This summer, I stayed in Hillsdale and worked at the college. One morning, when my uncle offered to drop me off at work, the construction around campus quickly sparked a heated conversation.
“So tell me, Reagan, what does a chapel mean to a liberal-arts education?” he asked. My uncle didn’t give me a chance to respond. “Exactly. Nothing.”
Proud of his rant-monologue, he sat back, slurped his coffee, and comfortably forgot about it. I sat in silence for the last thirty seconds of the car ride, scrambling to compose a response. I was bewildered, angry, and frustrated.
On the contrary to my uncle’s swift dismissal, a chapel is central to a liberal-arts education.
The liberal-arts education is our path to self- governance, our instruction to living a happy life, and the key to unlocking human fulfillment. The liberal arts, if we engage with them, will free us, and we can live pleasant, virtuous, and successful lives according to their lessons.
Unless the good at which this education is aimed is our eternal happiness, refuge, and treasure, even the most decorated student at commencement can step off the stage with the sad awareness that something is missing.
The chapel is important to our education because it reorients us toward God, our only true fulfillment. The stature of the chapel reminds us of our smallness.
In our smallness, we remember to hope for something, someone, so much greater than us. We, in our smallness, are like the clay thrown on a potter’s wheel, feeble and full of potential and dependent on a good Creator. Only when the Creator is able to shape us are we able to change, grow, and become fulfilled. When we recognize our smallness, we can identify the universal human-longing within each of us, which is for ultimate reunion with God.
Admitting this need within each of us requires and fosters humility.
The magnificence of Christ Chapel reminds us of the posture of wonder. In the Garden of Eden, God created Adam and Eve in the posture of wonder. As senior Michelle Reid so wisely explained in her convocation speech, “Wonder is the declaration that there is something to be delighted in. Wonder begins with humility at the goodness in something else.”
In man’s fall, the natural disposition of wonder was lost. Now, we must work to recall it.
It is up to us to remember how to live with the humility of wonder, taking in the particular beauties encountered in our daily life. Our gratitude ought to overwhelm us at the lives we have been given: our education, our friends, the beauty of the seasons and the ability to behold them. Pause. Wonder at them. Give thanks for them. Let yourself gaze at the details of the chapel, and the changing leaves, and the way your best friend’s laugh lifts the room. These are all intentional, delicate, and sure gifts of our good and merciful God. Delight in them.
The chapel is important because it exists for its own sake. The chapel will not make it easier for us to get a job, help us to start our careers with a high salary, or increase our odds of getting into graduate school. Nor do the liberal arts. But the chapel, like the liberal arts, invites us to prepare ourselves for each of those things. Asking the hard questions and making time for wonder teach us about ourselves through the process of learning about things and people other than ourselves.
Most importantly, the liberal arts will never be enough without God. The most rigorous moral and intellectual education will never fulfill us if we forget the one to whom all things are aimed.
Christ Chapel reminds us of God: our first beginning, our last end, and our only fulfillment. And the chapel is a sacred space to meet Him, in the silence of our hearts and in the community of those on our campus.
Reagan Cool is a senior studying theology and a columnist on faith and religion.