When I came to a Christian college, there were certain spiritual experiences I expected. I expected to go to chapel multiple times a week, to carpool with friends to a local church, and to have access to various other worship opportunities in any given week. What I didn’t necessarily expect is how much my classes and professors would influence my life as a thinking Christian.
Of course, I knew I would take several Bible and theology classes. I naturally assumed that these courses would be personally illuminating, as well as instructive. But these were not the only classes that have contributed to my spiritual experience on campus.
Exploring New Ideas in London Honors
One of the classes during which I grew the most as a person and specifically as a Christian, was the London Honors semester that I did during freshman year. We read a variety of texts, but in particular we read a lot of theology and philosophy texts. My fellow students and I were suddenly overwhelmed with different theological possibilities. For many of us, the texts that we read suggested theological viewpoints that we had never given much thought to before, and we had so much to think about and discuss. Our professors were eager to help us puzzle through interesting and sometimes uncomfortable ideas.
During the fall semester, in our proseminar before we went to London, we read some of Thomas Aquinas’ theological works. As the class time was ending, and we were wrapping up our discussion of Aquinas, one of our professors mentioned offhand that if any of us wanted to discuss it more, we could talk to him and set up a time. A good six or seven of us leaped on this opportunity. We all got together in the dining hall and crowded around a table to enthusiastically discuss Aquinas’ ideas. We read Aquinas after Aristotle, and he harmonizes Aristotle’s ideas with a Christian viewpoint in a way that felt deeply satisfying. He considered his image of the goal of humanity: a good life with God. We pondered what that meant, and how we could attain it in our new lives at college.
Walking with St. Teresa
The next semester, in London, we continued to read and think. It was for homework in London that we read one of the most influential texts to my Christian walk since I was in middle school. We read some selections from The Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila, something that I otherwise would likely never have known would be a worthwhile read. St. Teresa’s words are full of concrete advice for how to grow closer to God, and of encouragement for times when the going is slow. I remember sitting on my bed in London, reading late one night while my roommates sat nearby and worked, and being amazed.
St. Teresa explained things in ways I had never thought of before, and she offered so much description of God’s love and patience for his children as they gradually tried to draw nearer to him. At a point in my life where I was feeling frustrated by my seeming lack of progress in my spiritual walk, these were exactly the words I needed to read.
Learning in a Christian Community
The companionship of both my friends and my professors gave me what I needed to process the readings during that time. I went to class encouraged and excited to talk about St. Teresa’s words, or any of the other philosophy that we read.
I felt about my professors the way I felt about my Mom growing up, like they were simply overflowing with spiritual wisdom that I wanted, both practical and more abstract. Their guidance through the texts that we read helped me to gain more wisdom and understanding from the readings than I ever could have on my own. I delight in continuing to interact and gain spiritual insight from these professors, in class, in church, and in life in general.
Ally is an English and mathematics major, and a member of the Class of 2021.