When I was cleaning my office in preparation for our move to a new building, I decided it was time to go through my binders full of paper (no prior election puns intended) and recycle the many articles, notes, and manuscript drafts that had accompanied me from doctoral student to faculty status. I significantly thinned my office files, mostly of things that I now also have at electronic access or those that have become outdated. During my targeted purging, I came across three term papers that I saved. One wasn’t that great and earned a “B” from someone who knew I could do better and said so repeatedly in the feedback; I saved that as a reminder to strive high. The second I worked on thoroughly and had a breakthrough in the midst of writing it, really “getting” psychometrics in a way that has helped me vastly in my career; it earned an “A” from someone who rarely gave that grade so I retained it as a badge of honor. The third paper I saved was from an elective class I signed up for that arguably had little directly to do with my dissertation, but I was drawn to take by something deeper in my spirit. Even in the midst of doctoral studies, I listened to that voice, probably much to my advisor’s chagrin.
The course I signed up to take in Fall 2001 was in the religious studies department, and was a topical seminar on Soul, Self, and Person from the framework of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It was taught by an Islamic Studies professor and was deeply rooted in both original source religious documents as well as readings from the Western philosophers Plato and Aristotle. I remember that class vividly, and those memories are interwoven with the political and social landscape of that time in history, including September 11, 2001. I found myself in my office, more than 10 years after taking the class, holding a term paper in my hands titled, “The Breath of Life and the Good Death” which sourced itself in Plato’s Phaedo. In my essay, I situated the religious origins of when life begins, and when it ends, in the concept of the Ruah, the Breath of Life.
Generally speaking, this is not territory we tread in social work. It is my territory, though, in so many ways. Spirit has remained with me across my exploration of religious traditions, my spiritual but not religious meanderings, my professional work and caregiving at the beginning…and end…of life, my moments of solitude, and my serendipitous connections with others on the journey. I deeply respect spirit as a human construct, as well as a religious one. After all, isn’t a PhD a Doctorate of Philosophy? My diploma says that. This is my area of philosophy, and like spirit, it has never left me.
Back in 2001, after the course ended, I tucked the term paper away in a notebook knowing that it may resurface at some later date, after my PhD, post tenure, when the time was right. That time is 2013, apparently. I have left it out on my desk, to be read and thought over and contemplated upon. Ideas need time to percolate.
Today, as if a little divine prod never hurts, I sat in my final morning of contemplative prayer with this week’s lectionary readings. I heard and held the words from the epistle reading from Galatians 5:25 “If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.”
I love it when work and life come together in the divine harmony of spirit. Thanks be to God.