This Sunday morning, as I listened to public radio and live streamed mass, I thought about the importance and influence of our sense of place. In our digital age, we can live stream news and even liturgy from anywhere in the world. Yet what did I chose to do? I live streamed the local public radio station and the local Sunday liturgy.
Now, were I at home in New Jersey, this would be unremarkable. As it happens, however, I am spending the month of October as a short term resident scholar at the Collegeville Institue at St. John’s University in Minnesota. When I applied for, and received, this residency opportunity, it was in a pre-pandemic world. I researched the local area. Looked forward to attending mass and prayers with the monks at the abbey and the sisters at the nearby monastery, both Benedctine. I was excited to participate in all the public lectures and other opportunities a university environment provides, especially having access to a library, as well as interacting with the other resident scholars.
Then of course, the pandemic happened. I was so grateful that the Collegeville Institute and university decided to stay open and welcome scholars, even though of course things had to be adapted for public health reasons. It has been a graced opportunity to have the time and space to read, write, and reflect. I have certainly taken advantage of the wonderful grounds, which are designated as an arboretum. The library is open, and thanks to the wonder of electronic databases I’ve been able to reserve and pick up books. Sadly, the St. John’s Bible display is closed, but I looked through the books on display in the bookstore. As to the other scholars, we’ve waved to each other on our solitary walks and had some socially distanced interactions. A different experience than the one I’d envisioned, but a blessed one nonetheless.
As I finish my month here, I feel grounded in and gifted by this place. The Collegeville Institute is nestled in the woods upon a lake. It is no surprise that I have a sense of place here, because as it happens that was intentional.
My work space looks out at the trees and the water and my squirrel friends. As I’ve worked and prayed, I’ve watched the seasons change and walked the trails through the woods and fields, which are just outside my door!
But back to my morning realization. Why did I go to the effort, shortly after I arrived, to download the Minnesota Public Radio app to my phone? After all, I already had the WNYC app downloaded, which has essentially the same NPR programs that I am accustomed to, although one hour earlier. Partly I suppose it’s an adaptation of habit. Back in the day when you actually listened to the radio at home ON a radio, which I now only do in the car, of course I’d listen to the local public radio station. Here in the 21st Century, I made a concious choice to download the app for the local public radio station to help me tap into the local, if just a bit.
This morning I reflected that this has to do with the importance and influence of my sense of place on my imagination and being. In away, during this weird covid time, it’s more important to make these concious choices to get the lay of the land and to BE in the land, even if virtually. Otherwise, with little social interaction and most time spent safely inside, wherever we are, we can settle into a kind of no land.
It is also important for me to recognize that I am on the land of the Mdewakanton, Anishinabewaki ᐊᓂᔑᓈᐯᐗᑭ, and Očhéthi Šakówiŋ. (If you want to know the native peoples of the land where you are, go to https://native-land.ca/).
My first two weeks here were an official quarantine, after my travel from New Jersey. Since then I’ve had more time to walk on the grounds of the unviersity and even did some early Christmas shopping at the bookstore–masked and following social distance guidelines of course. But I’ve not yet made it into the Abbey Church.
Instead, each Sunday I have live streamed mass from the Abbey. Is it the same as physically being there? Of course not, and I do plan to go to daily mass before I leave, when there will presumably be less people present. Yet even participating in the Abbey Sunday Liturgy from my couch, looking out at the tranquil scene outside my window and then back to the screen, I feel connected. Connected to the monks and the other people there, in their masks, socially distanced, praying in this space, from this place, for the needs of the world.