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Celebration of the Season

This week’s message for first-year parents was written by Tim Auman, University Chaplain. It is being reprised from last year’s messages for first-year families.

One of the basic values which guide community life is that Wake Forest provides a place in which the spiritual and religious traditions of all students, faculty and staff are honored and respected, and where no one tradition is seen as normative and therefore valued more than any other.  The goal of the Office of the Chaplain is to create opportunities where we can stand and talk to each other over our backyard fences.

On today’s multicultural campus we are increasingly likely to meet and make friends with people from different religious and spiritual backgrounds, and to find ourselves wondering about their beliefs and practices.  Why do some Jewish men wear kippahs?  What is Ramadan all about?  Why is Diwali such an important festival for Hindus, Sikhs and Jains?  Why are icons so important to Orthodox Christians?  What is the significance of Parinibbana (Nirvana Day) for Buddhists?  In short, how do we deepen our respect for all religious and spiritual traditions and their wisdoms, while at the same time learning more about our own?

The interfaith approach to religious and spiritual life at Wake Forest is designed to encourage students to celebrate their own traditions.  This, we hope, will enable students to find familiar or even inspiring echoes of their own tradition in a differing one.  A faith tradition that only last semester might have seemed alarmingly different or threatening could now leave a student ready to be surprised and stretched.

As we look to the month of December, students, faculty and staff are encouraged to find ways to bring a variety of programs, artwork and other symbolic representations that express some aspect of their religious or spiritual tradition.

In deciding how to celebrate religious holidays, the most important guideline is to discuss what certain symbols and events mean to you and to others, rather than assuming that certain symbols and events have universal significance.

We are engaged in a process of discovery, on a path to open our hearts and minds to differing religious and spiritual practices and customs.  As members of the Wake Forest community, it is incumbent upon us to approach religious holidays as an opportunity for learning about ourselves, our neighbors, and our world.  At this time of the year, it is a simple truth that customs, rituals, and sacred history are intertwined like the three inseparable braids of the Jewish Havdalah candle.

My hope is that our students will be creative in finding ways to celebrate the wonderful breadth of human experience and that we will discover through hymns, chants, self-evaluation, charity, love feasts, rituals and sacraments that which will connect each of us with the heritage of our ancestors and the dreams of generations yet to come.