| Of Glossy Brown Chestnuts and My Academic
By Joyce Quiring Erickson
I CALL SEATTLE PACIFIC my academic
to evoke all the positive connotations the word “home” can elicit. Despite
suggestion that you can’t go home again, I’ve actually come back to this place
although some might think the lines from a
Robert Frost poem more apropos: “Home is the place where, when you have to go
there, they have to take you in.”
My first homecoming was as a fledgling professor
just completing my doctorate. That was 12 years after I had come to SPC as a
freshman. Though I was here for only one year (I married at the end of my freshman
year and went to work to support my husband in school), that year was life-changing
for me in many ways I don’t have the space to articulate. Those of you from older times
will know why I mention three legendary professors: M.B. Miller, Roy Swanstrom,
And then to come back to this place as their colleague (though I certainly
didn’t address them by their first names): I remember weeping at my first faculty
the worship service in that drafty hall at Camp
Casey — weeping with the joy of being home. On the desk in my Tiffany Hall office, I
collected a row of glossy brown chestnuts that
dropped from the trees in the Loop, just as I
had on the desk in my dorm room.
Those glorious trees in the Loop, or the
vista of Ebey’s Prairie at Camp Casey, remind us that home is place as well as
people, and just
as I longed for my colleagues — by then my
contemporaries and best friends — when I left SPU the second time, so I longed
for Seattle and for the breathtakingly beautiful landscapes of the Pacific Northwest.
When we moved back to Seattle over a decade later, I felt like a person in love.
I was suffused with gratitude for this city and the blessing of being here.
In fact, I was so astonished by the intensity of my response that I read geographers,
philosophers and literary critics on the meaning of home, which resulted in a
published article. “Fields of care” is the phrase one writer uses to describe
our attachment to a home place, and it is both the place and the people who are
in our fields of care.
And then, praise God, I was invited in 1992 to return
to a teaching position at SPU. And once again, I picked up chestnuts in the Loop
and arranged them on my desk in Tiffany Hall. How many of us have the blessed
experience of coming home for the second time?
This love of home, this attachment to people
and place, is, I believe, part of our created
nature as humans. Certainly many passages of
Scripture affirm this. The Promised Land is
nothing if not a homeland — place and people. So many of the prophetic books
look forward to the time when the poor, the sick and the oppressed are cared
for, and all the people sit under their own vine and fig tree. At home.
passages of Scripture, however,
remind us that our ancestor of faith is a “wandering
Aramean” who left home for a city prepared
by God (Hebrews 11:8–16). Lovely and beloved as our home is, God has prepared
a better one.
Still, our only models for the place God has prepared come from
this one, and all the biblical metaphors rely on the best of this world to describe
the indescribable, ultimately unimaginable place God has prepared for us, the
place with many rooms, as Jesus says in John.
Does that make us love this place
Because this place is our present “field of care,” a gift of which we have been
made stewards. That is really what a Christian university is about: understanding
and learning about all
of God’s creation and creatures (including ourselves) and how to care for them.
And we look for the connections between the visible and the invisible, between
this world and the next, between this home and the one that God has prepared
But as we look honestly, we can also see the disorder in the world and
in human lives that sin has created. Humans beings and the creation long for
God’s promised redemption
(Romans 8:19–24). Ultimately, it is this longing and hope that motivates our
work as faculty: hope that our students will come to understand their redemption
and their calling, hope that our work will care for the creation, hope that the
world will be redeemed. Hope that we will all find the home God has prepared
Joyce Quiring Erickson retired this year after 25
years at Seattle Pacific University as a professor of
English, dean of the School of Humanities and,
most recently, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences
(see the article on page 41). During her
career, Erickson also held academic leadership
positions at Warner Pacific College in Portland,
Oregon, and at Saint Joseph College in West
Hartford, Connecticut. This essay is adapted
from a devotional she presented to the SPU
Board of Trustees on May 16.
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