by Mark R. Orten, University Chaplain
I want to speak to the graduating seniors in this brief time and invite you to think of your Denison University experience as a Story. If you were asked to tell your story of these however-many-years-it-took-you, how would you tell it? Where would you begin?
- For your story, would you begin at the very beginning: moving into first-year dorm and meeting your roommate -- with all the subsequent drama -- or the eventual friendship for life?
- Would you go immediately to that quintessential night when, sitting on the forbidden roof of some campus building, you laid out under the stars and talked to a friend until dawn?
- Or pre-dawn treks to the swimming pool for laps?
- How about a particular break trip, whose details would be altered, only slightly of course, for your respected elders?
In your story, whose faces would appear? How would you describe them? How will you tell this story as only you can?
The Eternal Present... is when a single experience has meaning because of all that came before it, and lasts because of the meaning we make of it. The eternal present is a description of our awareness of a moment. Each experience:
- putting a tray of food down at a table of your best friends
- IM'ing while simultaneously composing paragraphs on the etymological origin of some Shakespearean allusion in the dark watches of the night
- Selling back old used textbooks
- Sitting in a stuffy chapel on a rainy day with people so important to you on the day before your emotional college commencement
Each experience lasts and has infinite importance by the meaning we make of it. Every present moment is, for us, a potentially eternal present.
Rituals like this are moments of meaning making in which the whole is referenced by the part. It's a subtle turning inward in order to point outward. Sometimes when we do it, it's intentional, other times it's just going through the motions until it dawns on us. Either way, at some point we recognize the gift that each second is, that there is miracle in every breath, a lesson in each trial, some truth in every fiction, and we discover a bit more of what our stories are made. Nothing that we have done or known is without its consequence, its importance, its meaning. Most of the time we live by it tacitly, by the silent implication. But every now and then, we consider what the meaning is. This moment and all of your moments at Denison take their places in the narrative of which your whole life is composed. It's your amazing story. It is essential. The world needs to hear your story. All of your stories. We, the world, we all depend upon each other's stories. Our stories are entwined.
It's that larger story, really, that makes you. Denison didn't make you. Your families of origin, your home communities and deep friendships and varieties of activities before you came here ... they helped make up who you are. You were a complete person before you came, a person of complete worth and value. Denison made you, perhaps, a bit more marketable but it has not increased your worth one fraction. So while your earning potential might have increased some, if successful you are also a little wiser.
As you prepare to commence from this place, perhaps one more word of wisdom for your journey:
Discover what about this place matters to you. Your literal experience is over. What you did here is done. What you make of it, however, has only just begun. What of it becomes your story? Because this experience, this experience will become for you by your awareness of it ... an Eternal Present.
What [asks the sufi master, Hafiz]
... is this precious love and laughter
Budding in our hearts?
It is the glorious sound
Of a soul waking up!
Love and laughter ... and everything else at Denison.
How many early morning classes did you arise from bed dreading with all your might?
Or those communal showers?! Those blessed moments of syncopated hygiene complete with extemporaneous outbursts in song.
Do you remember being completely overwhelmed by that syllabus requirement of a 10-point font, one-inch margin, single-spaced, seven page (no more, no less!) paper assignment?
What about that break up, and the heartache you thought would never heal?
What spontaneity have you known over these years? Have you learned the inexplicable necessity sometimes of just dropping everything and going?
What discipline have you learned? Academic discipline. Self-discipline. Soul-discipline. Of what have you become a devotee? A disciple? What discipline?
What will you choose to remember that you don't ever want to forget? What will you never forget despite your best efforts to the contrary? What about you -- because of what you learned here -- will never be the same again? What do you know now about yourself that you didn't know before?
It's not about "regrets" or "no regrets." This isn't an evaluation. This is an appeal to your Awareness. Your awareness of a moment. What the great thinkers in our readings for the day say to us regarding the experience of a thing. About being awake and alive!
I love the way Allen Ginsberg put it: Holy, Holy, Holy is the world. Holy is the soul. The skin. Everything and everybody. Every where is holy! Holy the poem, the voice, the hearers. The saxophone and the solitude.
And if I might add: the Swasey walk and the midnight run to Brew's. The construction sites and the softball team. Ladies Night Out, Burpee's Seedy and the Bullsheet. Holy? Holy. Holy!
Hafiz says, "Now." Now is the time to know that all that you do is sacred. Now is the time to understand that all your ideas of right and wrong were just a child's training wheels to be laid aside when you can finally live with veracity and love.
Jesus said, "Treasure what your treasure is." Do not worry about tomorrow. Strive today for righteousness and God.
If you didn't while you were here, you may never have a better chance. There is no time like the present. Right now you can still, Come Alive! Wake Up to the Eternal Present!
Far more than the accumulation of any set of facts and skills (all of which are so important), the meaning that we make of our experiences is our awareness of the present. This time at Denison, this has been part of yours.
How will you tell the story? What meaning has your life? Have you paid attention? Will you?
Congratulations, Bachelors. As you go through the remainder of this day and tomorrow, may these and all your moments be blessed. And may they become for you moments of eternal presence.