pray also for those whose lives have been disrupted by this terrible plague on our country and the world. May the risen Christ, the light of the world, bring them comfort and peace.
Harrison Blum (04:14):
I like this candle now for all those who have lost lives during this pandemic. I wish them all well on their journey from the body and for those of us still living who love and remember them may the pain and heaviness of your hearts be continually washed over with love until your pain is a bit dulled and your heaviness a bit lighter.
Manju Sharma (04:38):
I light this candle to those who are affected by Covid-19.
Dr. Mark Hart (04:45):
I wish that the light of wisdom and compassion illuminate your experience at this time and lead to transformation.
Rev. Anna Woofenden (05:01):
I liked this candle remembering the multiple losses that we each hold and carry. The losses of being together physically in person, the losses of jobs, economic stability, the losses of loved ones, and the losses for the way of life that we knew,
Rev. Anna Woofenden (05:41):
We acknowledge together that for some these losses were already present and this time only intensifies them. And we give gratitude for how these losses can open our eyes and our hearts and our minds to the way that we are all connected and that we are called to love one another, to care for our neighbor.
Mohammed Abdelaal (06:15):
Yes, these are difficult times, but we need to persevere, be strong and pray. The Koran says in chapter two verse 155, we shall certainly test you with fear and hunger and loss of property, lives and crops, but give good news to those who are steadfast.
Harrison Blum (06:43):
We pause now to remember those we have lost and to think of those who struggle in these times.
Speaker 9 (06:49):
Harrison Blum (07:27):
Prof. Jyl Gentzler (07:28):
With all that we are suffering, I hope that this involuntary break from our ordinary lives is also giving you something that I believe is very valuable. An opportunity to think about what is genuinely important to you, to think about how you want to live your life both during this crisis and afterwards. I hope that this crisis leads you to appreciate the value of your life. How precious it is, why you shouldn't take a single moment of it for granted and how much you actually depend on and need to be with other people.
Mohammed Abdelaal (07:59):
During these trying and challenging times, the Koran teaches us in surah 57, verses 22 and 23, no calamity befalls in the earth or in yourselves without being written in a record before or bring it into being. This is certainly easy for Allah. We'll let you know this so that you neither grieve over what you have missed nor boast over what he has granted you for Allah does not like whoever is arrogant and boastful.
Rabbi Bruce Bromberg Seltzer (08:36):
The Book of Psalms has long been a refuge and source of comfort. Psalms 126 describes the wonders of a redemption when we returned to gladness and joy following the sadness of exile. In verse 5 : [Hebrew] They that sow in tears shall reap in joy teaches us this sadness and loss is followed by a future of hope and joy. The very tears with which we have in that loss are planted and lead to the bounties of the future redemption. We are now in isolation away from campus during this pandemic. We live a life both of physical and emotional exile and isolation. We're filled with sadness, loss, and frustrations. We need to learn from these emotions and bring them with us when we return to daily life and community. May we each find comfort in hope and future renewal.
Manju Sharma (09:53):
[Sanskrit prayer] asato mā sadgamaya, amaso mā jyotirgamaya, mṛtyor mā'mṛtaṃ gamaya,
Manju Sharma (10:07):
Lead us from unreal to real. Lead us from darkness to the light of knowledge. Lead us from death to immortality. May this wisdom guide us to realize our true and pure human being, within our unlimited identity with the cosmos.
Harrison Blum (10:30):
I've been reflecting recently on surrender and humility. I think at first there was some part of me that resisted just how much daily life was changing, a part of me that was fiercely holding onto my usual expectations as something I deserved or something I was entitled to. Expectations that seemed pretty modest. Like enjoying the company of colleagues and students over lunch in Val or inviting friends into my home, or just sharing some friendly words with a stranger on the street without worrying about how close we were or if we were wearing masks. As the weeks have passed, it's become more and more clear to me that a degree of surrender is not only warranted in this situation, but necessary to ease the heart and mind's well-intentioned, but at times counter-productive efforts to resist the reality of just how things are in the book, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, Shunryū Suzuki says in the beginner's mind, there are many possibilities, but in the experts there are few. In a way, we are all called to be beginners now. We haven't lived through something like this before and as we do, I wish for you all the ease and patience that can come with surrender and humility.
Rev. Anna Woofenden (11:54):
Madeleine L'Engle, a beloved author and a person of deep Christian faith once wrote when we were children, we used to think that when we were grown up, we would no longer be vulnerable, but to grow up is to accept vulnerability. To be alive is to be vulnerable. I find that many of us are wrestling with the vulnerability that we are experiencing in this time in the Christian tradition. Many of us look to Jesus, the Christ who walked on earth, who is vulnerable here in this broken and struggling world and we look to the power and the beauty of living in that vulnerability, knowing that while we are vulnerable, we are not alone, that we are loved by God and that we're connected to one another and that sometimes being aware and being willing to voice and be present to that vulnerability is where we find our strength.
Deacon Thomas Lynch (13:03):
Reading from the gospel of Saint Matthew. After the Sabbath on the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb, and behold there was a great earthquake for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approach rolled back the stone and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow. The guards were shaken with fear of him, became like dead men. Then the angel said to the women in reply, do not be afraid. I know that you're seeking Jesus, the crucified. He is not here for he has been raised, just as He said. You know, in these times of great uncertainty and at a time when many of the supports that we're accustomed to are no longer available to us, supports like a community of believers in church, mass sacraments. At a time when all of these things are not readily available to us, it is more important than ever that we trust in the word of God. We trust in the fact that the risen Christ brought us hope of salvation and freedom from darkness and despair. It's a time for us to remember, do not be afraid.
