Thursday 5 January 2023

Prayer Letter: January 2023

Tuesday, January 3 - Friday, January 6:

Please join us in thanksgiving for the start of a new year! The ICS office opens again today, so we pray for staff, faculty, and students as they return from their various travels and holiday festivities that they may all be refreshed from the time away and energized to jump into the work and projects the new semester brings! 

Today, we ask for your continued prayers for the ongoing search for a new Senior Member. After virtual ‘campus visits’ in December, candidates will continue with the next steps in the process during the month of January. First is an interview with the Search Committee on the 5th, then an interview with the Senate on the 21st. Please pray for wisdom all around during the course of this search process and committee deliberations.

We ask for your prayers this week for our Senior Members who are making their final teaching preparations for this term’s courses: Ron Kuipers, Jim Olthuis, Gideon Strauss, Bob Sweetman, and Edith van der Boom. Pray too for Rebekah Smick as she focuses on her various writing projects and continues preparing for ART in Orvieto this summer, and for Nik Ansell as he begins his sabbatical research and writing projects.  

Monday, January 9 - Friday, January 13:

Please pray for our Junior and Senior Members as classes resume this week. As in the fall, all our winter courses will be online, so we pray especially for Junior Members’ encouragement, connection, and insightful engagement in their studies. In addition to various guided readings and thesis writing and projects taking place this term, please take time this week to pray for each of the following courses:

  • On Tuesday, starting at 10:00am, Bob Sweetman will be teaching about the fundamentals and contemporary relevance of Reformational philosophy in his course: Religion, Life, and Society. Please pray for Bob as this is the last time he will teach this course before his retirement, and for the students that this will be a time of inspirational learning for everyone in this foundational course. 

  • Also on Tuesday, starting at 6:00pm, this year’s Interdisciplinary Seminar begins: Faith, Freedom, and the Meaning of Politics: Liberalism and Its Discontents. Please pray for the seminar leaders, Gideon Strauss and Ron Kuipers, and the students in the course as they discuss the political liberalism that has shaped the constitutional arrangements of many nations today, and as they explore some of the challenges and current debates among proponents of liberalism, nationalism, and integralism.

  • On Thursday, starting at 6:00pm, Bob Sweetman will begin his course: Spiritual Exercise as Christian Philosophy from Augustine to Bonaventure. Pray for Bob and the students as together they examine the Hellenic and Hellenistic notion of spiritual exercise in order to understand the emergence of ‘Christian philosophy’ as a cultural project within the Augustinian tradition.

Pray also for our MA-EL Winter Retreat taking place this Saturday, and for the two MA-EL courses which will begin this week:

Monday, January 16 - Friday, January 20:

The Academic Council will have its first meeting of the term this week. Among the other matters of academic oversight, the Academic Council will receive and discuss Gideon Strauss’ reflective practice report as a Senior Member. Please pray that this time spent together in deliberation and conversation will provide mutual encouragement to everyone involved. Please also keep the work of the Academic Council in your prayers for the remainder of the term. 

This Wednesday, starting at 6:00pm, Senior Member Emeritus Jim Olthuis will begin teaching his course: Nothing Can Separate Us…!: The Dialectical Materialism of Slavoj Žižek. Pray for Jim and the course’s students as they explore Žížek's incisive structural insights on topics like his faith in the Void as the eternal traumatic Real in contrast with faith in the steadfast Love of God. 

Please pray for MA-EL Junior Member Carla Buckingham who caught RSV in mid-December, was hospitalized a week before Christmas, and is still in the hospital recovering three weeks later. She expects to be released soon and is on the mend, but please pray with us for Carla’s speedy return to full health and for the space to rest and recover without further complications. 

Monday, January 23 - Friday, January 27:

ICS alum Dan Jesse (2008) recently graduated from the University of Aberdeen with a PhD in Divinity and a thesis titled “The Religious End of Sorrow: Resurrecting Sadness through Liturgical Vulnerability.” He also recently published a journal article titled “Over-Generalizing, Under-Promising, and Over-Promising: Singing Sadness and Joy in the Church.” Please join us in giving thanks for Dan’s achievement in reaching this milestone and for his being able to share his research with scholarly peers and the wider community. 

