A Meditation on Memory and Hope

“Why is this night different from all other nights?”  My Jewish friends taught me that this is the first of four questions intoned at the Passover Seder, generally by the youngest member of the gathering.  They are an invocation of a people’s collective memory, animating the rituals of the present with stories from the past and, in turn, creating new memories borne to each successive generation.

Through the years, my conversations with people of different faiths have only deepened and enriched my own.  During this April like no other, a great convergence where Jews celebrate Passover, Muslims observe Ramadan, Baha’is, the festival of Ridvan, and Christians like me, Easter—just to name a few—I am keenly aware of our common humanity and our collective disorientation.  We watch our neighbors around the world suffer from a disease that is new to us and from which we have no shared immunity.

Having chosen solitude during a season of gathering in the hope of playing some small part in protecting the vulnerable from contagion and those who care for them--some of them cherished colleagues and former students--I am struck by the power of memory.  Religious folks feel a sense of loss right now precisely because memories are so potent: I smell the incense and the wine, hear the chants and Gospel songs, feel the movements, joyful and reverent, in my very bones. Our memories compel us to sway, to bend, to kneel, to prostrate ourselves, to sit still, usually together, while compassion for our neighbors compels us to scatter until the time is right.

Memory is a precious gift.  Refraining from business as usual creates room for memories to become all the more vivid.  As our staff considered what to offer those who typically gather beneath the gracious arches of Rockefeller Chapel, now closed, we turned quickly away from fashioning inadequate semblances of the usual rites toward the treasures of the archives instead.  From this storehouse, the Virtual Chapel arises, where we can hear voices again like the late Kenneth Northcott. We can delight again in the sound of carillon and choir and organ. And, as I have heard already from those who are sharing these treasures with neighbors and friends, we can resurrect long-forgotten stories of the players and the audience members, some of whom haven’t been with us for quite some time now.

This way of remembrance is especially appropriate for our community since we pride ourselves on our love of artifacts—especially good, old-fashioned books.  The first question students asked at the beginning of this Spring Quarter like no other was, “When will the library reopen?” When will the virtual become real again?

My hope for you during this season like no other is that you will delight in your most cherished memories of these holidays until we meet and celebrate them again.  My prayer for those of you for whom past holidays have not been so joyful is that this time of solitude releases you from bondage to the past and opens you to a brighter and more joyful future.  

The day will come when these days are a memory.  We will pass it down from generation to generation.  May each generation find it a potent memory of sacrifice, courage, compassion, and hope.  And may peace be with you this day and always.

Maurice Charles, Dean, Rockefeller Chapel


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An April message of hope

From Dean Maurice Charles: "April is upon us and this year Jews, Christians, and Muslims enter important seasons of communal prayer and shared memory in the midst of another global pandemic.  Jews celebrate the festival of the Passover. Christians observe Holy Week and Easter. Muslims fast during the Holy Month of Ramadan at the end of April and will conclude the month in late May with the Eid al-Fitr feast." Click "Read more" below for the full message.


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suspension of gatherings at University Chapels and Spiritual Life through April 15

Dean Maurice Charles offers the following update on the temporary suspension of gatherings at Rockefeller and Bond Chapels and the Spiritual Life spaces at Ida Noyes Hall:

As a research university of international renown, the University of Chicago gathers a worldwide community, welcoming students, faculty, staff, visitors, and friends from around the globe.  Rockefeller and Bond Chapels and the Spiritual Life Office in Ida Noyes Hall host religious and spiritual gatherings from a variety of traditions in addition to providing space for individual reflection and prayer.  In keeping with the guidance offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the senior university administration regarding the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), and especially in light of our common mission to care for the most vulnerable members of the community, many of whom attend our gatherings, beginning Sunday, March 15, we are suspending all communal religious and spiritual gatherings occurring in Rockefeller and Bond Chapels and the Spiritual Life office, prayer, and meditation spaces until April 15.

While I am deeply sorry for any distress this may cause, I do want to reassure everyone that our venues will remain open for private prayer and reflection according to posted schedule and that our team is available to address any concerns you may have.  Meanwhile, we hope that you will have a satisfying end to the quarter and a restful break.  We look forward to thinking creatively together about meeting community needs during the spring term and to continuing to support and encourage one another in our adventures in learning.

D. Maurice Charles, Dean, Rockefeller Memorial Chapel


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University Carillonneur Joey Brink and University Professor Augusta Read Thomas release new album Ripple Effects

Ripple Effects: New Music for Carillon at the University of Chicago features a new composition by Read Thomas and several live recordings of pieces premiered at the Rockefeller Carillon New Music Festival (2018). The album is available immediately for sale at the Rockefeller Chapel gift kiosks at the front desk and carillon playing cabin, Tuesdays through Fridays 11-6 pm.

Sample on Spotify

Purchase from CDBaby


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Celebrating Diwali in Rockefeller Chapel

On October 30th [2019], the University of Chicago’s Office of Spiritual Life hosted a celebration of Diwali, the festival of lights, in Rockefeller Chapel. Spiritual Life collaborated with the Hindu Student Sangam and the South Asian Students Association (SASA) to create a space where UChicago students and members of the community could celebrate Diwali and participate in the spiritual ritual, or puja.

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Something for Everyone at the Bells of Summer

2019 marks the 54th Bells of Summer, a weekly concert series played on Rockefeller Chapel’s carillon. Running from June 23 to August 25, the series features carillonneurs from around the world, each with their own style.

“Here, we’re all about variety,” said University Carillonneur Joey Brink. This year’s program reflects that, as it showcases new, local, and international players. Carillonneurs who play at the Bells of Summer go on to play the carillon at the Chicago Botanic Garden and in Naperville, Illinois, completing what Brink called “the Chicago circuit for carillon players.”

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