Clayton McCleskey: A return to a spiritual path

What do you worship?

It’s an important question, but one we don’t think about often. Sometimes, however, life forces us to re-examine what is important, to ask ourselves what is worth worshipping.

Last Friday gave us all such a moment when our fellow student and Life contributing editor Laura Treanor died suddenly in her Ivory Tower room.

Such tragedies remind us that very little of what we worry about on a day-to-day basis truly matters. It was for that very reason that Laura and I had decided I should write about religion this week. As I discussed the column with her, she expressed her hope that it would jumpstart a dialogue about religion on campus.

Well, let’s get started.

Like many of you, I come from a religious family. I grew up down in Texas, under the buckle of the Bible belt, so church was always a big part of my life.

But during my freshman year at GW I slacked off, and I become a devoted parishioner of St. Mattress.

In an attempt to get back in the religious saddle, I’ve been attending St. Paul’s over on K Street recently. And last Thursday I dropped in on the GW Canterbury Club, a small but devoted group of Episcopal students that meets weekly at St. Mary’s, the red brick church sandwiched between Hel-Well and Hillel.

“A lot of people forget about religion,” one student told me, explaining how she gave up on church freshman year. Now as an upperclassman, she regularly attends services at St. Mary’s and is even a member of the Altar Guild.

I have the feeling that many students fall off the spiritual wagon as freshmen and never manage to make it back on. College is a time to explore. And that’s a good thing. But in the process spirituality can easily fall to the wayside.

The GW culture may be partly to blame.

“I feel like theology isn’t really an interest of GW students,” a wise friend told me.

The folks in the Canterbury Club agreed.

“Many students are seeking to get away from what they were forced to do their whole life,” said freshman Mikel Peña.

Questioning the beliefs you grew up with is a natural and healthy part of the college experience. But there is a difference between questioning beliefs and giving up on them.

The late David Foster Wallace told the 2005 graduating class of Kenyon College, “There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship . is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.”

Figuring out what’s important to you, what you want to worship isn’t easy. But the process strengthens us and allows us to grow up.

GW has a smorgasbord of religious organizations such as the Newman Catholic Center and Hillel. Try one out. Or maybe you’re one of those people who isn’t a fan of “organized religion.” Then, go find yourself some disorganized religion.

Growing spiritually certainly does not require participation in a Bible study. Take a yoga class. Go for a contemplative stroll on the National Mall. Or enroll in a religion course.

I’ve come to realize that music is central to my spiritual life. You’ve got to find your own path. The important thing is that you think critically about what you choose to believe in and what you value. For some students, the church is the perfect place to do just that.

“Church centers you, it keeps you grounded,” one student told me.

“At church I become part of something more,” said another. “It’s the bedrock I stand on.”

So, what do you worship?

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