Convocation Invocation & Benediction, September 17, 2016

Fall Convocation 2016 – 2017                                                       September 17, 2016


One of the sages of our time, the Franciscan contemplative and teacher of mysticism Richard Rohr, writes that “We do not think our way into a new way of living; we live our way into a new way of thinking.”

He’s trying to name a mystical truth that becomes more vivid with every passing day one spends in this learning community.  In the early weeks at Williams, it may seem that thinking is the work that occupies the on-duty, business hours – and living is what accounts for the rest.  But then over the months and years – as the projects deepen, as the bonds strengthen, as the questions become more urgent and the imagination more nimble – slowly and steadily living and thinking become harder and harder to tell apart.

Now, poised on the threshold of one final year here, perhaps thinking and living have begun to reveal themselves to you as two names for the same whole: two parts of a single way of being intellectually and spiritually and ethically alive and awake in this world.

This world, as we will hear today and all year, is crying out for people who are alive and awake enough, of mind and heart, to both think their way and live their way to a new sense of the whole, with a new urgency and a fresh and nimble imagination.

So as a new year begins,

May we find the tenacity of mind we’ll need to think our way, along the paths of our chosen disciplines, to a way of living on this planet that is new enough to heal it.

May we find the courage of conviction we’ll need to think our way, along the path of justice, to a way of living on this planet that is new enough to make one family out of the human race.

May we find the patience and the hope we’ll need to live our way through a journey that has its discouraging, discomfiting times.

May we find the joy we’ll need to live our way to a new way of thinking that is alive and awake to the wholeness of this life, this earth, this community.

In the name of all that is sacred to each of us alone,
and all that is sacred to all of us together.

So be it.

The Rev. Dr. Richard E. Spalding
Chaplain to the College



At this time of year, the lectionary of Jewish biblical reading finds us in the middle of Deuteronomy, the grand Farewell Address of Moses to the Jewish people.

The Israelites are standing on the threshold of the Promised Land.  I’m imagining many people are impatient with Moses’ talking, thinking:  let’s get going already and finish this journey—we’ve been on the road for 40 years—I want  to finally see this land we’ve been hearing about.  Instead, Moses gives this long talk–I know it’s “long” because in the synagogue it takes us about two months to read through Deuteronomy–about living ethically, caring for the land, and caring for each other.  He intentionally pauses outside the Land, I believe, to ask people to think not just about the end before them, but about the journey that remains.

By way of a blessing for all of you, I wish you the same:  that in your anxiousness to get to the end of the road, you do not think just about the end, but how you’re living during this last quarter of the journey.  Even as Moses blessed the Israelites at the end of his journey, you can add your blessings to the life of this campus between now and June.   You can purposefully be a good friend to members of this class with whom you already have shared so much, and will share more.  You can patiently help edit your friend’s resume.  You can mentor friends from younger classes who can benefit from your experience.  You can hold a door open for someone who is following behind you.  You can comfort someone who didn’t get the job she thought she would.  You can tell professors, and dining service personnel, and coaches, and the folks who help to clean your dorm how much you appreciate that they work hard for you every day.  You can take a long walk to a beautiful hill- top to be good to your body and your soul.  In these last months, there still is opportunity to join with people to think about the spiritual dimensions of your life. .  You can call your parents—it will make them happy!    By being a blessing to those around you, you will be a blessing for yourself.  If you are a living and breathing blessing to this community, every last day of your senior year, then you will understand the meaning of “promised land”, and can proudly ascend that stage at graduation.  For each of you, I pray that the blessing of this year will be, if I can put it more succinctly than Moses, how ethically you live, how you care for the land, and how you care for one another.  Amen.

Cantor Robert Scherr
Jewish Chaplain