This is Vassar: The newsletter for Vassar College Alumnae/i and Families

Students in the College Center during Radical Love's daytime activities. All photos © Vassar College.

Radical Love

On Wednesday, February 8, the college held Religious and Spiritual Life Day, an annual inter-religious celebration. Hosted by the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, this year’s theme was “Radical Love: Taking Back Valentine’s Day.” The event invited participants to go beyond the commercial, Hallmark-greeting-card aspects of Valentine's Day and to meditate more deeply on love in a broader context. It was part of Vassar's participation in the White House's "President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge: Advancing Interfaith Cooperation and Community Service in Higher Education."

Joseph Tolton

Daytime activities in the College Center gave way to an afternoon talk in Main Building’s Rose Parlor by Pastor Joseph Tolton ’89 (pictured, left), the head of Rehoboth Temple Christ Conscious Church in New York City and a spiritual advocate to advance the civil rights of gay and lesbian people, especially in the African diaspora. He spoke about the nexus of love, sexuality, and religion.

As the afternoon slid into night, the sounds of a Vassar Jazz Combo welcomed guests to the Aula for an inter-religious celebration that featured music, readings, reflections, mediation, and prayer. An array of faiths was represented. Imam Qari Muhammad Asil Khan demonstrated a call to prayer. Rabbi Rena Blumenthal, assistant director of Religious and Spiritual Life and the Rose and Irving Rachlin Adviser to Jewish Students, led a reading of Song of Songs and In the Fever of Love: An Illumination of the Song of Songs by Rabbi Shefa Gold. The Venerable Khenpo Kalsang Gyaltsen, a Buddhist monk, led a meditation on love. And Pastor Tolton offered a prayer.

During his introduction, Reverend Samuel Speers, director of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life and Assistant Dean for Campus Life, had encouraged guests to participate in the evening’s activities as “fully and openly” as their hearts would allow. And participate they did. Katherine Wildberger, lecturer in Dance and Drama and assistant director of VRDT (with dance major Cheng Peng ’12) guided audience members in a walking meditation that emphasized movement and connection. And Ysaye Barnwell (pictured, below right), a member of the famed a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock, led a group sing that wove individual voices into a joyous tapestry of sound.

Ysaye Barnwell

E.H. Rick Jarow, associate professor of religion and Asian studies, also performed music, set to the Ecstatic poems of the Indian poet and saint Mirabai, and a cappella group Vassar Has Soul sang a medley of gospel tunes.

At the end of the day, many participants deemed the event a resounding success—redefining love in more inclusive terms than the romantic, commercialized love of Valentine’s Day.

–Elizabeth Randolph

March 2012

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