The wind is gusting on the quad this morning. The white landscape gives no clue that we are already over halfway through Lent — which, apart from all its connotative associations with reflection and preparation for Easter — is supposed to mean “spring.”
Neither the intensity of winter nor the intensity of the semester has yet given way to the more relaxed warmth of springtime in Houghton. The sap is not running in the maple trees. No sign of green shoots where the chapel tulips are supposed to be. No frisbees on the quad. Only the gradual daily changes in light signal that, sooner or later, winter will have to yield.
The calm Ash Wednesday chapel service several weeks ago stands in sharp contrast to the unfolding Lenten season that we have experienced as a Houghton community this year. We had some inkling in January that this could be an especially busy spring semester. The visible construction of the baseball and softball stadiums is only the most evident of the many changes that are going on throughout the college as we seek to prepare Houghton College for mission effectiveness in the 21st century. Changes in government regulation, ongoing national economic uncertainty, changes in the church, changing expectations of students and their families, globalization, technological innovation — all require Houghton to think differently if we want to stay true to our longstanding mission of preparing graduates for extraordinary lives of Kingdom purpose and global impact.
Nothing could have fully prepared us for the shocking and tragic news that recent Saturday evening that one of our most gifted students had disappeared and apparently chosen to take his own life. Despite being loved by his colleagues and supported by faculty mentors and many others in our college community, he could not see his way forward. His friends, his family, and many on our faculty and staff will never be the same. They will walk with memories and unresolved questions as long as they live.
In the midst of this tragedy, I saw the Houghton community at its best. The student life staff, under the leadership of their new vice president, immediately began to work out the plans that long ago had been carefully put in place for just such a time as this. They worked as a team all weekend — the dean of the chapel, the counselors, the residence life staff, each ministering out of his or her particular gifts to the needs of the family and the students. The whole community gathered in the chapel on Monday morning. A special program had been prepared to update the community, to bring wise counsel about grieving, and to offer words of hope from Psalm 131. The rich and total silence after the meditation, as we lifted our hearts to the only One who could fully bear the pain of this moment, was unforgettable. In the days that followed, the community gathered around the parents as they came to campus; faculty and staff devoted countless hours to talking with our students; and we remembered the student in a moving service of gratitude and hope grounded in the Gospel story of Redemption that is always at the heart of Houghton — but especially powerful in times like this.
We are continuing through this Lenten season — continuing to be faithful to our respective assignments, trying to be content with “seeing through a glass darkly,” confident that, someday, in the fullness of time, we shall see “face to face” (I Corinthians 13). Like all of God’s creation, we are waiting here at Houghton, not always patiently, for Easter.
Grace, Peace, and Hope to you today.
Shirley A. Mullen, Class of 1976