Reverend Kirstin Boswell-Ford was installed as MIT Chaplain at a ceremony on Sept. 28. Her remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below.
- President Reif
- Chancellor Barnhart
- Vice President and Dean Nelson
- My wonderful colleagues: Gus Burkett, Diversity and Community Involvement, and so many others across the Institute that have reached across boundaries of divisions and departments to fully embrace me and our joint work for this great institution.
- Thank you to Gayle Gallagher and the wonderful team in Institute Events.
- To the chaplains, chaplain conveners, and my ever-steady assistant, Christina English, it is my honor to count you all as colleagues.
- I do indeed feel blessed to have my family here — and friends who are like family in the truest sense.
- Thank you to my chaplain colleagues from Tufts, Wellesley, and Brown, who participated in this program and are truly partners in this journey.
One of my favorite lyrics from the work of Canadian singer, songwriter, poet, and novelist Leonard Cohen, is taken from his song, “Anthem,” which he penned over the course of an entire decade. The phrase, a powerful and meaningful message for our time, is:
“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
When I was leaving my role at Brown University to come to MIT in 2017, Rev. Janet Cooper Nelson and the Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life gave me a wonderful gift, which hangs in my office, and which I read often — especially during difficult times.
I have since heard it referred to as a “manifesto for our time.”
Influenced by Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem,” illustrator Wendy MacNaughton and writer Courtney E. Martin composed the following, which seems especially poignant for this moment in our history and herstory.
“Feel all the things. Feel the hard things. The inexplicable things, the things that make you disavow humanity’s capacity for redemption.
Feel all the maddening paradoxes. Feel overwhelmed, crazy. Feel uncertain. Feel angry. Feel afraid. Feel powerless. Feel frozen.
And then ... FOCUS.
Pick up your pen. Pick up your paintbrush.
Pick up your damn chin.
Put your two calloused hands on the turntables, in the clay, on the strings.
Get behind the camera. Look for that pinprick of light.
Look for the truth (yes, it is a thing — it still exists).
Focus on that light. Enlarge it.
Reveal the fierce urgency of now.
Reveal how shattered we are, how capable of being repaired.
But don’t lament the break.
Nothing new would be built if things were never broken.
A wise man once said: There’s a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in. Get after that light. This is your assignment."
According to our mission, this Institute is committed to “generating, disseminating, and preserving knowledge, and to working with others to bring this knowledge to bear on the world’s great challenges … [Embracing our] diversity … we seek to develop in each member of the MIT community the ability and passion to work wisely, creatively, and effectively for the betterment of humankind.”
That is the light that we are after, and it is no small task.
The question is how … how to engage this awesome responsibility.
In his writing, Dr. Howard Thurman described a sense of wholeness that lies at the core of every human being. This wholeness, he said, “must abound in all that he/she does,” and is the end that each of us seeks throughout the course of our lives.
I believe that this quest for wholeness needs to be at the center of what we do in the academy and should be the foundation for our work.
The divided self is the unfulfilled and less abled self, but when we integrate the intellectual with the spiritual, the ethical, the emotional, the physical — when all of these pieces learn to truly work in concert with each other, that is when wholeness abounds.
I’m so glad to be here — at an institution that values this quality of the human condition.
Where inquiry and dialogue — between faith communities and those in every location on the spectrum of religion, spirituality, secularity, ethical and moral engagement — where this dialogue can happen in a respectful and open manner.
Where we can all take away bits and pieces — ideas, knowledge, new and different questions … and incorporate them into ourselves, our understanding of ourselves and the world — into our very particularity.
This exchange then enriches us all.
For you see, wholeness is not about us as individuals — but also for others and the environment around us.
Writing from a Birmingham jail, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. observed that, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
As we prepare to leave this celebration, let us rejoice in this beginning, and go forth to change the world.