Saturday, May 10, 2008

ANOTHER BIG DAY ON THE MOUNTAIN

In order to see and hear the Baccalaureate Service of the University of the South’s sesquicentennial year celebration which was held in All Saints Chapel today, we had to watch closed circuit television at Guerry Hall on the campus, but we witnessed every moment of this wonderful ceremony. For me, the reading of Part One of the Sesquicentennial poem, “Sewanee When We Were Young” by Dr. Richard Tillinghast, a former Sewanee graduate, rated right up there beneath The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori’s address. Tillinghast, who now lives in Ireland and contributes to “The Irish Times” and “The Dublin Review of Books,” gave us a bit of nostalgia about Sewanee back when the University of the South was all-male, describing a time when a train called “The Dixie Flier” delivered young men to Sewanee. He said that all the southern boys thought their accent was only one accent (probably the one and only accent!), but soon found out that there were many southern accents in one state alone (I think of the variance between north Louisiana accents and southwest Louisiana Cajun accents!) He also said that Yankees were regarded as “exotic.” Tillinghast quoted Faulkner’s line from “Requiem For A Nun” (now being revived in NYC, by the way, to be followed by Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying”): “The past isn’t dead; it isn’t even past” to describe the Sewanee campus with its Gothic architecture straight out of some medieval chapter of history and the prevailing segregation practices in the late fifties. Tillinghast ended his reading with a comment to the graduating students: “If we’re not having fun, we’re not serious enough.”

Then, Bishop Schori ascended to the Eagle’s Nest and in her confident, equable manner talked to the students about “provoking one another” (from the reading Hebrews 10:19-24 – “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds”). She described this provoking as a form of politics, leading a community into a different vision, larger than anyone has imagined, and said that to provoke people into action involves loving and doing good deeds, just as the reading in Hebrews enjoins. Bishop Schori quoted from Julian of Norwich, ancient anchoress, and called her a woman of greatly provocative work, along with Bishop Tutu, citing him as a provocative person who encouraged people to change the world into a just place, then talked about a Tennessee provocateur, The Rev. Becca Stevens who works with prostitutes and drug addicts in Magdalene House, a place that lifts prostitutes from the streets and prepares them for homeownership. Many of these women also work at Thistle Farms which produces all natural bath and body-care products. The Rev. Stevens took a group of these women to Rwanda to witness, and they have written a book called “Find Your Way Home” (Words from the street, Wisdom from the heart). Bishop Schori told the graduates that they didn’t need to jostle to be “in front” when they went out into the world and advised them to be like thistles in life’s field, objects of beauty but also bristly with provoking visions. She encouraged them to have “undefended hearts” that provoke others to become loving spirits, ending with the challenge: “Don’t just sit there and provoke one another – just go out and do it.”

Needless to say, this morning was a highly provocative time!
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