A Note From the Chaplain for the Beginning of the Fall Term
If you're new to King’s, welcome! If you're returning, welcome back!
As many who read this will be very well aware, in the tradition to which King’s belongs, the quest for wisdom is understood to be a shared quest, in which the encounter with those who may sharply disagree with us is essential. This is represented in the Chapel by the arrangement of seats on either side of a central aisle, facing one another. We cannot so much as finish a psalm without relying on those on the other side to pick up our prayer and carry it. We may not particularly like them. They may not particularly like us. But all the same we need each other to complete our prayer. In the same way, we cannot gain understanding or the wisdom we seek without the encounter with those who challenge or bewilder or even frighten us.
Not to put too fine a point on it, community is essential to both our thinking and the purification and lifting up of our desires in prayer. But community can be tough. And we often discover things about ourselves as we live together that can be difficult. We could use a reliable guide who knows the terrain.
Jean Vanier is such a guide. The son of a former Governor General and a PhD in Philosophy, he left the University of Toronto in the early 1960s to live with two men with intellectual disabilities. It was the beginning of an exploration of what it means for human beings really to live together that continues in over two hundred L'Arche communities around the world today.
In two lectures Vanier gave at Harvard some years ago, he talks clearly, concisely, and with conviction born of experience about the promise and the challenges of life together. The two lectures were turned into a little book, From Brokenness to Community. Copies were available late in August. We are out now, but more will be coming. Tell me if you would like one set aside for you.
My hope is that this year this short text may illumine some of the most important dimensions of our life together at Kings. These have to do with the love that reaches across real, substantial and sometimes difficult differences. If we cannot learn such love at Kings, where we have such remarkable resources, where will we learn it?
This past week Fr Christopher Snook, Senior Fellow in the Foundation Year Program, helped us begin to read and reflect Vanier's little book in three talks at Evening Prayer on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Very soon both electronic copies in Word and audiofiles will be available on the Chapel website at kingschapel at ca. Meanwhile, there are printed copies at the back of the Chapel.
As we begin the year, my hope is that we may learn together something more of what St Anthony the Great (c. 251 - 356) was talking about when he said, 'Our life and our death is with our neighbour.' All around us and within us are voices that tell us that our neighbour is most often a hindrance to life or even that 'hell is other people' (Jean-Paul Sartre). At the same time we moderns are often afraid and lonely. Here is an important question that stands before each one of us. What better place than King’s to take it up together?
God bless to us this new academic year.
Under the Mercy,
The Rev'd Dr Ranall Ingalls, Chaplain
The University of King’s College