It happens every year. A few hundred 19-and-20-year-olds make the transition from student to graduate at Oxford College. While this is not the end of the road for them as almost all of them continue on to the Atlanta campus of Emory University for their junior and senior year of college, this is an important event in their life. So, we do what you do when a significant life moment takes place – we mark it with rituals.
On Thursday, we had a sophomore banquet and on Saturday they graduated in our 171st commencement exercises.
Friday is reserved for our baccalaureate service followed by dinner and conversation. The baccalaureate service is a long-standing tradition that is believed to have originated in an English statute of 1432 at Oxford University in England requiring every bachelor to deliver a sermon in Latin as part of the academic exercises.
The first baccalaureate address at Emory was delivered by Methodist Bishop William Capers in 1840 in Oxford, Georgia. Today’s baccalaureate service highlights the life of the spirit and the ways in which we make meaning and purpose in our lives as human beings.
At Oxford, the central component to our baccalaureate service is “The Prayers of the Faiths,” where each of the major religious traditions represented at the college pray a prayer from their tradition in a native language of that tradition and then in English. These traditions include: Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.
Throughout the year at Oxford College, the students practice their faith through worship, prayer, dialogue, service and communal times together. The ways they practice differ but the intentions behind the practices are very similar.
And they understand that it’s in the practicing that they make a life. They usually get to the place of understanding that practice doesn’t really make perfect; it makes a life!
The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, talked about how we’re always striving for perfection in this life, but we never really quite get there. Instead, we’re always going on to perfection. We work toward perfection and the way we do that is through practice.
Practicing a good life means forming good habits.
The philosopher Rene Descartes, said, “I think, therefore I am.”
There’s truth to this, but I would take this a step further to say, “I love, therefore I am.” We are what we love. The habits we form often point to those things we love in life. The ways we practice living each day reveal much about who we are, what and who we love, and where our treasure is. In the Bible, Jesus reminds us that “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21, Common English Bible).
So who or what do you love? And what does that reveal about you? How do the habits or practices you embody make a life? And not just a life but a good life where even those who are strangers feel loved?
Rev. Lyn Pace is the college chaplain at Oxford College of Emory University. One of his favorite daily practices is when his spouse, Ami, asks him and his three year old, Sam, to name something they are grateful for from that particular day.