Beloit College
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December 2008

This week after the Thanksgiving holiday, members of the Beloit College community returned to a campus facing greater than usual challenges. Not only are students and professors navigating the end-of-semester academic flood of papers and exams, but the entire community is going through a painful process of budget cuts and the elimination of thirty-four staff and faculty positions.

Dear friends are facing sudden unemployment. Programs need to be trimmed and restructured to function with the reduced staff support. For many, stress levels are at a peak. As a community we are grieving, with the wide range of intense emotion that come with grief: denial and numbness, anger and blame, sadness and anxiety about the future. It will take many months for us to sort through what these changes will mean to us personally and as an institution.

With all this on my mind, I received a postcard a few days ago from a wonderful Catholic organization called the Center for Action and Contemplation. On it was this amazing photograph taken by the Hubble Telescope of something called the Sombrero Galaxy (do yourself a favor and take a look at a large enough version to begin to do it justice). The folks from CAC included a short message with the picture:

10-13 billion years old.
50,000 light years across.
Contains 600-800 billion stars!
Took 30 billion years for the light to get here to reach our eyes.
A super massive black hole at its center is 1 billion times the mass of our sun!
First discovered in 1767, and humans could first see it when this picture was taken by the Hubble Telescope in 2007!
That should keep any self importance in check for awhile.

Healthy spirituality is an expression of both humility and wonder ... a deep sense that our lives, though infinitesimal, often impossibly difficult, and passing away in a heartbeat, are precious beyond measure, and characterized by an undeniable basic goodness. This paradox is celebrated in all the great faith traditions and in the sciences, too. As we approach the winter solstice, themes of light and darkness, hope and despair, death and new life will resound in many religious celebrations.

For our campus, our nation and our world, this is a fearful time. Yet it is also rich with infinite possibility. Whatever your belief is, may you embrace this paradox with a mind that is awake and a heart that is open.