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Campus Ministry programs facilitate deep conversation among participants

The programs that Villanova offers through Campus Ministry, such as Search and Escape, are truly amazing.
The people involved in these projects are full of good ideas, intentions and sentiments and the experiences gained from these retreats significantly impact the lives of those who participate.
I have gone on both retreats and I can say that they were important to me, necessary and shaping. In ways, these retreats often make sense exactly in the moment that they happen, at least it seemed that way to me. Then again, I suppose most things that happen seem to happen inexorably, at least in retrospect.
Now the great secrets of these retreats are to be kept secret, so do not expect an exposé. But without giving all that much away I can comfortably tell you that Search and Escape focus on deep topics; very personal stuff gets shared and the idea is to totally open yourself up to sharing and discussing things you wouldn’t normally.
In some respects, that’s the idea behind most of the more religiously, service-focused activities on campus, including break trips, although I can’t speak from experience there.
Before this turns into praise I’d like to highlight a tension, as I see it, about the necessity for these kinds of trips.
Now I recall near the very end of both my Search and Escape experiences, there was this closing sentiment of wow, I never get to have conversations like this. And while I didn’t get as riled up about this at the end of Escape, I felt a certain uneasiness at the sentiment after Search.
Escape was a group of freshmen and it was our first semester. Search was made up of various classes, the youngest being second semester sophomores, of which I was a part.
Do you sense the tension I’m talking about? Do you get what I am hinting at? Think about that idea, I never get to have conversations like this.
And that could very well have been said by a senior. That’s to suggest then that by the ages of 19-22, having had 2-4 years in college, one has not had a real in-depth conversation.
It takes a weekend retreat, an escape if you will, from the normal stream of campus life to find one, among a group of semi-strangers. The conversations even need to be facilitated. That confounds me.
This state of confusion got me thinking, why is it that we can only have these conversations away from our everyday lives? Why are we too timid to broach these topics in the pace of our normal days?
And the frightening conclusion that I came to is that our society, which our college is a microcosm of, doesn’t really care about these kinds of things. It is not concerned with inner exploration, only outer exploitation.
The way I see it, we have a problem with exploring our inner selves. In my last article, I spoke about how we place too much value on extrinsic, observational knowledge and not enough time toying with and exploring our more inner thoughts and our intrinsic knowledge.
We fill our time discussing things that are not all that meaningful and which often don’t speak to the depths of our personhood.
For example, take this discussion I was in a couple of months ago. I’m a member of a group called the Faith and Learning Scholars on campus and twice a semester we eat a meal and discuss the role that faith and reason play together.
Somehow, the conversation of that night had gotten into the usefulness of the program. Many students expressed that they liked it because there really wasn’t anywhere else that they felt comfortable discussing God.
Yet we were all chosen for this program because of that wonderment that we possessed. This of course brought back memories of that Search sentiment and I was startled by it once again. And again I was left to wonder.
Why is it that we stray from discussing things like God or the deeper thoughts within ourselves?
I’m going to take a page of E.F. Schumacher’s book “The Guide for the Perplexed” and say that we stray from these things because we have no proof of their existence.
The deeper parts of my person don’t naturally manifest themselves materially so they are useless.
The thought also applies to God: there’s no proof of God’s existence, nothing in the table or bottle in front of me to prove that God exists, so there is no reason for me to believe.
And it all comes back to our obsession with external knowledge because it isphysical. We can prove that it exists because we can gather information about it with our senses. We then suppose that we can rarely be wrong about these things.
But since there is no proof of these deeper concepts, we are afraid to admit not only that we might be wrong, but we are confronted with the fact that we might have to disagree with someone and even find ourselves believing that their argument is invalid.
So if we don’t talk about these deeper, more contentious issues, what do we talk about instead?
We talk about the grade that we got on that test, what we did over the weekend, what we are planning to do next weekend, what that person is wearing, what TV shows are on, is she really going out with him, on and on and on.
But these things do not really go to the core of our personhood and they do not hold much potential.
We need programs like Search and Escape. They must fill in the gaps left behind by our frequent meaningless conversations. But there also needs to be an effort on our parts to broach these topics beyond the safety and seclusion of a weekend retreat.
If you want to know someone’s opinion on God, don’t be afraid to ask; he or she may very well open up your own opinion on the topic. I do wonder what the future of programs like Search will be; in this world growing more and more outwardly focused, it seems that we might be seeing a lot more of them. But one has to decide if that’s truly a good thing.

Brendan Krovatin is a junior humanities major from Glen Ridge, NJ. He can be reached at bkrovati@villanova.edu

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