by Siana Monet, 2021 Undergraduate Summer Research Fellow in Lived Theology
As this summer has wound down, so has the end of my project with the Blacksburg Friends. I only have gratitude for the Quaker meeting and the opportunity afforded by the Project on Lived Theology to sink into a new way of being. At the halfway point of the project, I noticed that the lived theological aspects of this project were increasingly sticking out to me. I feel not only that I have been trying to capture my learning through the poetry collection I’ve been working on but also that I’ve moved into a stillness in my own life.
Outside of weekly PLT gatherings, meetings with Friends, and Sunday mornings spent at the meetinghouse, my own personal practice has deepened and grown in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I took on this project after four intense years of work at UVA (and four long years of high school before that!), which led my spiritual practice to be very academic and intellectual as a primary mode of connection to divinity. While I began to embrace a serious Jonang Buddhist practice in college, I primarily engaged with it in a brain-focused way instead of in a heart- or body-focused way. As I’ve had the opportunity to think about Quaker practice in relation to COVID-19, I’ve found myself moving into embodied and emotional forms of stillness, which I’ve only experienced flashes of before. The recentering that has occurred in my artistic and personal life has been deeply impactful.
As someone who has studied religion for a while, I was familiar with the idea that one can seek to “find prayer in everything,” but it wasn’t until this experience with the Blacksburg Friends that this mode of being still was able to illuminate other aspects of my life. For me, spiritual practice had revolved around meditation, chanting, prostrations, and personal study of Buddhist texts. In contrast to this, the Quaker mode of being in stillness has felt like something which I’ve been in touch with far outside the mat and meetinghouse; spiritual practice for me has grown to include gardening, cooking, hiking, painting, and of course, poetry. Through learning this personally, my understanding of stillness in other people has also deepened. Many of the Quakers who were kind enough to speak with me discussed other ways in which they connect similarly with the divine: doing dishes, arranging flowers, running, and many other activities.
Moving forward, I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from fellow Friends and to discover a firsthand experience of this stillness. I know that this orientation will ground further work as I transition toward school in Boston for the fall. I will forever be thankful to the Blacksburg Friends and the Project on Lived Theology for this fantastic experience and new insight about how I want to move through the world.
Learn more about the 2021 Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowship in Lived Theology here.
The Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia is a research initiative, whose mission is to study the social consequences of theological ideas for the sake of a more just and compassionate world.