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Invocation

We gather today, expectant,
to mark and to celebrate a new beginning
in the life of the college,
as Elizabeth Howe Bradley comes to Vassar
to work with us, and to lead us.

It is the season for new beginnings.
It is Muharram, the first month of the new year in the Muslim calendar, a time of new beginnings.
It is Tishrei, the first month of the new year in the Jewish calendar, a time of returning to ourselves.
It is Autumn, the time when trees set their buds in anticipation of spring’s new growth.

The word “invocation,” is based on the Latin for “call in.”
We gather today to invoke—to call in—the promise that is glimpsed in all new beginnings.

The secular mystic Simone Weil gives us a practice for tuning our lives to that promise.
She calls it “attention.”

For Weil, developing the capacity for attentiveness,
making it a habit,
is the real point of all learning,
whatever the subject matter.
“Never in any case whatever is a genuine effort of the attention wasted,” she tells us,
for it brings “more light into the soul.”

In an unevenly broken world,
we pause. We call in. We attend
to the promise that inheres in beginning anew,
the possibility of a world, otherwise:
More light, more love, more laughter,
truer justice, deeper learning, wider healing.
May that begin today, begin with us,
begin here.

—Samuel H. Speers

Rev. Samuel H. Speers
Assistant Dean for Campus Life and Diversity
Director of the Religious and Spiritual Life Office at Vassar College

Rev. Samuel H. Speers, D.Min, is Assistant Dean for Campus Life and Diversity and Director of the Religious and Spiritual Life Office at Vassar College. An ordained Presbyterian minister, he began his work at Vassar in 1999, having served before that at the University of Chicago where he was Associate Dean of Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. He is a graduate of Columbia University, the University of Chicago, and Princeton Theological Seminary. At Vassar, he directed a ten-year multi-campus project focusing on “Secularity and the Liberal Arts.” This Teagle Foundation project brought together chaplains and faculty from Bucknell University, Macalester College, and Williams College, as well as Vassar. He also directed the college’s participation in the 2011-13 White House Interfaith and Community Service Challenge. He is past President of the Association of College and University Religious Affairs, and currently a Luce Fellow with “Campus Chaplaincy for a Multifaith World,” a multi-year initiative for campus chaplains run by Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia, and supported by the Luce Foundation.