It wasn't the site of the clustered brick, white-columned buildings nestled in a leafy hollow, spotted as I rode through the East Tennessee literal hill and dale to arrive at my 30-year college reunion, mid-October. The sight of of the small campus did cause me to tear up. And then feel a little silly for doing so. It wasn't lunching with two running buds that I had not seen in 10 years. Nor was it visiting beloved professors and seeing other acquaintances who all shared a devotion for our small college experience and the institution that birthed it. It was the visit with one of those special professors after reading in the homecoming brochure that an institute was being opened and named in his honor. Not just any institute, but The William Blevins Institute for Spirituality and Mental Health.
When he picked me up on campus mid-afternoon, my companion asked me what I enjoyed most about my day. It was a question that I never answered that day or the next--my response interrupted by some now unremembered distraction. But when he asked me again two days later, my memory summoned the same recollection: a too short visit with Dr. Bill Blevins and the realization that my alma mater was opening an Institute for Spirituality. My companion had recently remarked on several occasions that even Nashville's Church of Christ-affiliated university, David Lipscomb, had begun a spirituality program. My. Times are changing. And, oh, so for the better. I believe.
This excites me because my own spiritual journey has taken me from a conservative background, a Baptist college, employment in Southern Baptist communications (for 11 years--two decades ago,) to a broader experience of a higher, non-sectarian power. At age eight, I questioned church leaders: "But how could a God who is so good and loving condemn to hell the people he's created?" And: if a person did not believe what we did, why did it make us right and them wrong?)
It would take decades of ebbing and flowing through the murky waters of familial, institutional and Southern culture-infused religion for me to finally uncover what rang true for me: That we are all One. We (almost) all seek a connection with the divine in some manner in our human, earthly exisitence. And not only are we not separate from one another, we are not truly separate from the power that made us.
I am not trying interject that these are the ideas that my alma mater's institute will be teaching. These are the reflections of my own spiritual journey. But, I do celebrate and rejoice, even to the point of tears as I told my companion about the institute, that students and others will have the opportunities to learn that connection with God goes beyond the boundaries of religion. (I believe it is the words and the rules and the culture of religion that has cut off our connection with the divine so much of the time for so many.)
It is my spiritual connection, the practices of spirituality through gratitude, meditation, yoga and community of like-minded that has bouyed me through the turbulence of raising a child with a severe developmental and intellectual disAbility, through divorce and "all the rest of life."
I am grateful for the decades I spent in counseling yet celebrate that this institute recognizes as more and more therapists do, that we must transcend psychology and must help nourish the human spirit with a connection to the divine--however that may look for a given individual.
How fortunate the students and their community will be to be introduced early in their adult pilgrimage to concepts to which--for me--hard times burst open the gates. Yes! Yes! Yes! This was a homecoming to celebrate.
Photo: Virginia Creeper Trail, ©LeisaHammett.com