Join us for Big Words: SING, and end your semester with a song!

It might be hard to find a concept more universally recognized by spiritual traditions than song. Music is almost inherently spiritually transcendent—whether heard or sung, a musical note as an almost magical quality that resonates in the heart.  

Some spiritual traditions consider certain sounds to be the seat of the sacred—consider the syllable “Om” for example, which is Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism represents the essence of eternal truth. I once read a recounting of a Native American story in which the creation of the universe began with singing: In the beginning, there was the song. 

It’s fitting, then, that we end this semester’s Big Words program with a song by celebrating the universal role music plays in spirituality. Big Words: SING is this coming Monday, April 29, and we were very grateful when Dr. Timothy Peter, Dean of Stetson’s School of Music, enthusiastically embraced the idea of working on a collaboration between the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life and the School of Music to explore the way song helps shape the sacred.  

Dr. Peter will lead the program, which he designed to allow for lots of participation and inclusion. The songs will span several cultural and religious traditions, bringing them together in a way that will allow everyone to be involved, regardless of musical experience or lack of experience.  

Each Big Words event presents an interfaith perspective on a concept or value important to different religious and spiritual traditions. Many, if not all religions, use music in one way or another to communicate spiritual values and create a sense of community.  

Dr. Peter and I talked about the program as the plan started coming together. Singing together—or chanting, drumming or dancing—allows us to join our spiritual community together in a shared purpose. However, singing can also be very personal, a very intimate way to feel a personal connection to the divine.  

“When you’re singing, you are the vessel” of the sacred, Dr. Peter said. “You become filled completely with it, so you’re purged” of the other mundane concerns that block our ability to freely experience of transcendent.  

The end of the semester is a perfect time to gather with others to sing—while students are getting ready for finals, for graduation, and for other transitions. Song lends a voice for the joy we experience in our lives, as well as a method to process difficulties.    

“When you sing, you can let go of the stresses—the worries, the problems—about school, about relationships, about society, all those things,” he said. “So it also just feels good to sing.”  

We hope you will join us in song Monday evening. Of course, no end-of-the-year gathering is complete without food (and another chance to earn cultural credit). Since we’re starting at 7:00, we’re focusing on some very nice hors d’oeuvres and dessert items—think baked brie and mini cheesecakes! 

Big Words: SING will be Monday at 7:00 p.m. in the CUB garage. Food will be served and cultural credit is available for this event.   

Our response to the attack on Christchurch mosques: UPDATED

Dear students, colleagues and friends:

As you did, we awoke this morning to the tragic news of the attacks directed as mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Like you, we feel a deep sadness and sense of loss about this.

We feel an attack on Muslims is an attack on all people of faith—and ultimately on all humanity.

Stetson’s Muslim Student Association and the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life will hold a Memorial Service to honor the lives lost during last week’s New Zealand shooting.

The service will be held Wednesday, March 20, at 8:00 p.m. in front of the CUB steps.

To our Muslim students, we want you to know that Stetson University’s chaplains stand with you. We are available to talk with you, to pray with you, to support you. Please reach out if you need anything. You can email us at or call the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life at 386-822-7403.

Student Counseling Services is also available to all Stetson students. After hours services are available. For details, visit the website.

To our brothers and sisters in the Volusia County Muslim community, you are in our prayers. We are present with you and we gladly stand alongside you as we work together for peace and justice.

Also, please see below a statement from the university’s Multicultural Student Council.

In unity,

Rev. Christy Correll-Hughes

Sensei Morris Doshin Sullivan

Stetson University Chaplains

From the MSC:

With the recent tragedy that occurred in New Zealand at the Christchurch Mosque, the Multicultural Student Council wanted to remind everyone that we are another campus resource for students, faculty, and staff to reach out to for support. Many people are at a loss of words and are hurting or confused by this calamity, which is normal in times like this. We encourage everyone to take a moment of silence this afternoon and have intentional thought about the recent events that have transpired around the world. During this time, remember the lives that were unnecessarily lost because of hatred and reflect on the opportunities that you have to make a positive difference in the world. You can contact us at if you want help finding resources on campus to help you through this time.

