Post by: Kerry Maloney, HDS Chaplain and Director of Religious and Spiritual Life (RSL)
Kerry Maloney has served the HDS community since 2004 as HDS Chaplain and Director of Religious and Spiritual Life and, prior to this role, as the Associate Director of Ministry Studies. In this particular moment, we thought it would be helpful to hear from the HDS Chaplain about the different ways the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life has responded to the challenges present in the work of our community today. If you are in need of some spiritual resources, we encourage you to explore the “Spiritual Resources During the COVID-19 Pandemic” created by RSL.
What is your role as the HDS Chaplain?
As the Chaplain for HDS, I have the privilege of supporting the diverse spiritual and religious communities of the School and of providing spiritual support to the many people who comprise it. With a team of three Chaplain Interns (HDS Field Education students), two Administrative Graduate Assistants (also HDS students), and a magnificent group of student volunteers who make up the Noon Service Committee, my colleague Chris Hossfeld (our Director of Music and Ritual) and I strive to meet the many spiritual needs and aspirations of our campus. While we sponsor several initiatives and opportunities—like the Wednesday Noon Services, the Hear and Now Spiritual Accompaniment groups, a weekly Sitting Meditation, the Tuesday Morning Ecumenical Eucharist, a weekly spiritual e-digest, the biannual online journal ConSpiracies, and special seasonal events like Seasons of Light—most of our work is about presence to and with our community. We aim to show up for the many spiritual gatherings that students sponsor, sometimes in collaboration with our denominational counselors, and to be with the folks who make up HDS as they need support, a listening ear, a compassionate conversation partner, or spiritual friends. And in all our work, we strive to attend to the work of justice within and beyond our campus.
What have been some of the challenges posed by COVID-19 to spiritual care and chaplaincy, and what are some of the ways you are meeting them?
The most obvious challenge presented by the pandemic is the physical distance it has necessitated and the subsequent loss of direct human contact, which is chaplaincy’s primary tool. And just when we all needed that contact more than ever—in the midst of grave illness, grief, loneliness, social and financial anxiety, and the long-overdue racial reckoning that is underway in our country. The longing to be radically present with and for one another may never have been higher. Perhaps less obvious have been the hidden gifts that the imposed distance has brought us—like the surprising intimacy of dwelling with our companions, however briefly, in their own homes—and they with us in ours; like the stunning immediacy of convening with others, if digitally, regardless of our locations around the globe; like the rare privilege of being able to gather with more colleagues for their respective spiritual practices than we would have if we were actually sharing the buildings on our campus.
We have been on pilgrimage together in this extraordinary wilderness of pandemic and uprising, and like all pilgrimages, we have been led to places we may not have known we needed to go. Though we have failed as often as we have succeeded, I would say that we are still being radically present with one another but in ways we had not even imagined a few months ago.
Another way we in RSL have cared for the community is through our weekly e-digest, which features a brief reflection from the staff, some poetry for the week, and a collection of resources both on the HDS campus and beyond, including a listing of all the spiritual and religious gatherings held within the HDS community for the coming week. While we had this tool before the pandemic, it has given us a significant means of reaching out to the community every week while we are physically parted from one another.
Finally, I would say it’s important to note that while many are navigating this time of extreme challenge and loss with a measure of resilience, others are understandably struggling greatly. Much of this has to do with the radically unequal, unjust levels of privilege and resources available to people based unethically on our different identities and locations. In RSL, we are always trying to honor (as well as resist and change) those disparities with careful attention and to meet people where they are in their unique circumstances.
How do you imagine the work of creating community in this time of social distance and virtual divinity school?
HDS students have proven themselves endlessly inventive in rising to the needs of this time. All the campus’s student spiritual and religious organizations moved their weekly meetings online within a week of the lockdown and some even expanded their offerings; for example, the HDS Catholics added a beautiful series of online student-led liturgies for Holy Week, the Jewish Students’ Association hosted a highly creative online Seder for Passover, and a student who is a yoga instructor began offering weekly online yoga classes. Each of these digital spaces offered students deep opportunities to connect at meaningful levels—as did our other offerings like Hear and Now and the Noon Services. I expect that these many gatherings will continue in the coming academic year. RSL is also currently discussing with the Office of Student Life (OSL) some possibilities for expanding the option of co-curricular conversation groups for students in the Fall, attempting to recreate the kinds of casual encounters we can have when we cross one another’s paths when we are on campus, like in our Café or in the Library. Stay tuned for more information about that!
Is there anything else you would like prospective students to know about you, your role, the Office of the Chaplain and Religious and Spiritual Life, or how to take care of oneself in this time?
During these unparalleled days of pandemic and urgently important activism, we in RSL are encouraging everyone in our community to dig deeply into their respective religious/spiritual/cultural heritages, mining those Wisdom traditions for ethics, practices, and ancestors on which and whom to lean. We also hope that we all will discover ever-new possibilities for truly sheltering in place—finding genuine spiritual shelter in exactly the places we find ourselves, which many of our traditions teach us is a sure path to peace. If we can transform our enforced isolation into holy solitude, and if we strive together to transform that individual solitude into a communal one, we might discover that it is, as it has always been, the seedbed for growth in holiness and wholeness, for communion and connection, for resistance and renewal. In this altered pace of our lives, we might discover the stillness we all crave, the stillness from which all true wisdom and justice issue. We might discover the energy we need to continue to fight what needs to be torn down and to build up what must come after. And we might find that what we love rather than what we fear comes into sharper focus.
Above all, in this institution that rightly cherishes the life of the mind, we in RSL also urge everyone to care for and to love their bodies fiercely and tenderly, particularly people whose bodies have always been targeted and traumatized by the daily brutalities of white supremacy. We hope that everyone will be gentle with themselves—that they will rest often, eat as well as possible, exercise and play daily. And we hope they will create abundant time for simple wonder —even now, especially now.