Reflections on Paying Attention by Horizons Fellow, Julia Scoper '17

There’s always a tension in my English and Religious Studies classes between learning the academic theory and history of a text over any personal or spiritual intuition.  Learning through the head over the heart is a common thread throughout UVa’s history. Jefferson specifically made the Rotunda as the library and center of grounds instead of a chapel which was how most universities were planned at the time. Students are called first, second, third, and fourth years because education lasts forever- we’ll never graduate from learning. That also means we’ll never graduate from questioning. Yet, it tends to be in those deep “meaning of life” questions that libraries and the head alone do not suffice. 

I’ve become exhausted by head driven peers and the overall culture of elitism that infiltrates UVa. It’s exhausting getting caught up in the elitism and then realizing that all of these hierarchal societies and clubs have been socially constructed as prominent and will only matter within the bubble of UVa, assuming they do or should even matter within the confines of UVa in the first place.

Despite the exhaustingly competitive atmosphere of school, it’s been times with my Fellows group where I have found the most rest, for my head and my heart. Recently, we read essays about paying attention to our lives and making time for reflection. David Foster Wallace explains in “This is Water,” how we all have certain default settings and will easily become hypnotized by the constant monologues inside our own heads. We discussed how we all get so caught up in our daily routines that we rehearse our next action as if it’s profound. 

I tend to act as if whatever role I have as student is of the upmost importance in attempts to validate my busyness and want for control. I continually hypnotize myself into myself. But it’s in moments of vulnerability, sharing truth, and stepping outside myself with others that I find the most profound moments— and that’s what this fellows program has provided. Karen and Christy create fertile ground to talk about things that have eternal meaning and substance which is hard to find at UVa. We are set up for meaningful conversations that will impact us eternally instead of typical conversations that are geared towards impressing others and looking good. Christy and Karen provide space for real conversation to happen at an academic level- but more importantly on a spiritual level. 

In an essay we read by Simone Weil, she writes, “Even if our efforts of attention seem for years to be producing no result, one day a light which is an exact proportion to them will flood the soul. Every effort adds a little gold to a treasure which no power on earth can take away.” Nothing is wasted when time is spent together in community centered on Christ. Meetings with the Fellows group are like these little pieces of gold with eternal power. 

Titles, organizations, and prestige will fade away, but we never forget how our hearts were touched by God amidst our questioning and fears. Just as it’s at the intersection of the cross that we find redemption, it’s at the intersection of the head and the heart that we find peace. The Theological Horizons Fellows program has been that intersection point for me as I grow in my faith. It’s through examining tension points in my own life alongside these Fellows that I find more depth than anything else UVa could give me. 

For more information on the Fellows Program, click here