You can also find resources and support at these locations on campus- Stetson University’s Cross Cultural CenterStetson University Religious & Spiritual Life, and Stetson Center for Community Engagement

Big Words: DEATH

Looking at the spiritual importance of the words we’ve considered so far since beginning our Big Words series last year, it’s hard to imagine a “bigger” word than this one: death.

Every human being will eventually die. To one extent or another, every religion deals with the question raised by that reality. Religions grapple with questions about the afterlife, about what happens during death itself and about how to prepare for our own death and the deaths of others. Some of these questions are spiritual—how to find meaning in mortality, for instance. Others deal with the practicalities of dying.

The Office of Religious and Spiritual Life decided to add “death” to the this semester’s Big Words series after university president Dr. Wendy Libby mentioned to one of us that she felt our society shies away from the topic. And she is correct: Despite death’s inevitability, many of us avoid discussing it with our loved ones or our spiritual advisors until it is too late.

We won’t be able to handle all the big questions about death in one evening, of course. However, we can prepare our minds to explore the issue. We will begin our look at living and dying with help from two guest speakers, Christopher Bell, Ph.D. and Cheryl Lankford.

Dr. Bell is assistant professor of religious studies here at Stetson. He teaches courses in Buddhism, Hinduism and other religions and Asian culture. He has extensively studied the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and will talk about death from that perspective.

Ms. Lankford’s parents founded what is now Lankford Funeral Home in DeLand in 1950. She earned a degree in Mortuary Science in 1978, has more than 40 years in funeral home management and ownership.

Big Words: DEATH is this Thursday, March 14, at 6:30 p.m. in Lee’s Garage. Cultural Credit is available for the event, and dinner (Southwestern Food!) will be served.

Big Words: LOVE

I’ve been thinking about love a lot lately. In part, that’s because we’ve been planning Big Words: LOVE, an interfaith perspective on the relationship between love and religion, which is Tuesday.  

However, I’ve been in conversations around campus and elsewhere about love. More specifically, we’ve been talking about issues like relationships, sexuality, gender roles and virtue, and about how perceptions of these are changing with cultural trends. Since religion and culture are inseparable, religion and love will inevitably influence one another.  

This all actually has very little to do with Big Words: LOVE.  

Our office talked about this Big Words as if we were planning a “date night.” First and foremost, since it falls during the week leading to Valentine’s Day, we wanted a reason to eat chocolate together. 

We also planned some meaningful activities, such as a way to express our feelings of kindness and gratitude toward others by creating cards for them. And we will have a reading of an original poem called “Radical LOVE: Growing Wings Together,” written and spoken by Dr. Rajni Shankar-Brown, Jessie Ball duPont Chair of Social Justice Education.

But we mainly wanted to offer the Stetson community a chance to experience the loving side of the sacred—a side that is poetic, that is warm, that is joyful and even romantic.  

That might seem strange to some people. When it comes to romance, religion can be viewed as moralistic at best and repressive at worst. However, love is a necessary ingredient in everything human. It is essential to cooperation, to community, to charity, and to survival of the species. Yes, social institutions like religion try to guide us in healthy directions. However, all religions, in one way or another, celebrate the reality that love for the Divine can only be experienced if we love one another. 

We hope you will join us for Big Words: LOVE this Tuesday, February 12, in the CUB garage at 6:30 p.m. There will be chocolate treats and Publix subs. Cultural credit is available.  

Big Words continues with Big Words: EAT!

–By Sensei Morris Doshin Sullivan

UPDATED February 1, 2019:

The Office of Religious and Spiritual Life will continue our Big Words series this semester, beginning this Thursday. Each Big Words event presents an interfaith perspective on a concept or value important to different religious and spiritual traditions. Besides lively and interesting discussions and other activities, dinner is included and cultural credit is available (pending approval–check for updates).

