Cambridge, MA. Today finally was graduation day at Harvard, the 360th commencement exercises. The endless rain and gloom and chill of past weeks suddenly ended a few days back, and the weather was perfect for outdoor ceremonies (though a trifle hot inside most of Harvard’s old buildings). My favorite moment in the university ceremony was Placido Domingo (honorary degree recipient) singing a snatch of opera (Aida, I believe) to another recipient, Ruth Bader Ginzburg. You can listen here.
At noon I was at the Graduate School ceremonies in Sanders Theater in Memorial Hall, and it was, as it always is, inspiring to see so many young scholars in fields from Mathematics and Astrophysics to Classics and Sanskrit and Indian Studies come up for their degrees, with a cheering mix of faculty on one side, and families and friends throughout the theater.
The Divinity School as usual settled in Memorial Church, both for the graduation ceremony today at noon (hence my missing it, due to the above GSAS ceremony) and for yesterday’s multifaith service in the late afternoon. As usual, the Rev. Kerry Maloney, Director of the Divinity School’s Office of Spiritual Life, did a wonderful job in bringing out the best multifaith energies in the graduating class. (See my reflection last year this time.) One graduate chanted the Buddhist refuge chant in the original Pali, another recited beautifully Sura 94 of the Qur’an, and a third read for us Matthew 6:25-34 (words of trust in God that must surely console graduates heading out into what often enough is an uncertain world, in terms of jobs and the future of faith in our society). A poem of Emily Dickinson (“If I can stop one heart from breaking / I shall not live in vain…”) was set to music, while a traditional spiritual (“Peter, go ring-a dem bells…”), newly set by Harvard organist Harry Huff, was sung in honor of recently deceased and sorely missed Peter Gomes, the Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church. Lovely settings of Mozart and the Carmina Burana also filled the Church, as did vibrant drums, The Walin’ Jennys “One Voice,” and Paul Ayers’ “Amor Satis Est.” Professor Matthew Myer Boulton offered timely reflection on “Little Faith” — the little faith we have, the little faith that is quite sufficient as we face uncertain futures.
But I could not resist enjoying most of all this year the final text of the ceremony, a reading by two graduates in Spanish and English of a meditation attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ, Superior General of the Jesuits a generation ago. I do not have before me the text they read, nor can I readily trace its source (let me know if you can!), but part of it at least is this moving, powerful insight:
“Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in a love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings, what you will do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”
I am hardly an impartial observer (though I had nothing to do with choosing it), but it seems to me in retrospect that this was a perfect reading to draw together the themes of so diverse a multifaith service — and voiced in just the right tone and pitch for a Catholic and Ignatian contribution to the feast. Yes, God is at the core of reality, and yes, commitment is necessary — and yes too, this is first of all and most, best manifest in an overflowing impassioned love that reaches into every dimension and moment of life, even in the darkest moments. Finding God and falling in love are deeply interconnected - even when God's name is not mentioned.
This is a Christian wisdom very simple and generous in spirit. Perhaps by design, in this ceremony it managed to lift up all that had also been read and sung and preached and dance at the ceremony. Indeed, Fr. Arrupe’s words show us a way to be present in places like Harvard, entirely present, in love, and trusting in the passion that motivates our faith more than particular (and otherwise necessary) formulations of the Faith. Though it might be put in many ways, to say that our lives are about falling in love is a very good way to say who we are, as our students contemplate the prospect of life after Harvard.
Or so I was thinking as we processed out of Memorial Church and on to the reception on the Divinity School’s Green.