August 31, 2007

Sage Begins Interfaith Service

Print More

Sage Chapel is giving students a chance for Sunday afternoon study break to offer more than coffee and the noise of Libe Café; its new interfaith services at 4 p.m. fuse spirituality and intellect, tranquility and questioning, silent reflection and musical performance.
Rev. Kenneth Clarke, director of Cornell United Religious Works, and Janet Shortall, assistant director of Cornell United Religious Works, have led a committee with an innovative approach to spirituality that aims to speak to students’ interests and concerns.
“We decided to create a new service that was much more flexible because many students want to explore spirituality without, in some cases, the ‘trappings’ of a certain religion. We felt that this spiritual space is a perfect place to engage with humanistic concerns; with the arts and the sciences,” said Clarke.
Each week the services feature a different member of the diverse Cornell and Ithaca communities who speak on monthly themes. September’s focus is “Faith and Reason” and will begin this Sunday, Labor Day Weekend, with Prof. Risa Lieberwitz, industrial and labor relations, discussing the importance of workers’ rights. The popular local band the Burns Sisters will also perform. Lieberwitz explained that she does not plan to give a religious talk, but that there is a common focus both in a spiritual service and in her mission.
“The key point here is that we exist not just for ourselves, but to serve others. I want to use this setting to promote the moral issues of our times,” Lieberwitz said.
Other speakers will include Prof. Donald Smith, veterinary surgery, Prof. Nick Salvatore, industrial and labor relations and Prof. Buzz Spector, art, as well as renowned Tibetan Buddhist scholar Jan Willis M.A. ’71.
“Some speakers will incorporate theological language into their talks, and others will not. We don’t see a conflict in having a renowned professor who doesn’t believe in God speak at the chapel. Ultimately, we really want to tap into all that the Cornell faculty has to offer. We are concerned with the question, ‘how does the religious affairs office on a college campus interplay with academic and personal life?’”Clarke said.
“Dramatic events like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the Virginia Tech shootings and the Iraq War make people question, ‘where do I fit into the whole thing?’ There are many students that are not tied to one religion, but everyone is looking for a balance of life,” Shortall said.
Architectural historian Roberta Moudry Ph.D. ’95, another member of the committee, leads tours of the campus and marvels at Sage’s beauty, which is undiscovered by many students.
“The chapel is right in the middle of campus and some people walk by and think of it as just a place for weddings and funerals. These services can help people understand Sage Chapel as a place that is relevant; it is the University’s memory house, with windows memorializing events, students and faculty. From Cornell’s founding, there is so much in the ‘gene pool’ of this place that makes it impossible to create a narrow path,” Moudry said.
She reflected on her experience in last week’s service, emphasizing the importance of the musical component.
“There was a moment when the light was coming through the windows, and the glee club and the chorus were dappled with color. And that last organ piece — it is all about those moments of surprise,” Moudry said.
Sage Chapel also offers a variety of music from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Mondays, and organ music on Wednesdays from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.
“Music has a certain universality to it, even if you cannot understand the words. It touches something that is almost unspeakable; you can catch the vibe,” Clarke said.
“The service is created intentionally with a mixture of silence and music; there is a shared experience of quiet contemplation and musical enjoyment. As a college student, it is natural to feel resistant to the obligation of religion. But there’s not a single person on this campus that doesn’t need a moment’s pause. This is a place of welcome; it is not about converting anyone. Anyone can walk in and walk out,” Shortall said.