In the past, we have looked at topics like the spiritual value of generosity, the role played in our lives by the phenomenon of awe and how to build spiritual community. This semester, we will examine the spirituality of breaking bread; religion and romance; death and dying; and the sanctity of song.

We kick off the spring Big Words series this Thursday, January 17, with Big Words: EAT. Chef Hari Pulapaka joins us to create this event, which we are doing in conjunction with Baptist Collegiate Fellowship (BCF). The event will be in Allen Hall, where BCF holds its regular Thursday dinners.

Food is, of course, essential to life; it also serves as a powerful symbol for the way our religious and contemplative practices nurture our spiritual lives. Most Americans are familiar with the ritual of Eucharist, for example, and with pivotal teachings such as Christ’s miraculous feeding of several thousand people with a couple of small fish and a few loaves of bread.

Breaking bread together is a universal spiritual rite. Many religions base practices around the opportunity to share a meal. The practice of langar—dining together in the community kitchen—is integral to the Sikh religion. Sharing food and dining on vegetarian meals, with everyone sitting side-by-side regardless of status, communicates the principle of equality between all.

In my own Buddhist tradition, offering alms food to monastics is in itself an important practice. The Buddha said that once one recognizes the spiritual value of generosity, he or she would never eat again without first sharing.

Some religions restrict certain foods as a religious observance, such as the Jewish and Muslim practice of refraining from eating pork, and vegetarianism is important to people from many traditions, including Hindus, Jains, and Seventh Day Adventists.

Hari Pulapaka, Ph.D., will guide the cooking for Big Words: EAT, as well as lead a discussion of spirituality and food. Besides being a professor of mathematics at Stetson, Dr. Pulapaka is also Chef Pulapaka—he is the acclaimed, award-winning chef and owner of Cress Restaurant in downtown DeLand.

Big Words: EAT will be in Allen Hall this Thursday, Jan. 17, at 6:30 p.m.

The Big Words series will continue February 12—just in time for Valentine’s Day, with Big Words: LOVE. During that evening’s program, we will discuss the intersection of religion and relationships, with a look at romance as it appears in sacred literature and contemporary culture. The evening’s program will include readings from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and other scriptures.

“Religion” and “romance” may seem incompatible, but relationships between us are integral to the survival of humanity, and so inseparable from religion and its influence on culture. One need only to look at a passage like 1 Corinthians 13, for instance: “If I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” to find scriptural support for loving relationships.

The chaplains will read some of our favorite religious words of love, but we also are inviting students and faculty members to share spoken word or music relating to the spirituality of love.

Big Words: LOVE will be in the CUB garage at 6:30 p.m. on February 12. And there will be chocolate!

When I first ordained, a friend said to me, “Great—now you can marry and bury.” I prefer weddings to memorials, but one of the important functions of ministry is to help people with transitions at the end of life.

On March 14, we will tackle a challenging but important topic with Big Words: DEATH. Perhaps one of the most obvious purposes of religion is to deal with questions of life, death and meaning.

Christopher Bell, Ph.D., will introduce us to the Tibetan Book of the Dead. We will also hear from Cheryl Lankford, whose family has owned and operated Lankford Funeral Home since 1950.

We will look at how religions have dealt with death, how one might prepare for death, and some of the practical matters associated with living and dying.

Big Words: DEATH will be March 14 in the CUB Garage, also at 6:30 p.m.

UPDATED: We will wrap up Big Words for the semester in April with Big Words: SING. This event will feature performances by Stetson University’s Gospel and Cultural Choir and the Stetson Community Choir, as well as opportunities to chant, sing, and otherwise join together in song.

Big Words: SING will be at 6:30 p.m. on April 29, in the CUB Garage.

70 Years of Yule Log Lightings

Last year, when the current chaplains officiated at the Yule Log Lighting for our first time, we were pleasantly surprised to see how many people from the Stetson community and surrounding West Volusia have made it the ceremonial start to their holiday season. When we learned that this year’s Yule Log Lighting would mark 70 years of this tradition, we decided that we needed to do something to make it a little bigger this year.

