One Tuesday a few weeks ago, I woke up in New Haven, Connecticut, to cloudy skies and drizzling rain. I opened my umbrella as I left my house before walking up Orange Street to St. Luke’s Chapel, where I try to pray at 7:30 every morning. After Morning Prayer and the requisite small talk at coffee hour, I hopped in the car and made the three-hour trip from New Haven to St. Davids.
It was the first time I had been back on Eastern’s campus since Thanksgiving, and only the second time I’ve been back since graduation. As I pulled off the turnpike and gradually wound my way along the roads through woods that lead to Eagle Road, I felt the familiar concoction of nostalgia and gratitude.
This time last year, I was preparing to graduate from the Templeton Honors College. I had just received the news that I had been awarded a scholarship to study for a master’s degree in religion and literature at Yale, and I was elated. Yet at the same time, I was grieved to say goodbye to so many things that mattered: the professors who shaped my imagination as well as the friends and fellow cohort members who walked alongside me through four years of questions, doubts, discoveries, and growth. I was leaving my alma mater, the womb of my adult life where I had been nurtured into my identity as a woman, a scholar, and a Christian.
I pulled into the parking lot before walking toward Fowler Great Room in the rain, reflecting on all the things that had taken place in that space over my four years in Templeton: the poetry hour conversations where we felt our way toward something real, the strangling sense of identification I felt with Sarah Miles in The End of the Affair, the heated discussions about the place of faith in public discourse. Like the trees outside Fowler, the changes were barely perceptible from week to week, but each year, the sum total was immense.
After spending the summer after graduation interning at a literary journal in Seattle, in late August I moved to New Haven to begin the two-year program in religion and literature. I dove into my studies, enrolling in seminars on Dante, British political literature, contemporary poetry, and Anglican history and theology. I joined several choirs and scored an internship at Yale University Press, and I took part in the worshiping community of Berkeley Divinity School, the Episcopal seminary affiliated with Yale.
Over the course of this year, I have experienced many things I never dreamed were possible. I toured with my chamber choir to India and Thailand for seventeen days in March, which was at once wonderful and disorienting and surprising at every turn. I edited a poetry anthology about joy by Christian Wiman, a poet who has greatly shaped my understanding of God, and I oversaw much of the online presence of Yale University Press. I wrestled with the possibilities of literature to realize theology, embodiment, trauma, and desire; pressing against the limits of craftsmanship toward ineffability. I encountered beauty in choral music, in Indian spice markets, in language theory, in Thai temples, in conversation, in love. And I will continue the journey this summer in Oaxaca, Mexico, where I will spend three months learning Spanish, studying Latin American literature, and trying my hand at Oaxacan ceramics, textiles, and cuisine.
My years at both Templeton and Yale have taught me both the great danger of boredom and the great difficulty of attentiveness. It is up to us to discover the hidden meaning in what poet Albert Goldbarth calls the “greasy doorknobs and salty tearducts” of our daily experience; our duty to wonder and to delight, to embrace and hold fast to the world as word, as revelation, as news of God. In Christ of St. John of the Cross, Salvador Dali renders a crucified Christ with arms outstretched over a cloudy sky above a glassy lake. I believe our duty as students and scholars is the same, and I believe it is what the best art calls us to do: to reach with arms outstretched; to approach the work of discovery with the deliberation of a sage, the ardor of a lover, the innocent curiosity of a child.
I am grateful to have been trained in scholarship by way of this hermeneutic of love, and I am grateful that this work of cultivating our vision is never over. This learning to see beauty ancient and new, perhaps, is what matters most, as Mary Oliver tells us—this standing still and learning to be astonished.
Abbie Storch, Templeton alumna (B.A. English ’16), is a master’s candidate in religion and literature at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music as well as a marketing intern and freelance copyeditor at Yale University Press. She also sings mezzo-soprano in the Yale Schola Cantorum, a chamber choir that performs baroque repertoire under the direction of David Hill and Masaaki Suzuki. She plans to pursue a career in publishing.