Wednesday, October 17, 2012

More than Surviving: the Calling of Christian Students

A few years ago, Stanley Hauerwas wrote a wonderful piece on the calling of the university student. Here is the link to it. What follows is the short-hand case, through the lens and observations of a parish priest turned chaplain, for why students and the rest of us should read it.

While at the university, students become accustomed to a standard set of questions: "What is your name? In what year are you in your program? What is your discipline and/or major?" Many times (though not all the time) conversations will continue around the theme of "and what do you hope to do with that?" These questions are not good or bad in themselves, they just are, and they are common. Combined, though, with the student's preexisting sense (or lack thereof) of after-graduation direction, these questions can add to a building feeling of anxiety about the unknown future (is there any other kind?). Indeed, many adults, long after college, continue to invest a disproportionate amount of stress and energy around questions of what they will be when they finally grow up. Discernment, in this vein, primarily sees itself as about the discovery of the place where one isn't yet.

But discernment, for Christians, is much richer than the futile attempt to control uncertain futures. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus give us the life with God and victory over death that we could not give ourselves, and subsequently free us for more than doomed attempts to (as Hauerwas puts it) "get out of life alive." Grounded in the gift of God's self, Christian discernment becomes less about where I should go next and more about where I am now and - most of all - about how God is acting in and is present to the here and now that is. Christian discernment awakens my awareness of God at work in the present moment: seeking and serving Christ in all persons.

What a gift this is, I think, for students: God calls Christians to be students. Indeed, that God makes Christian-students possible is a gift to the whole Church: and not as an investment for an uncertain future, but rather as faithful engagement of the world in the light of the Gospel, here, now, today.

From the end of the article:

"To worship God and live faithfully are necessary conditions if you are to survive in college. But as a Christian you are called to do more than survive. You are called to use the opportunity you have been given to learn to construe the world as a creature of a God who would have us enjoy—and bask in—the love that has brought us into existence. God has given your mind good work to do. As members of the Church, we’re counting on you. It won’t be easy. It never has been. But I can testify that it can also be a source of joy."

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