Relationships are Key

Part of what I always loved about teaching on a college campus is the beginnings.  I really enjoyed those days before the beginning of a new semester in the Fall when students began drifting back to campus.  Usually the athletes descended in their respective sport droves.  Sometimes the marching band also gathered before the beginning of classes.  And as the years have evolved, there are more special interest groups that come back early for special pre-semester programs.  We see Honors’ programs and others in these days.

College campuses are changing these days.  There is so much being done online and with hybrid kinds of classes.  But for residential campuses, there still is something special about the days leading up to the beginning of classes.  As students drift back, the campus literally comes alive with energy and vibrancy.  It is like a collegiate springtime after the dormancy of winter---only these seasons are reversed, since a college’s dormant period is summer.

I enjoy this returning experience every year, even though I have no responsibilities for the activities that bring back students.  What I find is what I will call a “seeping effect.”  That means all I need to do is hang around the edges of the activities and the energy and vibrancy seep into my environment.  In fact, I often do some things that enhance that seeping effect.

Let me elaborate.  One thing I like to do is drift by the practice fields and into the gyms to watch some athletes begin their workouts.  It is fun to see the returning students greet each other after a summer absence.  It is also easy to pick out the first year students who usually have no friends yet.  Often they don’t quite know what to do.  No one is embracing them and typically they are not laughing like the older ones.  However, their awkwardness is short-lived.  Never again on campus will they be the rookies.

It becomes personal for me when I am at some venue and students whom I have had in class in previous years come up to me and greet me.  They might be football players or theater majors.  They are all human beings and it is the human being whom I came to know pretty well during a semester together in class.  In fact, I don’t even like calling them “students.”  That sounds too cold and objective.  I prefer to see them as my friends.  We have built a relationship.

And it is that relationship that is being rekindled when a football player trots off the field with an extended hand to greet me.  It is that relationship that is being re-engaged when a theater major jumps off stage and runs to me to embrace me with vigorous hug.  I feel affirmed, grateful, invigorated.  In the terminology of my spiritual vocabulary, I feel blessed.  I have been given a gift that I could never go somewhere to buy.

Having introduced the spiritual into the reflection, allow me to play it out even further.  When I think about spirituality, relationships are the key.  Spirituality is not first of all about beliefs or theology.  I am all too aware that folks often begin talk about religion with a statement about “believing in God.”  This is not wrong so much as it is inadequate.  I believe in God, too.  But that does not actually tell you much about God or me.

The experience of spirituality typically is just that: experience.  Experience affirms a first-hand acquaintance with the Holy One.  Experience can talk about “knowing” God instead of merely “knowing about” God.  And it is this experience that is the beginning of relationship.  If I share my spirituality, I am sharing my relationship with God.  Unlike the beginning of a school year, which only happens once a year, my spiritual relationship is a daily factor.

Using the analogy of going to the football field to be greeted by some players, I try spiritually to go daily to the “place” where God is.  Of course, that is not a church building or any other kind of building or field.  The “place” where God can be found is in the human heart.  I go there by prayer, meditation, study---there are a host of disciplines designed to pull me from the busyness of the ordinary world and draw me inside and deep into my spiritual center.

If I can do this on a disciplined basis, then I do form a relationship with the Holy One.  I learn to live in love.  I am taught how to be at peace.  I revel in the possibility of living a centered life---that is a life grounded in the Presence of God.  That does not mean my troubles are over and nothing bad can happen.  But it does mean I am in a relationship that will never fail me.

In that kind of relationship the hand of God will always be extended, just as truly as the football player’s hand is thrust toward me, to welcome me back into relationship---every day and in every time.  Relationships are key.

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