Robbins Chapel Dedication: Dedicatory Meditation
David L. Jeffery
Friends, honorable colleagues, and most welcome guests: this occasion has seemed to me a good opportunity for us to think together for a few minutes about gifts, and what they can mean.
A carefully chosen gift, as the Swiss psychologist Paul Tournier has well remarked, is always charged with meaning. Thoughtfully given gifts, motivated by love for the recipient, tell us a great deal about the giver. I invite you to consider with me briefly, then, the reason, the character, and the meaning of Robbins Chapel as a gift from two very thoughtful people to the ongoing community of Baylor University.
Some things will be immediately obvious. That this chapel is a place for prayer is evident; that our benefactors and their grateful collaborators among our faculty, student life staff, and students have gone to great pains, all contributing to make it a place of beauty, is transparent; that there is a rich historical as well as intellectual and theological content from the wider Christian tradition is apparent particularly when we study more closely the beautiful stained glass windows. This gift to Baylor University is accordingly much more than a matter of bricks, copper, wood and glass. It speaks of a deep conviction concerning the value of prayer, a love of beauty in the context of worship, and an appreciation that Baylor is a Christian institution which seeks to live up to a tradition of faithfulness in which it continues to play an important part.
I suggest that we reflect on each of these features in turn in the light of three questions which have been posed by some who have possibly not yet understood or fully appreciated the great value of this chapel to the life of our students. For it is the students who are the beneficiaries primarily intended by the Robbins, and, though faculty participate here, notably in one of the three daily services of prayer and meditative reading of the Scriptures, already we can see that what our benefactors and others have principally hoped for is being amply realized: students can be found here at almost any hour of the day until late in the evening-quietly praying, reading their Bibles, meditating on the significance of the stories reflected in the windows.
Nevertheless, one question that has been raised, perhaps somewhat critically, is "Why do we need more places for worship on the Baylor University campus at all?" This type of question, I think, pre-supposes that Waco Hall, Truett Chapel, Miller Chapel, and the ante-chapel some students refer to as "Miller-Lite" are more than enough places for worship on our campus already. In fact, Robbins Chapel, here in Brooks College, seeks to meet quite another need; not to be just another place of public worship, but to be a hospice for private and small group prayer in an intimate setting, proximate to where students live, study, and take classes. By design it is therefore placed very close to the hum of student and faculty life, yet is made to be so distinctively sacred a setting that it becomes nonetheless "a place apart." It is a fine example of what the great hymn-writer Isaac Watts called "a retreat for prayer," a sanctuary.
There are times in any student's life when the stress and press of the semester and the hubbub of myriad voices make the interior life difficult. Even a very worthy experience of public worship in church, moreover, can, as the psalmist suggests (in Ps. 42:4-5) leave one still with a sense of "disquiet," and even "downcast" in spirit. In such a time and who has not known such times? to be able to draw apart, seeking God's presence, to be still and to remember that he is God, to reflect on his Word as the sunlight refracts through the windows color by color on the open page that can be a personal gift of surpassing value. "As the hart pants after the waterbrooks, so pants my soul after Thee, O God" (Ps. 42:1). This is a confession of desire for God in which many of us can share. There are times in which we search very needily for the life-giving stream, the dappled glade of interior prayer which invites his presence.
Many a student faces big choices during these years vocation, relationship, and lifelong commitment are among them. Seeking God's will, for the would-be faithful believer, is as natural a desire as seeking to please one's beloved friend-- or parent-- but contemporary university campuses seldom provide well for the pursuit of it. One of the purposes of Robbins Chapel is to encourage our students, in these most personal intentions of the heart, to inquire of the Lord concerning personal direction and to begin, as the Apostle recommends, by prayer "without ceasing, in everything giving thanks: for this," St Paul adds, "is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (I Thess. 5:18).
Real gratitude -- sincere, unfeigned "thanksgiving" is harder to come by than we might wish. It has long been so. The great pagans, Aristotle and Epicurus among them, thought gratitude a form of "slavish" behavior unsuitable to the "perfection" of aristocratic life. These prejudices have many modern successors. A faithful Christian in any culture thinks otherwise; our public worship is centered on thanksgiving (the New Testament Greek word is Eucharist), and both Scripture and the saints of all ages teach us that a sound beginning place for daily communion with God is personal thankfulness for all his benefits, life and New Life included. After all, our faith itself, as Thomas Merton reminds us, is a "gratuitous gift from God" (Life and Holiness, 80). Much more frequently, I think you will agree, we should pause to be thankful, and to be grateful that the faithfulness of others has led to such gifts as this sanctuary in which it is so natural to "lift up our hearts unto the Lord."
