This is Our Upper Room Moment

Aidan Birth '21, Guest Writer

I originally wrote this piece as part of a weekly column for the Center for Spirituality and Social Justice (CSSJ). In writing this piece, my hope was to spur some thought and even prompt a call to action for ourselves amidst the present time we find ourselves in where our motivation is drained as a result of COVID-19. As we are now in the middle of the Western Christian Holy Week, I wanted to share this piece with The Dickinsonian to once again, spur some thought and give some extra motivation, especially as we have experienced numerous transitions with some students leaving campus and others (like myself) returning to campus for the first time in a year. Furthermore, the religious language I use in this piece fits in with the broader Holy Week and Easter narrative, but I hope that my language will also be accessible enough for people of non-religious backgrounds to understand.

In my roles in Dickinson Catholic Campus Ministry (DCCM) and Dickinson Christian Fellowship (DCF), I find myself linking the circumstances of a given moment to the Christian faith. This has happened even more as we have been impacted by COVID-19 and have found ourselves more isolated than normal, trying to protect ourselves from this virus. At the same time, I have found myself planning numerous virtual events to accommodate for the needs of my fellow students. Especially as a second-semester senior, it is easy for me to feel sad as I plan these events, wondering what could have been if I were in person with everyone else and knowing that some of the events I had envisioned will not happen while I am a student at Dickinson. As a result, I find myself pondering on the future of the groups I am involved in at Dickinson, which is how I came to the realization that this is our “upper room moment.”

The “upper room” is the center of early Christianity. It is where Jesus had the Last Supper with his closest followers, the apostles, it is where Jesus’ apostles were after his death, and it is where the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Christian Holy Trinity, came upon the apostles at Pentecost. I particularly think of the Upper Room as described at Pentecost, which is where the apostles were staying and “devoted themselves with one accord to prayer” (Acts 1:13-14). They remained waiting in this room until Pentecost when a strong driving wind came from the sky and tongues of fire fell upon everyone who was there. Subsequently, all who were present there whom the tongues of fire fell upon were filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in different languages. It is from here that the apostles are empowered to go out and spread their belief in Jesus Christ to different parts of the world (Acts 2).

While this image of the “upper room” and what happened there is specific to Christianity (with some Jewish influences), the idea of what happened does not need to be specific to Christianity. The Upper Room was a place of waiting and preparation. The apostles were not yet ready to spread their belief in Jesus, but they were waiting and preparing for what was to come.

We too are waiting; we are waiting to see what happens once COVID-19 is under more control. We eagerly anticipate the day when we can gather more in person safely, yet it is hard for us to envision what this “new normal” will look like. Even as vaccines are distributed, we find ourselves needing to maintain precautions as new COVID variants spread, adding to our uncertainty. However, we can use the next couple months to prepare. For a senior like me, this means passing along the leadership roles that I have in my various groups and finishing the work for my major and minor. For a sophomore or junior, this may take the form of completing graduation requirements and preparing to lead clubs next school year. For first-year students, this may take the form of finding the groups that mean the most to you and dedicating your time to them and finding the subjects you are passionate about as you decide majors and minors. Even for faculty and staff, preparing for the new normal may take the form of looking at what has worked and not worked in executing a job such as teaching a class or offering a service to the college community.

As much as I can give suggestions, I want to leave this idea of the upper room moment open to anyone reading this. What is your upper room moment going to be these next couple months? How are you going to prepare for the new normal, whatever that may look like? What have you done that has worked well, and what have you done that has not worked well? What do you envision for your future, the future of the people you work with and live with, and the future of the groups and departments that you are a part of? As we seek to answer these questions over the next few months, hopefully we too will feel empowered to carry out our tasks and relationships better than ever before.