The current tension on campus is palpable. Students seem to be reacting to finals week in two distinctly opposite ways: some have renewed energy as they attempt to review a semester’s worth of material in just a few days, others have accepted their fate and simply give up on trying to do anything but pass the final and, hopefully, the course.
I must admit while I am slightly stressed, I try to not sit in either camp, but rather to remain calm and collected as I finish my own finals week preparations. This is not to say that my week appears easy: graduate school is very difficult, and I know that sleep will be questionable at best these next few days. As a Catholic though, I have a tool to re-center and calm myself in even the most dire of situations. I am writing of course, about prayer.
As a graduate student, my coursework is very taxing and I do not have the opportunity to go home often; Thanksgiving was the first time I saw my family moving here this past August. There is a certain peace that I experience when I am with my family; this is a peace I find also in prayer.
Growing up, my grandparents had a farm in north central Wisconsin; I say ‘had” because they both passed on during my senior year of undergrad. This farm is very special to me because it offers, above all else, an escape from the trappings and temptations of modern society; a refuge in the wilderness, as it were. During the summer especially, my whole family would gather there: cousins, aunts, uncles, second cousins, and assorted other distant relatives. The farm was, and still is, the place my father’s family settled when they moved to America from Lithuania, and it continues to draw us back, as a mystical “fatherland” of sorts for those of us here in the States.
As I grew older, visits to the farm became less and less frequent; I became busy with high school activities: choir, band, swimming, tennis, etc. The times spent at the farm then became more and more important, and I would often find myself wandering the woods and relishing the peace that this communion with nature brought me.
In college, the infrequency of these visits only increased until finally I was only to make it to the farm a few days each break; I was now only spending 10-15 days each year. When my grandmother and grandfather passed away, the farm was left with no permanent residents, and we now have to unlock and relock everything each time someone visits.
I spent the last year living in Madison, Wisconsin, about an hour and a half south of my grandparents’ farm. During this difficult transition year, the time spent at the farm became more important for me, as it was one of the places where I could truly find peace. While I have not been able to go back yet this year, you can be sure that my winter break includes extended time there to re-center and recharge myself after this challenging semester.
I know what you’re all thinking: “This is great, Stephen, but what does it have to do with prayer?” For me, my grandparents’ farm and the peace I find there has everything to do with time spent in prayer. When I pray the peace that comes to me is very similar to that I get when I visit the farm; it is a deep, fulfilling peace, and one that is not easily disturbed. Oftentimes this prayer becomes, for me, a return to the woods and hills of my youth, and as I pray, the Lord and I walk though this landscape, conversing about my dreams, my ambitions, my loved ones, and my life. He corrects me where I have failed, and reminds me of what I have done well, always with an exhortation to continue to grow in Him each day.
I encourage you then, brothers and sisters, to take some time this finals week, perhaps during one of your study breaks (please take study breaks; after about an hour of work, the brain requires a short 5-10 minute break to recharge) to find your own inner quiet place, a place where you can let God speak to you. For that, place aside your worries, your stress, your homework and exams, and simply BE in the presence of Him Whose Love is Without End. I encourage you, also, to offer up your worldly concerns for that time, and let Him come and speak with you; rest in Him even as He comes and to rest in you, and surely you will come to better know His peace.
Finally, I would like to close with a quote from the Psalms: “On God my salvation and my glory rest; the rock of my strength, my refuge…”. Let God be your refuge during this busy time, and may His Grace guide and support you through this week. Best of luck this finals week, and may the peace of God Almighty go stay with you throughout the week. God bless.