For many of our students, finally, Robbins Chapel has already become a personal place to "hear and inwardly digest" the word of God in private devotional reading, to "enter into his presence by faith and with thanksgiving", to come to know his heart by praying, with Scripture and in the words of Scripture, that our wills may be united to his, that his will shall be done in our lives, so that his kingdom may come in our midst. Yes, our God is everywhere, and thus we can certainly come to Him in prayer anywhere. But distracted as we so typically are, we are often in need of a special space to make it possible for us. This is such a place, here in the very rush and turmoil of our busy university existence, to close the doors on the traffic for awhile, and to re-focus, to be reminded of the availability to us of "the peace that passes understanding" (Phil. 4:7), to experience for ourselves that for which the prophets also yearned: "peace, perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee" (Isa. 26:3). There are many students (and not only students) for whom a few minutes of reorientation to the "peace which passes understanding" can in fact be the difference between spiritual health and psychic disorder. We should not underestimate it.
A second question I have overheard is: "But why does it need to be in such a high and fussy style, with all that stained glass?" This question, understandable if one is thinking about such space more narrowly, is one that I hope an appreciation of the beauty and good purpose of the artists at Willet and Hauser will have sufficiently answered. Look and see. Beauty, we learn in Scripture, is one of the attributes of God, even as Augustine noted long ago, one of the names of God. The psalmist invites us to "worship the Lord in the Beauty of holiness" (Ps 29:2; 96:9); he associates the place of praise and prayer (cf. Ps. 84:1) with a loveliness in the sanctuary reflective of the Glory of God. His own best art he offers as a thanksgiving in such poetry as he can manage (Ps. 45). Yes, our benefactors could have provided us something much plainer, and to themselves less costly. But that would not be in the spirit of their own gratitude to the Great Giver: rather, the spirit of this good man and his wife is captured in the words of King David, when he said, "I will not make an offering to the Lord of that which costs me nothing" (2 Sam. 24:24). We should learn from their generosity a lesson about giving, where God is concerned.
A last quizzical comment that I have overheard and wish to respond to is: "Why all these historical as well as biblical figures in the windows?" Here I must be brief and may be for in a sense, all of Baylor's effort at education in a Christian context is itself the answer. For specifics regarding each of the windows, with their celebration of those intellectual, moral, and theological virtues that direct us finally to worship the "giver of every good and perfect gift" (James 1:17), I refer you to your printed guide.
But let me add to those words, and to the fine words of Gary Guadagnolo here today, one more observation. Our faith is a tradition of knowledge, not merely something we summon up on our own personal resources as a feeling or experience. Our Christian faith is faith in the One who is "yesterday, today, the same forever" (Heb. 13:8), in that One who alone is entirely faithful, Jesus Christ, whose faith unto death on the Cross is the very faith which, since its foundation, Baylor University has claimed as its own. Ours is a tradition of learning and understanding with a full range of intellectual, artistic, musical, and scientific dimensions: these windows remind us of that fact, even as they remind us of human exemplars of those various intellectual, moral and theological virtues which together compose the active life of faith in any time and place. It is on such admirable shoulders, to paraphrase Bernard of Chartres, that we now stand. Or, to put the same point more actively, it is in the relay-race of the history of faith, described by the writer of the book of Hebrews, that we now find ourselves, "surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses," cheering us on, reminding us how our own lap can be well accomplished, if we will but keep our focus on Him who is the Alpha and the Omega, the Author and Finisher of our faith.
And so--when, as has already and will often happen, members of this living-learning community of Brooks College come in here, feeling perhaps a bit alone in the crowd', seeking a measure of strength beyond self, they will be able to look and learn, and so to take a measure of the great resources of Faith. Enabled then, we pray, to cast off needless encumbrances, they can begin again to run afresh the race of life with renewed confidence and firm hope. Consider all this, continues our text, "lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls" (12:3). Here is the source of good hope which, with love, binds each of us together in good company, in continuity with the examples set before us in the rich, unbroken story of redemptive grace. These splendid chancel windows serve to remind us, in A.W. Tozer's words, that "faith is not a once-done act, but a continuous gaze at the heart of the triune God" (The Pursuit of God , 90). Because, as Tozer continues, "Faith is the least self-regarding of the virtues," it is just what we most need to depend upon when burdened with our own problems. It has been the path forward for members of the Body of Christ for two millennia, and it can still be so for us today, if we choose it.
In this light, refracted as it is through the vagaries and frailties of our often imperfect desire for God, we may come, together, much closer, in St. Paul's words, "to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13). The most mature Christians among us know that no one can finally manage life's journey solo; to avoid despondency and worse we must come to know him in his Word, reveal our heart to Him in prayer, and then discover ourselves to be at home in the prayers both of those among us now and those ranged across space and time, the faithful of all the ages. Reflecting on these gifts of God's grace enables us to take up our own part in the ongoing great relay of Christian faithfulness.
It is in that spirit of gratitude and desire for renewed faithfulness that we come together with you, Uncle Bill and Mary Jo, this evening. This is an occasion of thankfulness, celebration, and dedication to be sure, but even more, it is our opportunity to join with you in mutual affirmation of our shared commitment to God's abiding faithfulness to Baylor University. This I take to be the reason, this character, and this I take to be the meaning of the gift-your gift-- by which we are now surrounded in this place. Thanks be to God for your faithfulness.