Please pray this week for our Junior Members who still have outstanding work to be submitted from their fall courses. The deadline for submission is on Friday the 27th, so we ask for clarity and creativity as they complete their various assignments, and for dexterity as they balance the work of this semester and last.

This month, Recruitment Coordinator Brenna Werhle takes on the additional part-time role of Assistant Registrar. Brenna will continue in her efforts to recruit new students to ICS courses and programs, and will join Gideon Strauss and Elizabet Aras in the Academic Office supporting our existing Junior Members and students in their studies. We give thanks for all the ways Brenna has served ICS since being hired and for her willingness to take on this new range of responsibilities. 

Monday, January 30 - Tuesday, January 31: 

Our MA and PhD program application deadline is February 1st. Please pray that potential Junior Members may find their way to ICS, that they might discern how ICS can support them in considering the big questions they want to explore, and that they will be able to compile their applications in time to start their programs in the fall. 

The ICS Senate and Educational Policy Committee also meet this month. Please pray for each of these groups as they come together to consider course proposals, academic plans and policies, and various aspects of the teaching and learning that goes on at ICS. We’re grateful for the time, vision, and expertise the members of each of these bodies brings to discussions of academic direction at ICS.

As our 2022 Advent campaign draws to a close, we want to take this opportunity to express our deepest gratitude to all our donors for your uplifting support over the past year. Your faithful and generous gifts of prayer and financial support, month by month and year by year, have been a blessing to us and continue to bolster us in our daily work of providing Christian education. We give thanks to God for each of you, and we start 2023 filled with hope and strength to face what the new year brings!

Thank you for giving generously so ICS can continue to provide an academic home to curious and creative Junior Members!

Dwelling in God’s Beloved Cosmos

“For God so loved the world….”

–John 3:16a

Do you like to gaze at the stars? I do. My only complaint is that all the artificial light pollution in Toronto makes it difficult to see more than just the brightest ones. If I am lucky, sometimes I will see the Big Dipper, the North Star, or Orion’s Belt. I am always astonished, however, whenever I leave the bright lights of the city and am able to make out the dusty white band of the Milky Way or witness the sheer infinity of heavenly bodies that become visible in darker conditions.

I’m not sure why I like looking at stars. They can make you feel frighteningly small and insignificant. As Blaise Pascal laments in his Pensées: “When I consider the short duration of my life, swallowed up in an eternity before and after, the little space I fill engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces whereof I know nothing, and which know nothing of me, I am terrified. The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me….”

I sometimes wonder if the cold and meaningless universe that secular modernity insists upon, and which so terrified Pascal, can be reconciled with the world that scripture calls a cosmos (Greek kosmos, kosmon), the world bathed in God’s creating and healing love. Our reason alone will never tell us that the universe is such a cosmos, even as our hearts, if we listen to them, keep stubbornly insisting that it is so.

Pascal also said that “the heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of,” and with Pascal, I believe we must attend to these heart-reasons. They connect us to something real and vitally important, and their message is more than mere projection or wishful thinking. I have never been able to understand how people can consider the “cold and meaningless universe” picture to be nothing but a simple, neutral description of the facts, and not an interpretive spin emerging from the modern secular assumption that the only possible meaning anything can have is the meaning we impose ourselves. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the universe became cold and silent the very moment we closed ourselves to the possibility that it might speak with its own voice.

One of the main reasons I like to look up at the stars, then, is because doing so makes me spiritually porous. What I see is also seen by many different others, both far and near, and this helps me feel connected to everyone and everything around me. In those moments, I experience something of the God-loved cosmos, the good world where humans dwell below the dome of sky, populated with an infinity of lights, all made with love by the Creator of the stars of night.

As we move forward from Christmas into Epiphany, we finally recall the way a star marked Jesus’ very birthplace, the humble stable where he was wrapped in rags. As we enter the new year, I wish you all the peace announced in our Messiah’s coming: Emmanuel, God with us!

Shalom, my friends!

Ron Kuipers