Among my favorite memories during my UW-Madison grad school years are my women’s prayer group meetings. We were a motley crew of grad students, coming from different departments of study, regions of the country, and religious denominations. Ranging from Catholic to evangelical to orthodox to still-deciding-if-I-trust-God, we came together every week to eat breakfast, talk out our ideas and frustrations about our research and studies, and discuss our faith and questions. Sometimes we got into particulars, like, How do we discern the will of God? Sometimes we disagreed about how to define the word “will.” Almost every time we met, we ended with praying together, alike in our desire for deeper intimacy with a God who always felt way bigger than we could ever comprehend.
You might find us praying in the chapel of the old Pres House (before the big remodel), or even praying in a blue Honda Accord: It was crowded but we laughed at the idea that we were “praying in one accord.” Now we’re scattered all over the world: China, Southeast Asia, Utah, Minnesota, Ohio, Virginia, and one hold-out in Wisconsin (me). Do we still stay in touch? Yes. Twenty years later and counting.
There’s an alchemy that happens when we encounter dissimilar people whose spirits seem curiously similar to our own, or whose life journey is so unique we can barely contain our questions about the other’s background, hopes, and vocational vision. Somewhere inside us resonates a kinship evoked by our common urge to learn and grow in understanding: Whether a university student, researcher, or seeker of wisdom or insight, the press of our questions attunes us to others pursuing their own threads of personal inquiry. Similarly restless intellectually and spiritually, we constantly sense there’s more to learn and do in the realm of ideas and faith. (There’s always more.) Thankfully, in Madison and at Upper House opportunities abound for exploring old and new ideas—and meeting fascinating, enriching fellow seekers in the process.
What I have come to deeply appreciate, especially after the isolation of COVID, is the transformative power of in-person conversation. Some of the most interesting and personally transformative conversations can happen not only during but before and after, say, a book study, or humanities group, or current events discussion on the Terrace. So-and-so shares a fresh idea; you say “tell me more.” You share your ideas back-and-forth; personal stories emerge; and voila two hours have passed, and your brain and heart feel richer than when you started. You realize how privileged you are to sit at a table with others, to discuss big ideas, meaning, and God, too. And you are glad you didn’t pass up the opportunity to be a part of this exchange in this unique time and space—whether through your graduate department, or undergraduate study group, or at Upper House through a learning cohort or the remarkable Fellows program.
Upper House’s Fellows Program is still growing—and growing strong. A committed and talented set of leaders are getting ready for Fall with an equally talented set of graduate and undergraduate students. If there had been such a program when I had been in grad school, I would have been all over it. Eat dinner with people from around the world? Converse with a musician passionate about liberty in North Korea? Consider how faith integrates with all our work? Explore the bible as a powerfully nuanced narrative? Dive into topics of spiritual formation and culture? Yes. Please! Count me in.
What would I bring to the table if I could be a fellow? Myself. My questions. My communication studies. Life transition decisions. The bible passages that stump me. My prayers. My curiosity about the way others think. Here I am, folks. Someone whose always in process.
Questions and conversation enrich our lives. Thank God that we are gifted with curious spirits, hungry minds and hearts, and each other. We’re lifelong learners, and the Fellows Program is an amazing opportunity for UW-Madison grad and undergrad students to live more richly. Similarly, Upper House programs consistently blow me away with the content and the interconnectivity they offer our community. May we enjoy and appreciate all the privileges we have to learn and grow. May we share these opportunities with others. And may we say “yes” to meeting new people from all walks of life. Grad students and undergrad students, consider yourself invited to apply to be a Fellow. Down the road, like me with my prayer group, you will look back and be glad you made this part of your life – and you will likewise discover you have made amazing friends around the world.