The Yule Log Lighting is one of the university’s oldest traditions—if not the oldest one—and is a profoundly symbolic celebration commemorating the coming of light into the darkness. Yule is also one of our culture’s oldest winter traditions. Dating to pre-Christian northern Europe, Yule marks the time where the days stop becoming shorter and darker and begin to move toward light and warmth. Many of the world’s religions incorporate similar ideas into their traditions.

The bringing of light into the darkness symbolizes the religious quest—salvation, liberation, enlightenment, awakening. For example, in my tradition, Japanese Buddhism, we celebrate Bodhi Day on December 8. That marks the Buddha’s enlightenment. Beginning this past Sunday, Jews are celebrating Chanukah, the winter festival of lights, for 10 days. That observance includes nightly menorah lightings and special prayers. And of course Christmas is December 25, commemorating the birth of Jesus, bringing peace to the world. Advent, Diwali, and other religious observances mark the breaking of darkness with the light of spiritual realization.

Stetson’s School of Music had a great idea for this year’s Yule Log: a newly-formed Stetson Community Choir. The choir will debut at this year’s Yule Log Lighting, and hopefully continue to grace us with music at other events as time goes on. This year’s Yuletide season coincides with the 200th anniversary of “Silent Night,” so we will continue our tradition of joining together to sing the beloved Christmas carol.

Dr. Wendy Libby will give welcoming remarks this year, and Rev. Christy Correll-Hughes and I will provide a supporting role. However, the service will showcase the music and our students, with the remainder of the program revolving around stories and spiritual verses about the meaning of light in the students’ respective faiths and cultures.

To acknowledge the ceremony’s history, we began this year to collect video recollections, photos and the like. We will share these during the event with a very short video, but we hope that we will collect many more in the coming years so that, when the 75th Yule Log Anniversary rolls around, we will have nice documentation.

In its earlier years, students were asked to put candles in their residence hall windows during Yule Log Lighting. Current fire regulations (and concerns about safety) no longer allows for that. However, in a nod to the traditional history, we have asked residents of Chaudoin Hall to place battery operated candles in their windows, which overlook the Hulley Tower grounds on which the Yule log will be lit.

As in the past, the Yule log will be lighted and the audience will be able to cast sprigs of greenery into the fire to symbolize letting go of past burdens and moving into a new, bright future. We will all sing together and enjoy hot chocolate and cookies in front of the flagpole.

We hope you will take a break from your studies or other duties to share this tradition with us. We look forward to seeing you by Hulley Tower at 6:00 p.m. this Tuesday, December 4.

Generosity as a Spiritual Practice

–By Rev. Christy Correll-Hughes

It’s the time of year when we hear a lot about giving.   There are many appeals for donations of canned food, toys, and money (just in time for a tax deduction!)  Some friends and I were recently debating this concept of giving, specifically which is more valuable: the act of giving versus meeting a legitimate need with our gift. 

Our conversations began because of the shoe boxes.  You may have heard of them- the Operation Christmas Child program that asks individuals and families to fill a shoe box with items a child might enjoy: socks, toothpaste, soap, small toys and candy.  These boxes are then piled up on pallets and shipped overseas to be distributed to needy children living in third world poverty. 

It all sounds well and good, but there are some major flaws in the distribution of these boxes and I personally question whether the $30 (approximate cost of filling a box) would be better sent to an organization that provides more direct help: clean water, mosquito nets, vaccines, education.  I mean, do children living in third world poverty really need match box cars and chewing gum from America? 

One of my friends suggested that it is not really about the needs in the foreign countries, but these boxes provide a way for her to teach her children about giving.  The act of considering a child in need someplace else provides a valuable lesson.  Maybe so?   

For me, giving needs to be about both:  the act of giving AND meeting a legitimate need for another. I think it also is about self-sacrifice.  Am I really giving if the gift doesn’t truly cost me anything? This makes giving a challenge because it requires something significant of me both in terms of sacrifice and having a relationship with the person or organization receiving the gift.  

Jesus had something to say about giving in Luke 21:1-4 in the story of the Widow’s Two Mites 

“And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. So He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.” 

