Spirituality In (and Out of) the Classroom
If you’re a student entering a new academic year you may be excited for the opportunity of new beginnings, a chance for new friendships and learning new things. But you might be wondering how your spiritual life fits into a new school year — or even the search for a new job. Some may find that their spiritual life is lacking, or not even close to a top priority, as they work to earn a degree. For everyone, though, spirituality plays some kind of role in his or her academic or professional career.
While most enter university studies to earn a degree that will lead to a career, there is another layer that motivates us to pursue and endure long hours of work and study: a search for meaning and truth. God is ultimately the one who places the seed within you that causes you to pine for purpose, and leads you to seek. Education often leaves you with more questions than you had when you began, but the faith life says this is okay. You can embrace the mystery of the questions and allow new knowledge to lead to even more questions, because they lead you deeper into the mystery of God. Reason and intellect are gifts that give practical help in life, but that doesn’t mean faith is not intimately integrated. St. Augustine spoke a lot about the integration of faith and reason; they should be held in a balance. Faith gives us the desire to pursue our intellectual gifts whether or not we yet see evidence for them.
Whether you are beginning a school year or searching for just the right job, you may find that your intellectual gifts are just out of sight, just beyond the horizon. Faith leads you forward into discovery. If you’re an undeclared freshman, you have the freedom and room to explore many subjects and let your heart reveal what draws you into one thing or another. That journey should not be a “figuring out” but rather a natural process guided by your interior movements. If you’re in the midst of finding a job or hoping you’re going down the “right” career path you can trust that faith will push you ahead to discover the truth. A choice now doesn’t necessarily mean permanence. Even you have time to discover!
Your role in God’s world
Learning is an opportunity to look within and beyond ourselves. We make self-discoveries and uncover meaning in the world around us. So how can one find God in a government course or a biology core requirement? The key is seeing that God is in all subjects, all parts and all systems — all play a part in God’s (and our) world. Everything fits together and each person who decides to explore his or her role in it glorifies God by engaging their intellect and taking an interest in creation.
Whether a student on campus or someone in a new career, you also get to understand how others play a co-role in the work of God’s world. You’re more than a cog in a machine. You have a leadership role alongside your peers, professors and co-workers. Think about the parable of Jesus feeding the 5,000. Jesus did not simply pass out the bread and fish on his own. Each person passed the basket to the next person, taking just enough for themselves. The image of breaking bread is one that reminds us about the sharing that holds a community together. This is no different than a supportive community who can go beyond self-absorbed academics or ladder climbing and share with one another their own search for meaning. In this way the community feeds and nourishes itself.
They say that all work can glorify God. This extends from the classroom into the working world, and many times you get there by way of degree. St. Ignatius of Loyola told his companions to go and set the world on fire — to go out and share what they had learned both intellectually and in their faith experience. Then, as Thomas Aquinas said, “love takes up where knowledge leaves off.” Our purpose in God’s world is to bring the love of God to others through all we have learned, and let it spread like a fire.
Enrich your faith life
But where can you find concrete and structured ways to enrich your faith life outside the classroom? How can you meet others who challenge you and push you to a deeper understanding of God? The first question to ask yourself is, What do you need? Your interior may be yearning for a group of people with whom you can openly discuss your faith. Or you may be looking to try a weekend retreat. Or perhaps you wish to seek opportunities for liturgical expression. Stop by your campus ministry office first. If you attend a school that is not Catholic or Christian, some have Newman Centers, which offer Mass, service opportunities and other pastoral services. Other schools have spiritual life offices that can direct you to resources on or off campus. Off campus can be a bit tougher but it’s worth the search. The best thing to do is just ask around. Most dioceses have young adult programs. Check your diocese’s website for faith-building opportunities for young adults. Your local parish may even have a strong young adult group.
Faith may not be on the top of a busy student or recent graduate’s mind, but these years are a formative time you won’t get back. It’s a time to ask the questions that lead you deeper into the mystery of God. It’s a time to find God lurking in all your studies no matter what they are.