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December 29, 2011

Taste and See: The Feast of Summit Semester

Taste and See: The Feast of Summit Semester

Happy endings are often preceded by woeful beginnings; I came to my job at Summit Semester with great excitement... and slight apprehension. Several years back, I attended a program similar to Semester. I entered with the same fresh-eyed hunger to learn and hope for friendship as the students here. But my time of study was one of huge struggle. I became so overwhelmed by information, by a focus on knowledge gained apart from the support of community, that I ended doubting everything I knew about God. I managed to salvage my faith thanks to the timely gift of a friend, and a steady round of late-night talks with some wise, very gracious people. 

Fast forward several years to this summer when I applied to work at Summit Semester; Several years of study and mentorship in the beauty and the truth of God had reinvigorated my faith. When I discovered Semester, I was determined to apply for the job as mentor because I saw that this program offered exactly what I had wished for as a student. I thought it would be pretty amazing to work with a staff that offered its students time to reflect, time to enjoy the beauty of creation, and especially, the support of an intentional, committed community along with a stellar education. I was thrilled when I got the job... but just a little nervous. Would history repeat itself?

Within a day of the students arrival, I forgot my doubt. I was too immersed in a life of vigorous learning and a community of faith unlike any I had every experienced. The educational side of things was rigorous to be sure, the classroom a daily battle ground of ideas. But this was equaled by the depth of relationships built in our small groups, in the friendships formed on starry night hikes, and over endless rounds of Cribbage, or another fireside debate. Communal life presented a chance to learn the hard grace of forgiveness, of discipline in the use of time, and the challenge of loving people with vastly differing habits and desires. In the middle of the first month, I was visited by a series of small catastrophes and illness, and experienced firsthand the grace of people taking up my slack, working in my place, and holding me up until I was well again.

Back during my student time and crisis of faith, on the day of my darkest doubt, I was saved by the gracious act of a friend. He threw a garden feast for the students in my house. His gift was simple; bread and cheese and drinks piled on tables in a garden at sunset. But he was a gracious host, inviting all of us to feast, to rest, to laugh. Music played, friendships formed as the moon rose. The touchable, tastable grace of that evening helped me to renew my belief in the kindness, the nearness of God. 

Summit Semester is a similar sort of feast; it just lasts for three months. Semester offers students a unique time away in which they can literally “taste and see the goodness of God.” The students are given a rigorous training in how to think, and a vast exposure to the issues that will shape our culture. But they also hike gorgeous mountains, eat (and cook) great food, sing, discuss their new ideas at dinner, lounge round the fire, debate art, play games, and live with dozens of other people doing the same.

When learning, love, and beauty are combined like that, it forms people who have a holistic vision of what it means to love God. I believe that Semester students will go back into their own spheres of influence with the capacity to be great givers, leaders, and creators. At Summit, they have been trained to see truth; but they have also been trained to love, to relate well, and to live the life and joy of God to the fullest. It is people like that who change the world. I’m just glad I got to be part of it.

By: Sarah Clarkson

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