Campus News

April 1, 2011

Theology students find that 'less' can be 'more'

Meditation is a daily part of the Lenten program.

Todd Salmi, a Master of Divinity student, part-time minister and father of three young children, is now grateful for the chance to wash the dishes or write a term paper. That took practice, he admits.

Salmi and seven other students at Candler School of Theology are enrolled in a study group where they reflect daily on "life-giving" (and life-draining) moments, untangle their relationships with money and debt, and learn that real life — the delicate balance between work and pleasure — can be paradise if you let it.

"Creation is 'good'" in the Biblical book of Genesis, notes Salmi. "If good is good enough for God, then I can take solace in the fact that it's good enough for me."

The four-week Lenten series, "Longing for Enough in a Culture of More," borrows its name from a book by the Rev. Paul Escamilla '81C-'84T-'87T, which promotes both physical and spiritual relief from a society consumed with excess. The workshops are held during Lent, the traditional 40-day period of fasting, prayer and penitence before Easter.

A pastor at St. John's United Methodist Church in Austin, Texas, Escamilla visited Cannon Chapel on March 29 to discuss the book as part of Candler's "Simple Enough?" lecture series.

Financially savvy students

Funded by a $50,000 grant from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, the lectures are part of Candler's commitment to decrease educational debt and improve financial literacy among students.

In February, the Rev. Adam Hamilton, founding pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan., lectured about the benefits of living simply and charitable giving.

In our consumerist culture, "a good thing is okay, more of a good thing is better and too much of a good thing is just right," Escamilla told the Emory audience.

He encouraged the group to rebel against the "marketplace machinery," which has been engaged in the "one-way conversation of 'you need more'."

"We must not only see the difference between adequacies and excess, but note the inherent value of adequacies over excess," he continued. "'No' is a word far easier to say in chorus than alone."

Rising debt among seminarians prompted both the lecture series and study group, says the Rev. Ellen Echols Purdum, director of Student Life and Spiritual Formation at Candler. Saddled with undergraduate loans, many seminarians pack on more debt as they complete their graduate training only to be told that there aren't enough jobs available in an economic downturn, Purdum adds.

Trading the drive-through for self-reflection

Students in the group are asked to spend 30 minutes a day, at least two days a week in a practice called the "Examen." Following the example of St. Ignatius, they light a candle and look inward with a series of questions, such as "At what point in the day did I feel a sense of belonging with God and the universe?" and "And at what point did I feel most disconnected?"

By pairing these questions, Purdum says, students gain a deeper understanding of how financial issues disrupt their lives. The practice is also useful for engaged couples, established families and young people trying to figure out what they want to be when they grow up.                  

In observance of Lent, Stacey Doremus, a second year Master of Divinity student at Candler, traded the fast food drive-through for self-reflection. An ESL tutor in Purdum's office, Doremus enrolled in the workshops to supplement classroom work in her "Teaching Peace in Congregations" course at Candler. She also wanted to teach her 10-year-old son, currently consumed with his iPod, how to appreciate life's true gifts, such as love for others.    

Doremus admits that carving out time for the meditations and journaling is a challenge, but she takes it step by step. The former product marketing director has begun cleaning out her closet, after realizing that she only wears five to seven outfits regularly.

"It's made me aware that I don't need all that abundance," she says.

Her classmate, Leah Lyman Waldron, also a second year Master of Divinity student, is juggling the workshops, her studies and launching a church with her husband in Atlanta. She now feels less anxiety in her down time and is more aware when she is on the verge of snapping at her husband because she is overtired.

During the last workshop, she recalls, they were short one vegetarian lunch box and Waldron, a vegetarian, offered half her sandwich to her classmate. Immediately, other classmates chipped in their chips and cookies, assembling a complete meal.  

"It was just a reminder that the more I let go of things, the more things I need are given to me," Waldron says.

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