Saturday, September 15, 2012


As some of you may know, in the Olin Library’s basement College Archives, there’s a corner shelf labeled “Rollins' Future History.”  Browsing there yesterday, I came upon a document that refers to our task force.  It seems that we actually achieved something noteworthy.  Here’s an excerpt.

* * *

The idea for Athena Hall arose in the Fall of 2012 within President Duncan’s Task Force on Spirituality at Rollins, a diverse campus group selected by Dean of the Chapel Patrick Powers to determine how students’ quests for meaning and purpose in their lives, for entertaining the Big Questions and for seeking wisdom, might best be met.

The hope arose, even in the group’s first meeting, that a new campus venue might be built to inspire conversations and events promoting deep and soulful, but also playful, mutual contemplations, as well as spiritual festivities.

This project began modestly during the renovation of Rollins’ Cornell Campus Center with the addition of the Athena Arena, a set-apart circular space (not unlike Olin Library’s Pillow Room), in which numerous “Dialogues” or conversations were scheduled throughout each semester by the student coordinators and faculty mentors.  Between programmed events, the Arena served as a lounge and a quiet place for meditation and discussion.  The serene view of Lake Virginia nourished contemplative souls.  Wall decorations and statuary evoked Athenian scenes of wisdom lovers pursuing their quests.

Only three years later, Athena Hall was built, a new “Greek house,” though one of a different sort than a fraternity or sorority.  It was not a dormitory but a tranquil facility for study and conversation, carrying on the former activities initiated by the Athena Arena, but now more spaciously and comfortably accommodated.  Both students and faculty knew that the walk over to Athena would take them out of their respective silos and into a conversational arena where wider and deeper matters might be entertained and engaged, where soulful confabs could occur, where sanity and sanctity would be respected.

One of the most memorable of Athena’s early public events brought together off-campus representatives of numerous spiritual traditions for a Friday afternoon colloquy intended to describe and demonstrate contemplative and meditative techniques native to their respective sects.  The collegial group included a rabbi, a Benedictine monk, a woman Buddhist priest, a Catholic priest who was a scholar of Quakerism, an African shaman from Burkina Faso and his prayer drum, a Congregationalist minister, a Taoist priest and yoga master, and a local animist who conversed with nature spirits.

In a center circle sat these featured guests, while Rollins observers ringed them in the outer arena overhearing the immensely cordial conversations among these spiritual specialists.  The afternoon was not about debate but about sharing methods and practices for inducing deeper states of spiritual consciousness, leading to more harmonious and integrated body/mind well-being.

After the expositions and discussions, the assemblage walked to Mills lawn, part of which had been set up as a labyrinth, with other areas designated for Tai Chi and yoga demonstrations.  One group proceeded to the lakeside to detect tree sylphs and water sprites, and to summon brown bunnies from their sedge nests. . . .