This passage seems to say more about the giver and the sacrifice of the gift than about the need the gift is meeting, so there may be something to that idea that giving is more about the act of giving vs the need.  I still argue that both need to be a consideration.  I can teach my children to consider others and to give by having them use their own money to purchase the food they want to donate the food drive at their school.  We can spend some time as a family learning about the real needs of children living in poverty around the world and they can choose a cause that feels significant to them with an organization that is fiscally responsible.   

What do you think about giving?  Does it matter if the gift is truly a sacrifice?   

Should a gift meet a real felt need in another or is the act of giving enough regardless of need? People give me birthday gifts and I don’t need one thing.   

So, what is significant about gift giving? 

About this month’s Big Words

 In one way or another, every major religion recognizes the value of kindness in its various forms: generosity, charity, compassion and consideration. We all often overlook chances to be generous with one another, to be friendly to those who need a friend and to be supportive to those who need support, yet both ancient spiritual teachings and contemporary psychology tell us of the importance of generosity to spiritual and emotional well-being. 

This month’s Big Words will explore the spiritual side of generosity with guest speaker Nestor de Armas.  A retired executive, past president of Stetson’s alumni association and longtime supporter of the university, de Armas will talk about his experiences with the spiritual value of generosity.  

The Office of Religious and Spiritual Life hosts Big Words monthly. Each event presents an interfaith perspective on a concept of importance in many different religious and spiritual traditions.  Big Words: GIVE is Tuesday, November 6 at 6:30 p.m. in the Rinker Welcome Center. Dinner will be provided, and Cultural Credit is available. 


What is Truth?

–By Sensei Morris Doshin Sullivan

For the past few weeks, I’ve had an old Johnny Cash song playing in my head: “What is Truth?” In the song, which he wrote and released in early 1970, Cash criticizes the Vietnam War and questions the marginalization of 1960s youth culture with the song’s refrain:

And the lonely voice of youth cries

‘What is truth?’

This earworm has been my near-constant companion recently because that is  the central question of this month’s Big Words, the latest in a series of events presented by the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life.  Each Big Words gathering offers an interfaith exploration of concepts that are universally important in spiritual contexts, and this month’s big word is TRUTH.

The topic is particularly salient at a time when discourse is so often dominated by factoids and “truthiness” that some social critics have referred to our time as the “post-truth era.” We have assembled a multi-disciplinary panel of faculty and staff from philosophy, science, journalism and religion. They will discuss the question of truth from the perspective of their unique disciplines.

This should be an interesting discussion. On the surface, to determine whether or not something is “true” seems fairly straightforward. If you dig into the nature of reality, however, it’s not always as straightforward as it seems. A scientist, journalist, philosopher and minister might have very different ways of describing how they test the truthfulness or reliability of a statement or idea.

As a Zen monk and Buddhist teacher, for example, I’m often asked about the “truth” of stories such as the birth of the Buddha. In this story, the newborn infant is said to have taken several steps in each of four directions with lotus blossoms springing up at his feet, then pointed to the sky and pronounced himself the one who would liberate all beings.

Invariably, whenever I tell this story, someone sidles up to me afterward and asks, “Do you really believe that?” I answer that this is a spiritual lesson, not a history lesson. In Buddhism, as well as some other religions, spiritual stories are not expected to be factual in the traditional sense, but to convey a sort of wisdom that might include non-conventional, spiritual realities. The birth myth works much in the way a poem or a painting might convey an artistic truth—a truth of the heart, rather than a truth of the head.

Big Words: TRUTH is this Thursday, October 18, at 6:30 p.m., in Sage 222. We will have a lively discussion with a wonderful panel—Stetson Director of Communication Cory Lancaster; Director of Biochemistry Harry Price, Ph.D.; Associate Professor of Philosophy Ronald Hall, Ph.D., and Rev. Michelle Jouyo Sullivan.

If that’s not enough good reasons to be there, there will be food from Santorini Greek Cuisine and Cultural Credit.

For more information, contact the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life or email