Chaplains offer spiritual support, albeit no longer in person

Kenia Cruz

In the weeks since the College transitioned to online learning, members of the College community scattered across the globe have continued to attend weekly meditation, services and Passover seders — but on Zoom rather than in a physical sacred space.

As many of the College’s institutions move online, the Chaplain’s Office has, along with the rest of the College, tried to make itself accessible to students around the world. Previously, chaplains hosted walk-in hours, religious and spiritual services, campus events and more. Of course, these in-person events were canceled due to regulations relating to COVID-19, but Rabbi Seth Wax, Imam Sharif Rosen and Rev. Valerie Bailey Fischer have since moved office hours and weekly religious services online.

“We’re constantly discerning what our needs are and how we can meet them,” Wax said. “One thing I have noticed is that we still crave a sense of regularity, connection, and community.”

The transition online was difficult, but the chaplains said it has worked better than they expected. “The virtual meetings have gone well,” Bailey Fischer said. “Many of these meetings are led by students and have been continuations of meetings that were already happening during the semester. What I have noticed is well-defined meetings continued with ease while other meetings that were not as frequent may still occur, but with much more effort.”

The chaplains have come up with various creative ways to engage the community. For Good Friday, Bailey Fischer held a service using combination of Zoom, YouTube, and Google Docs. Wax held a Zoom Passover Seder which he called “Zeder.” Sharif has held a weekly Chi Kung, a meditative practice involving gentle physical movements, soothing breathing, and calming visuals.

Along with the rest of the community, the chaplains are also trying to cope with the turbulence of the last month.

“Some days, heartbreak predominates,” Rosen said. “Other days I delight in the possibility of what this crisis is opening up for humanity as an invitation to genuine love and compassion that knows no limits.”

Wax expressed his admiration for those working at the front lines of the pandemic. “My wife is a physician at Berkshire Medical Center, so she sees firsthand how the pandemic is unfolding at a local level,” he said. “I know that there are many students, faculty, and staff who have family members who work on the front lines these days, and I am just so grateful for all those who continue to show up for work in these challenging times.”

The chaplains have sought to offer words of wisdom for students during this trying and confusing time.

 “Be patient with yourselves,” Bailey Fischer said. “This is not an easy adjustment, and because we don’t know what’s going to happen, the best advice is to take one day at a time and do not be too hard on yourselves.”

Rosen recommended surrounding oneself with a network of support. “These are people we can trust to walk alongside us to offer love that is unconditional, enough patience to not abandon us, and wisdom to help us see with a wider perspective if and when the walls feel like they’re caving in on us,” he said. “It’s optimal to take the tact of gentleness with self and others. As my Prophet, upon him be peace, taught, Gentleness is not present except that it beautifies all things.’ This is not about being self-indulgent nor blind to injustice but inclining towards ways of being and life practices that enhance our compassion and tenderness.”

Wax shared what he has been doing to cope in the last month. “I’ve been trying to remind myself to do three things every day,” he said. “1) Slow down, slow down, slow down; 2) soften my heart; and 3) choose to be present for the next breath. It doesn’t change what is happening in the world, but it does help me to be more present and gentle with myself and my loved ones.”