Moving Into a Stillness in My Life

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.

Read Siana’s first and second blog posts here and here.

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.

Puzzles and Progress

by Sophie Gibson, 2021 Undergraduate Summer Research Fellow in Lived Theology

My family loves jigsaw puzzles. In fact, my father has an extensive collection of vintage Springbok octagonal and circular puzzles that we like to assemble over the course of an afternoon. We especially love that the detailed illustration and unique cut of each puzzle piece keep us engaged throughout the process. And at the end of just a few hours, we have a beautiful and satisfying product. While the individual pieces of my research this summer have been fascinating and unique, it has not been as straightforward a solve, as I had imagined.

I approached this summer unaware of what I would find in my exploration of the history of St. Paul’s Memorial Church (Charlottesville) and the Civil Rights Movement. At the bare minimum, I hoped that there would be some relevant information in the church archives and that I could find someone in the congregation who could point me in the right direction. Instead, I have been blessed by a wealth of resources and stories from the community. I have learned so much about the history of St. Paul’s in stories, some of which don’t seem to relate to my immediate project. Yet, each anecdote enriches my understanding of what characterized the St. Paul’s congregation during the years of 1947-61. This relational methodology aligns with what I have been learning about lived theology in the fellows’ weekly conversation with Dr. Isaac Barnes May. Human relationships have been the foundation of movements that have worked to live in a world full of love, fellowship, and justice. 

I have written in previous blog posts about my frustration at the lack of specificity in the written archives. What had been a frustration is now an invitation to learn more through relationships. Each week, I get a new lead on a potential interviewee or resource from a congregant at St. Paul’s. These leads help me to match existing pieces as well as discover new pieces of the puzzle. So many congregants have offered their encouragement and involvement over the course of this research adventure; I so appreciate that support. 

This project is not a puzzle to be solved in one summer, admired briefly, and then put back in a box on a shelf. I would love for it to live on in the St. Paul’s community as an ongoing investigation of how the congregation has historically and currently lives out its theology. I have a long way to go before I exhaust all potential avenues for exploring the impact of the Reverend Ted Evans’ leadership on St. Paul’s, but I am so grateful for the opportunity to start this project this summer and find so many connections along the way. 

Read Sophie’s first and second blog posts here and here.

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.

Rest and Wrestling

by Karen Cortez, 2021 Undergraduate Summer Research Fellow in Lived Theology

For many others and me, this past year was hard. Isolation, loneliness, and anxiety were feelings that often greeted me in my apartment for a plethora of reasons: pandemic, injustice, and my own personal struggles. In all these emotions, I was left wondering where my faith could possibly fit in, and in that searching, I wasn’t left with many concrete answers. 

I am so glad that I found the Project on Lived Theology at the time that I did. PLT provided me with the space I needed to really wrestle with the role of the church in responding to inequity and the real needs of its people. I looked forward to every Wednesday evening, when the fellows and I could discuss the week’s readings. I found letters from Latin American priests, bishops, and church leaders who took it upon themselves to use their privilege and position to take a stand against poverty, and to take on a preferential option for the poor. I have read graphic novels about John Lewis, a man who found his voice while preaching to chickens, eventually becoming a champion for voting rights. Above all, I have found others who also were wondering the same things, operating in awe of all the work that has already been done with all the faith and determination, but also with an inspiration to carry on forward.

One of my favorite quotes from the summer is “…we discern the will of God with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other” (Quote adapted from Karl Barth’s works, taken from Faith Rooted-Organizing, by Alexia Salvatierra & Peter Hetzel). So many of the people whom the fellows and I studied over the course of the summer had the courage to look deeply into their faith tradition in order to see how they could use that part of their identity for transformative good. They had the courage to imagine what it would look like to love their neighbor well and sought to bring that vision to fruition. They are a part of a cloud of witnesses who have set the pace and shown us what it is like to stay faithful to the call of justice.

Above all, I am ending the summer encouraged. To have had a summer dedicated to exploring some of the questions I have carried in my heart for quite a while now has been very restorative and healing. Even though I am still leaving with more questions and curiosity (which is not a bad thing—it just leaves me with more books to read!), I know now that there are answers out there, even if they may not appear to be as clear at first glance. To see groups like CLUE (Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice) and the Poor People’s Campaign as they seek to become more compassionate reflections of a faith and of a savior excites me and brings me hope as I discern what my role in this work and reflection will look like in the future. 

Read Karen’s first and second blog posts here and here.

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.