by Jennie Kiffmeyer
During Lent, members of the Miami Episcopal Student Ministry have been meeting each Thursday night at Holy Trinity. Tobie Dahlman, Michael Willis, and I have hosted these intimate gatherings. We call our group “Soul Starters” with a nod to our love of noshing (i.e., a starter course) and our desire to open a welcoming space for soulful conversation. Along the way, we’ve discovered a few things about ourselves, about ways we worship, and our relationships with God.
We begin each week by checking in and introducing ourselves to anyone new joining us. Once ready, each person lights a tea candle and is invited to think or speak a short intention or prayer for our time together. Topics often grow out of conversation from the week before. We have been guided through a visualization of what it means to forgive others and ourselves. We’ve talked about our images of God, prayed with art, and discussed what draws us to church Sunday mornings.We meet in the church library with the sounds of the choir practicing nearby. We’ve found that it provides a well-timed soundtrack underneath our discussion or during moments of thoughtful silence. (Thank you, Choir!)
While discussion is definitely the favorite mode of being with our bunch, Tobie and I usually have an activity planned, too. When talking about “doing church,” we brought in a variety of objects–a cross, Bible, Book of Common Prayer, candles, flowers, rock, shekere, bread and a chalice filled with red grapes (“proto wine,” we called it) and arranged them on a table. Each person was then asked to select an item that we needed to do church together. One missing item was noticed right away: “people!” one student said. “That’s what I choose”–and that night, the “people” would be us. Others chose the rock, the bread and grapes, the cross and the Bible. We then talked about why we chose the one item we did. One student spoke eloquently about the importance of the Eucharist for him. This led to a conversation about what it’s like to be a Lay Eucharistic Minister. This same student has since decided to become one and plans on serving as a chalice bearer this summer. Showing us yet again that gathering is about making room for how the Spirit may be moving in our lives.
When Soul Starters rejoined after Spring Break, we decided to talk about journeys, large and small. We then explored other forms of prayer such as Visio Divina or “Divine Seeing.” Related to Lectio Divina, this is a way to pray through the visual arts. As the spring light was fading outside and the candlelight in the library grew more pronounced, I played a slide show of various images I had collected during the past week. Some were Lenten images by our very own Campus Missioner Karl Stevens, others were drawn from Vanderbilt’s “Art in the Christian Tradition” database. After a period of reflection and writing, people were invited to share their thoughts on the images. We talked about the image of a Roman sandal from around the year 200 CE which led us to thinking about our own mundane sneakers and flip flops that have carried us around Oxford, and for some, even to other holy places around the world. We marveled at the coziness in a 15th c. painting by Fra Angelico of Mary, Joseph and Jesus’ flight into Egypt. But mostly we talked about an image by Karl of a young man outstretching his hand. Its mysteriousness and boldness intrigued us. Where is he? Who is he? What does the symbol on his t-shirt mean? What is he doing there? More divine seeing.
Back home, I returned to my poetic fragments inspired by the art we looked at that night. I did some light revision. Deciding that I wanted a more engaging visual presentation for an online audience and one that melded art and poetry, I chose prezi as the format and am including a link here. (A footnote: my eleven year old son was sitting next to me while I made it, offering advice on image placement and even some poetry suggestions–showing that prezi is not too difficult to use if you have never made one! If you get into trouble, let me know. I can send him around.) The piece has grown from a group exercise to a personal expression. I hope you enjoy it, but I also hope it might inspire you to try one of your own, either with the same images or one with pictures of your own choosing. The fun is in seeing what might emerge.
When a beloved high school student and member of the church, Kathryn Hamilton, suddenly died in March, we made a space to talk about our feelings of shock and sadness about her death. We also talked more generally about our experiences when someone we knew had died. It was a delicate balance of honoring the need to talk about Kathryn as well as honoring the fact that some of us did not know her.
That same night I had brought in several quotes from the Old and New Testaments that featured different images of God such as shepherd, warrior, rock, mother bear, eagle, father and creator. The quotes were on slips of paper arranged on a table, and we took turns picking one, reading it aloud to the group and talking about how it resonated with our own experience.
I was struck by how much we gravitated toward those images that we especially needed at this moment in our lives. One student, weeks away from graduation, chose Scripture describing God as an omniscient and loving presence. Another, who is studying criminal justice, responded positivity to the image of God as shield and warrior. I, feeling tender about lives just beginning and suddenly ending, chose a passage describing God as a mother eagle who “stirs up its nest, and hovers over its young….” A God who “spreads wings to catch you, and carries you on pinions.” (Deut. 32:11-12)
As we continue on our journeys from Lent into Easter, from spring semester to summer jobs, graduation, or other new adventures, I trust and hope that we will feel God’s comforting presence while She stirs up the nest in ways that continue to produce deepening friendships, laughter, and the need always for conversation about the ways we connect with God and with one another.