Dr. Mark Hart (14:29):
Word of the Buddha from the Discourse of Loving Kindness, the Mettā Sutta. May beings all live happily and safe and may their hearts rejoice within themselves. Whatever there may be with breath of life, whether they be frail or very strong, without exception, be they long or short or middle-sized or be the big or small or thick or visible or invisible, or whether they dwell far or they dwell near those that are here, those seeking to exist. May beings all rejoice within themselves. Just as a mother at the risk of life loves and protects her child, her only child, so one should cultivate this boundless love.
Harrison Blum (15:27):
As we near the end of this interfaith time together, I'm happy to share a special message from Pastor Tim Jones, Amherst class of 2004 and our bi-semester Christian worship fellow.
Rev. Timothy Jones (15:40):
Greetings Amherst fam. This is Pastor Tim here. To our graduating seniors, congratulations. You have come as the old saints would say a mighty long way. And so I'm so excited to be able to celebrate with you virtually in this unprecedented and perilous season. But it takes nothing from what you have accomplished. It takes nothing from the great joy that you should have to be able to celebrate right here, right wherever you are. Every week at church as I'm streaming to an empty sanctuary, I say God's house is wherever you are. God has prepared a sanctuary right in your homes. And so I want to declare to you that wherever you are, there is a graduation stage. Wherever you are, there is a time for celebration. Congratulations. Embrace it, enjoy it, and take a little while for it to sink in and allow the fact that you have crossed this finish line and yeah, they're going to be plenty others, but allow the fact that you crossed this finish line to be something that you celebrate in this moment and in so many more.
Harrison Blum (16:51):
And with that, just a few messages of farewell from the RSL advisors.
Mohammed Abdelaal (16:56):
Please know you are in my thoughts and prayers. I pray to Allah almighty to help us all stay safe. I pray to him to shower us with his infinite mercy and blessings. Amen.
Rabbi Bruce Bromberg Seltzer (17:13):
I look forward to a time when we can celebrate and care for each other in person. May we all find the support and comfort we need.
Manju Sharma (17:24):
Wishing you on the best on your journey. Keep smiling.
Deacon Thomas Lynch (17:30):
Please know that I keep you and your intentions in my prayer each day and may the blessing of almighty God, father, son, Holy Spirit come down upon you and remain with you forever. Stay safe.
Prof. Jyl Gentzler (17:43):
I hope that when you are taking this involuntary pause from your busy lives, you will also think about the ways in which this pandemic has revealed huge holes in our social fabric that we humanist will want to repair in whatever ways our talents and responsibilities allow. I wish you all the best as well as the competence and passion to be your very best and I look forward to seeing you again very soon.
Rev. Anna Woofenden (18:11):
Dear ones, as you go forth to love and to serve in the world, may God bless you and keep you. May God's face shine upon you and be gracious unto you. May God look kindly upon you and give you peace. Amen.
Dr. Mark Hart (18:34):
Blessings on all of you. I hope that your hearts can be at ease under these conditions and that you're a refuge to everyone you encounter.
Harrison Blum (18:45):
Please know that I'm available to you for spiritual counseling, grief support, and mindfulness coaching. I can also lead remote memorial services for you, your family and friends if you should find yourself mourning the loss of a loved one. I'm on hand through the summer and our team of religious advisors will resume their roles in mid-August after a summer break. Be safe, take care of each other and we'll get through this together.
RSL Director Harrison Blum is available throughout the summer to offer remote memorial services for Amherst students, faculty, and staff who have lost a loved one and are unable to gather in person to mourn and celebrate that person's life. One on one spiritual counseling, mindfulness coaching, and general support is also available via phone or Zoom. Contact Harrison (firstname.lastname@example.org) to learn more about these offerings.
RSL Advisors are also available for one one one remote support through the end of May, and will return to their roles August 15 after a summer break.
If you just need a quiet moment to pause, you might try one of our six guided meditations, each about 10 minutes long.
Finally, please let us know how we can best serve you in this changing time. We're here for you.
This past March we shifted many of our regular weekly programs to Zoom. The following sessions were available remotely between spring break and the end of classes. We look forward to knowing what fall 2020 will look like, and are committed to continuing to support the religious and spiritual lives of the Amherst community through whatever means are possible.
The Office of Religious and Spiritual Life (RSL) helps students to live their faith, explore spiritual practices, and make meaning within themselves and the world. We strive to meet each student where they are—whether continuing within a religious or humanist tradition, seeking among them, or exploring outside of them. We work to support personal wholeness, interfaith understanding, and collective wellbeing.
Our Religious and Spiritual Advisors look forward to meeting you and are available for individual counsel and advice. Most of these advisors have office hours (posted on this site) and all are available by appointment. Feel free to contact any of the staff by telephone, email, or in person. We value your comments.
Our offices are located in The Cadigan Center for Religious Life at 38 Woodside Avenue (south of Newport House and behind the President's House). Visit our campus map to see where the Cadigan Center is in relation to the rest of campus. Due to COVID-19 concerns, the building is closed until further notice.