Recently, we have been hosting a weekly prayer service, Mane Gratia, in the university chapel. It is a service intended to reorient our hearts and minds in the direction of the Kingdom of God, and provoke us to more deeply consider our roles as ambassadors and priests to the world (Rev. 1:5-6). Thus, this intentional time of communion with God and one another in this set apart space is full of meaning, and plays a significant role as a formative practice in the lives of those who attend.
There is something about the sounds of voices calling out together: Your Kingdom come, O Lord, Your will be done. There is something about the echoing of music in a small, quiet space, and hearing God's Word proclaimed in songs that ingrain themselves in the subconscious. This is a time of, and space for, worship. After all, that is the definition of chapel: a small and/or private place for the worship of God (particularly through prayer and meditation).
Words have meaning, and naming a space the "Chapel" designates it as a meaningful space. That was the intent of the architect, W.T. Proudfoot, who included the Chapel in his original design of the Memorial Union on the Iowa State University campus. For Proudfoot, the Chapel, signifying religious conviction, served as one of the supporting elements of patriotism and democracy, which is why it is symbolically placed below Gold Star Hall. A space for the worship of God and the expression of the religious convictions that have helped to shape the institution, our country, and a concern for both.
Which brings me to last Wednesday. I entered the chapel to find several students simply using the space for studying--writing papers and reading textbooks (Unless, of course, their religious texts are derived from a collection of essays on business law, and they are communing with God via Blackboard. Then my comments are completely off base). There was no prayer. No music. No meditation. Just studying and the occasional clicking of a keyboard.
Under the banner of secularism, the Chapel has been transformed. No, not transformed, but, rather, hijacked and hollowed out. In an effort to change the Chapel's meaning--from one of religious conviction, and in particular, Christian worship of the Triune God--it has been rendered meaningless. Rather than making it a "neutral" space, the Chapel is a neutered space. Now described with banal phrases like "quiet space" and "place of reflection", this room has become irrelevant to the majority of the student body (many of whom are unaware that we even have a space on campus called the Chapel) and, because it lacks real meaning, has simply turned into another study room.
As Reformed Christians, we care deeply about the university, and seeing this institution--and the students, faculty, and staff--flourish for the good of the community and our world. And, yet, the chapel is a reminder that there are other kingdoms, powers, and authorities (of darkness) at work in our world (Eph. 6:12, Col. 1:13), twisting the good things of God's grace to humanity in ways they were not intended. Our first instinct may be to lobby and petition for change in the chapel use procedures, or simply ridicule the university and our post-Christian culture. However, I believe a better response, and the crucial challenge set before us as Christians becomes one of proclaiming the kingdom to which we belong: the Kingdom of God.
In the midst of kingdoms that seek to shape young men and women into people who have no time for rest, reflection, or communion with God and others, we proclaim a kingdom in which these practices are necessary the good of body and soul. In the midst of kingdoms filled with fear, strife, and division, we read from an ancient book--the very Word of God--of our kingdom declaring peace (Rom. 14:17), justice (Mic. 6:8), reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:17-20), and unity (Gal. 3:27-29). We show counterintuitive grace, love, and compassion, as well as practice hospitality, generosity, truth, and humility; the very virtues on which our kingdom is built. And where the world has but temporary, fleeting joys and no true hope for the future, we announce the everlasting, soul-satisfying joy and sure hope of our kingdom's coming, and the return of our King, Jesus Christ.
In these ways, we actively subvert the kingdoms of the world--those holding sway over our university--and present an alternative in the glorious good news of our Lord Jesus Christ.
So returning to the practice of prayer: Gather to pray on campus. Turn the chapel into an embassy of the Kingdom, open to any and all seeking refuge from the other kingdoms in our world. And then, go forth as representatives of the Kingdom; work hard in the office and lab, diligently study as the semester draws to an end, engage and enjoy the diverse community in which we live, and seeking to bring about the common good to the glory of God (Jer. 29:4-7) . Proclaim in word and deed the beauty, wonder, truth, and hope of the Kingdom of God: Let your Kingdom come, O Lord.