“For those few precious moments, I wasn’t at Vassar freaking out about Organic Chemistry. I was sitting in a chair with my eyes closed, but my mind could wander and travel to any place it desired,” wrote Parisa Halaji ’16 in an emailed statement, who said she felt blessed about her soothing experience from this year’s Coffeehouse.
With candles and table decorations creating an artistic, inviting atmosphere and activities revolving around this year’s theme of travel, The Office of Religious and Spiritual Life’s (RSL) sixth annual Coffeehouse took place in the Aula on Nov. 14, 2013. More than 65 people came to enjoy a moment of relaxation and respite from traveling through life’s perpetual journey in a space smelling of coffee and freshly baked deserts.
The RSL organizes the event with a different theme each year to create an open space for the Vassar community to get together and think about meaningful aspects of life. Weeks before the actual event, the RSL Administrative Assistant Liz Dunn and RSL interns prepared to make this year’s Coffeehouse memorable and impactful. Performers and activity leaders involved students from various RSL groups, including the Vassar Jewish Union (VJU), Vassar Catholic Community (VCC), Buddhist Sangha, Vassar Intervarsity Christian Fellowship (FXF) and Unitarian Universalists (UU). RSL intern Gabe Dunsmith ’15 has been involved with this event for three years.
“I shared poetry during the Coffeehouse both my freshman and sophomore years, so the event has a spiritual resonance with me. It’s been a space for Vassar students of all different backgrounds to come together,” he said.
Dunsmith hoped the event was a chance for people to pause and think of life as a constant travel, saying, “The Coffeehouse is a great reminder that we do so much traveling in our daily lives. Oftentimes, we let things pass us by without actually recognizing what is going on around us, but we should be attentive to all kinds of travel, both inner and outer, that occur all the time.”
“How might travel orient us away from the fast-paced life and reshape our notions of community? What blessings or revelations are contained in the arrival or the journey gone astray? Are there fears that are exposed as well? In our travels are we seeking to find, or are we being found? Do all our journeys come back to the same root?” said Dunsmith.
RSL integrated the theme of travel into the event in forms of singing, poetry, meditation, cardboard art and idea sharing rather than lectures. The organizers tried to make the event interesting so that people could think about how everyone should be mindful travelers embracing the beauty of life’s journey.
“I attended the Coffeehouse because a friend of mine is an RSL intern and he said it would be awesome, and it really was. The event made me realize I shouldn’t rush so often,” Sarah Perry ’17 wrote in an emailed statement.
Mia Livingston ’15 agreed. As a religion major, she was especially interested in religious seeking on campus and also found the Coffeehouse a meaningful event.
“I’m going abroad to Belgium next semester, and I know I’ll have the sentiments from Adah’s song in my head as I pack my things! Traveling is always a little nerve wracking but I love the idea of spreading out my experiences and bringing an open mind with me wherever I go,” she said.
For performers and activity leaders, the experience was also enriching. “The event reminded me that in my travels I am never alone—I always have the Lord by my side. Sometimes in the hustle an bustle of life we lose sight of what is truly important as we become preoccupied with the urgent, but we need to try to rid ourselves of worry and instead listen to the Lord for guidance and strength,” said Stephanie Stone ’15, the President of VCC. The group performed the song “Lead Me, Lord.”
Jordann Funk ’16 led a short meditation during the event. She explained how in the course of the meditation she began to feel a sense of connectedness with the participants.
“Even though it was easy for me to feel nervous in front of such a large group, I think the atmosphere of the Coffeehouse really helped me to calm down and feel comfortable because it was a place of communal sharing and a welcoming of all ideas. As I led the meditation, I felt as if I was offering my own gift to a crowd who had already given me so much through their performances,” said Funk.
The feeling of sharing existed throughout the event. This year’s Coffeehouse ended with “Joys and Sorrows,” an activity in which participants volunteered to go to the front and share some of the joys of college life, family, friends and more. They also expressed sorrow for loved ones who have passed on, and lit a candle in their honor.
“It was such a beautiful testament to a beautiful community,” said Livingston.
“Hearing about different people’s struggles and positivity created a strong sense of solidarity and community in the room,” said Isabella Johnson ’16, who felt that encountering people from different backgrounds had deepened her religious understanding.
RSL intern Arisa Gereda ’16, who helped to organize the event, could not think of a more fulfilling way to bring this two hour Coffeehouse to its climax.
Said Gereda, “So many people came up and expressed how much comfort, unity and gratefulness they were feeling for and from everyone else — all from different backgrounds and beliefs yet all together at one night, feeling the same openness and energy in the room.”
“Really,” she said, “I think those moments, with that kind of love for the community and mindfulness, were what our Coffeehouse was all about.”