Find Something Old
What gives you perspective? As Covid numbers rise on campus, as giants of justice and progress—like John Lewis and Ruth Bader Ginsburg—die, as the world groans around us, what holds you steady in the wobbly time of grief, anxiety, division, worry, and even quarantine?
Last January, a priest colleague who is an Anglican Bishop in England, gave me some advice on how to deal with the struggles we were sharing. He said, “Find something old.” At the back of his church is a stone baptismal font, and--like almost all church furnishings in England--was placed there in the 10th century. Daily, he touches the baptismal font, thinking of what it has seen over the years—the crusades, the beginnings and endings of political movements, horrors and glories, plagues, theological dissensions, and ordinary faith. Through it all, it had stood, watching empires and regimes rise and fall, monarchs come and go, armies march in and out, remained faithful to its purpose through all the winds of human folly and magnificence.
It’s an intriguing thought, although certainly easier said than done. First, one must be intentional about finding something old at Elon. And in the grand scheme of things, the United States is young too. Find something older, really old.
I have a quartz rock in my office that I dug up in a northern California forest while building my parent’s house. (That is a wonderful story for another day.) We attacked with pickaxes the quartz vein that blocked our footing forms and concrete pour (the latter much less durable), hoping it might lead us to the motherlode, or even a small vein of gold. The rock has reminded me that wherever we are working, we may be on the unseen motherlode of meaning, joy, blessing, or some other precious commodity. Like maybe perspective. That is how I see it now, on the shelf in my office. It’s old.
Find something old and let it teach us to survive, to hold firm, to practice patience, to see the big picture and our small part in it.
You could start with the old bell in Alamance, twisted by fire and still intact. The words of the Bible or another sacred text, speak comfort and challenge to us centuries, millennia, later. Watch the moon rise, the stars begin to twinkle and shine in the growing darkness, an old oak weathered by wind and rain. Walk the labyrinth by Holt chapel, an ancient profound symbol of being lost and found at the same time. Think about what they have witnessed. Have they seen any arc of justice, any human wisdom, any collective progress? What might they tell us of this moment we are living?
Perspective does not keep us from tears, but it does keep away despair. It doesn’t extinguish anxiety but does give us context. It doesn’t do our work for us, but gives us strength for the change we need to be. It won’t kill a virus, but it might make us healthier. May it be so for us.
Jan Fuller has been the University Chaplain at Elon since 2011. She is an Episcopal priest and deeply invested in helping students to find their own spiritual paths while interacting with others in differing paths with appreciation and respect.Raised in Beirut Lebanon for the first half of her life, Jan is the daughter of Southern Baptist missionaries to the Arab peoples of the Middle East. Jan’s education includes a Doctor of Ministry from Wesley Theological Seminary,a Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School, and a B.A. in English and French from Hollins University. Jan describes herself as a “war-zone survivor,” who retains a sense of humor and love of gentleness. She loves Arab art and food, and all kinds of music. She intends to find the gift in every day and to live her life as a way of giving thanks.