‘I Go Right to the Edge’ & Other Prayers for College

Background image an illustration from Living Traditions of Vedas by Bhattathiripad and Bahulkar

College campuses across the country are engaged in an unprecedented experiment in learning. We reached out to religious life coordinators and interfaith chaplains across the U.S. to share prayers, reflections, meditations, that offer courage and wisdom from diverse faiths to help us navigate this time of uncertainty. Here are their responses. 

1. Vineet Chander, Coordinator for Hindu Life at Princeton University, shares a traditional Hindu prayer that seeks to invoke auspiciousness and blessings at the start of any educational endeavor.  

oṁ saha nāv-avatusaha nau bhunaktu  

saha vīryam karavāvahai 

tejasvi nāv-adhītam-ashtu, ma vidvishāvahai 

oṁ shanti, o shanti, om shantih   

May the Divine protect us together. May the Divine nourish us together. May we work together with energy and vigor. May our study be enlightening. May the poison of enmity never enter our midst. May there be peace, peace, peace. 

 - Taittiriya Upanishad 

2. Varun Soni, Dean of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life at the University of Southern California was inspired by the legendary Bob Dylan’s music for his Fall invocation speech. An excerpt:  

We all contain multitudes, especially right now. We all spill with over with many moods and contradictions. We all feel the full range of human emotions daily. We all wrestle with the confusion and anxiety that emerges from the uncertainty of this moment. And yet, at the same time, we are all inspired by the transformation of consciousness all around us, and by our exciting new beginnings and new awakenings... 

As you navigate your place and way at the University of Southern California, and as you encounter and interrogate the multitudes that make you who you are, may you remember the words and wisdom of Bob Dylan:  

 “I go right to the edge, I go right to the end  
I go right where all things lost are made good again.” 

3. For his convocation speech at Clayton State University, Shakeer Abdullah, the Vice President of Student Affairs, adapted a Hadith from Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to set an important reminder for his students.  

In a Hadith narrated by Ibn Abbas and reported by Al Hakim, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) says:  

“Take benefit of five before five: Your youth before your old age, your health before your sickness, your wealth before your poverty, your free time before you are preoccupied, and your life before your death.” 

4. Joy Getnick, the Executive Director of Hillel at the University of Rochester, shares a popular Jewish poem turned song that she turns to in difficult times.  

One of my very favorite reflections is a song called "Omrim Yeshna Eretz," aka "They Say There Is A Land." It's a poem by late 19th/early 20th-century Zionist poet, Shaul Tchernichovsky. It speaks about this idea of someone searching for the perfect land.  The speaker has looked everywhere but can't find it. Eventually, they go to the famed Rabbi Akiva and ask "Rabbi, where are the holy ones, where are the Maccabees?"  The rabbi responds with "All of Israel is holy, you are the Maccabee." Ie: Don't look to others; look to yourself.  Be the Maccabee. You can read the full poem here.  

How is it we have gone astray? 
That not yet have we been left alone? 
That land of sun, 
that one we have not found. 
 
A land where shall come to pass 
what every man had hoped for, 
Everyone who enters, 
had met with Akiva.  

Peace to you, Akiva! 
Peace to you, Rabbi! 
Where are the saints? 
Where is the Maccabee? 
 
Answers him Akiva, 
answers him the Rabbi: 
All of Israel is sainted, 
you are the Maccabee!  

5. Dr. Simran Jeet Singh, an educator, writer, and activist, shares a powerful passage from Sikh scripture. 

rwgu gauVI dIpkI mhlw 

In Rag of Gauri Dipaki, by Guru Nanak  

<> siqgur pRswid 

One Universal Creator. By the True Guru’s Grace.  

jY Gir kIriq AwKIAY krqy kw hoie bIcwro 

The house in which praises are expressed and the Creator is contemplated,  

iqqu Gir gwvhu soihlw isvirhu isrjxhwro 

In that house, sing the song of joy and remember the Maker.  

qum gwvhu myry inrBau kw soihlw 

Sing the song of my Fearless Divine.  

hau vwrI ijqu soihlY sdw suKu hoie  rhwau 

I am a sacrifice to that wedding song which brings everlasting joy. Pause and Reflect.  

inq inq jIAVy smwlIAin dyKYgw dyvxhwru 

The Giver constantly cares for and looks over all beings.  

qyry dwnY kImiq nw pvY iqsu dwqy kvxu sumwru 

The value of Your gifts cannot be known – How could we ever measure the Giver?  

sMbiq swhw iliKAw imil kir pwvhu qylu 

The day of the wedding has been written. Gather and pour the oil!

dyhu sjx AsIsVIAw ijau hovY swihb isau mylu 

Friends, give your blessings so I may merge with the Master.  

Gir Gir eyho pwhucw sdVy inq pvMin 

They reach every single home – invitations are sent constantly.

sdxhwrw ismrIAY nwnk sy idh AwvMin 

Remember the One who summons. O Nanak, that day is approaching! 

6. Gail Stearns, Dean of the Wallace All Faiths Chapel at Chapman University, shares an excerpt from her invocation reflections she shared at a Fall full faculty meeting 

One of the most difficult things to do in the midst of uncertainty is to know we are part of a greater arc and to take the long view. You may recall Wendell Berry’s poem Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front, where he writes: 

Ask the questions that have no answers.  

Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias. 

Put your faith in the two inches of humus  

that will build under the trees every thousand years. 

I think also of the question concluding the poem “Sky Coming Forward,” by Professor of English from Washington University in St. Louis, Carl Phillips: 

What if, between this one and the one 

we hoped for, there’s a third life, taking its own 

slow, dreamlike hold, even now—blooming, in spite of us?” 

It is difficult to take the long view, while at the same time, be engaged every day and continue to support one another and to treat one another, as our Faculty Senate President said in her video remarks, with dignity and respect. Well, today, we are here – we are engaged! Hundreds of Chapman faculty on this call. Let’s pause to attune––for among these are the people who will send you nourishment this fall. 

7. Rev. Dr. C. Denise Yarbrough, Director of Religious and Spiritual Life at the University of Rochester, shares a prayer from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer that she finds helpful during these unsettled times when life is upended and nothing is how it used to be and everyone is trying to navigate the “new normal.” 

This is another day O Lord.  I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready Lord, for whatever it may be.  If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely.  If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me do it patiently.  And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly.  Make these words more than words and give me the Spirit of Jesus.  Amen. 

8. Rev. Dr. Brian E. Konkol, Dean of Hendricks Chapel at Syracuse University, shared “A Blessing for Learners”  

To the curious… 

And to the courageous... 

To the seeking… 

And to the suspicious... 

Blessed are you. 

Blessed are you who animate, facilitate, and agitate the exploration of knowledge and wisdom. 

Blessed are you who live with childlike enthusiasm and elderly wisdom. 

Blessed are you who resist fear and welcome every constructive critique. 

Blessed are you who work in ethical coalitions rather than narrow presuppositions; 

Blessed are you who are brave enough to listen, and secure enough have your mind changed;  

Blessed are you who will not let the perfect be the enemy of the good;  

Blessed are you who live from a place of gratitude, wonder, and amazing grace;  

To all seeking to learn. 

May God bless you. Today and Always. Amen. 

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.