Of Prayers and Bubbles
Janet Cooper Nelson, Chaplain of the University
The Brown Bubble opened its Gates figuratively just a month ago to welcome us to a beloved place of friendship, comfort, challenge and beauty; a sweet seclusion against we often struggle to insure that we engage reality; and yet it is an indelibly beloved address whose privilege is hard to overstate. The Brown Bubble embraces much and many. Spiritual life and the practice of prayer bubbles within the Bubble--endless varied, and often just out of view. This new biweekly Chaplains Chapbook hopes to provide a sustaining glimpse of inner life for Brown Bubble dwellers all. We welcome your response and submissions. Send them to chapbook@brown.edu. 

It is fair to say that this autumn the Brown Bubble is quite different. Spiritually, we are 
doing our best to stay and keep others safe while navigating a threatened world. We worry. Almost overhearing us, the extraordinary New England poet Mary Oliver,
who died earlier this year, replies:
I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers 
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn 
as it was taught, and if not how shall 
I correct it? 
Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven, 
can I do better? 
Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows 
can do it and I am, well, 
Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it, 
am I going to get rheumatism, 
lockjaw, dementia? 
Finally, I saw that worrying had come to nothing. 
And gave it up. And took my old body 
and went out into the morning, 
and sang. 

We too go out into the morning and sing--though for this season, we must sing by
ourselves, outside, and at considerable distance from anyone. For my part, I pray, and I pray for Brown. I send you this year’s Convocation prayers with my heartfelt hope that
they may evoke your prayer--however you express your heart’s deepest petitions.
May we, collectively, bubblingly, sustain honest hope and useful life within and beyond
our beloved Brown Bubble. Blessings, dear Brown! 

At Convocation: September 8, 2020 

Brunonians near and far, dearest elders--alumni, faculty, benefactors and friends, 
newest students--including the not-yet-arrived Class of 2024:

Today, we don our regalia to assert as always that it is Convocation Day, no matter
how unusual. And as always, as your Chaplain, I bid you pray… 

Today my prayer is rooted in the deep wisdom of elders. The ancient prophet Micah who
asks--And what does the Lord require? That you love justice, do kindness and walk humbly with God. 

The Abolitionist, activist and scholar, Frederic Douglas, who wrote: I prayed for
20 years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel who records: For many of us, the march from Selma to Montgomery was about protest and prayer. Legs are not lips, and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs
uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying.   

And from Adrienne Rich’s remarkable poem Final Notation in The Atlas for a Difficult World:
You are taking parts of us into
places never planned… 
you are going far away with
pieces of our lives 
it will be short, it will take
all your breath 
it will not be simple, it will
become your will 

Their voices strengthen mine--and so I bid you pray--with your head, heart and
your legs. 

Hear and hold us as of old. Grief and loss cloud our nation and world. Almost amazed
we gather, grateful for health and our profound privilege; created by family, benefactors,
faculty and a vast set of University leaders whose generous imagination and tireless
work, walk and built the path we walk, through the Gates and into this term--apart, in body but joined in heart. Grant us humility and gracious humor to navigate carefully, awkwardly, masked, distanced, worried, finding our privilege in caring for and
encouraging one another. We hear the wisdom of the great souls who trod trying
seasons before us, named and unnamed. Infuse us with their courage to stride beyond isolating fear and self-interest, walking toward and committed to building an inclusive
new community--a beloved community. Grant us courageous acuity. Sorrow’s harsh light shines on racism’s deadly national injustice. May protests yield new structures and maps, 
streets, monuments, bridges named to honor those who dismantled wrong and built the good. This, surely, is our work of defiant, sacred Hope--In Deo Speramus has long been the calling of Brunonians. Autumn’s beckoning corroborates what Douglass saw in the graceful freedom of sailing ships. This long season of hardship will turn--Hope’s shores still await us. We yearn with Heschel to arrive on those shores--praying with our legs to step across the confines of identity, to insist on our neighbor’s good--to release the imprisoned; to welcome the stranger to our nation; to shield the vulnerable from
illness and harm. We raise our voices without equivocation to affirm that Black Lives Matter--everywhere--in College Hill’s classrooms, at the State House, church, mosque
and temple, from sea to shining sea. May we hear a whispered, then shouted, reply in
the joy of children and their families released from fear and trauma. Nightmares transformed into songs of justice flourishing. Brunonians--in this never before
season, grateful for all that sustains us in life and brings us gladly to this day--Together
let us open a path of blessing, knowing with the poet Adrienne Rich, that it will
“take us to places never planned; it will take all of our breath and not be simple, but together, it can become our will.”  In our hope, in walking prayer, may we become
and create blessing for others, this day and always, Amen.
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