Kim Berkey is a Nibley Fellowship recipient currently studying at Harvard Divinity School. In this guest post she reflects on the value of community in both faith and scholarship. See here for more Nibley Fellow Reflections.
During Jesus’ last meal with his disciples, Luke reports an interesting piece of counsel given to Peter in preparation for coming trials. This counsel follows on the heels of a petty squabble that breaks out over dinner as the disciples quarrel over “which of them should be accounted the greatest” (Luke 22:24). Seeing in this quarrel a harbinger of future schisms, Jesus turns to Peter and warns:
“Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has desired to have you all, to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith might not give out. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31–32)
As he watches the way a trivial dispute can fracture his disciples, Jesus warns of a much more devastating division still to come. Satan is reaching after them to “sift [them] like wheat”—to divide them, grain from chaff, until they’re broken in pieces, susceptible to being blown about by the wind. In response, Jesus says he is anxiously praying for Peter, gathering up divine resources so that Peter’s faith will not buckle under the weight of his coming trial. After he weathers the terror of Jesus’ death, Peter’s task will be to “strengthen [his] brothers”—to reunify and stabilize the community at which Satan is so fiercely chipping away.
I have found myself reflecting lately on this instruction—particularly how it might be applied to a life of academic study, which can all too often be divisive and alienating. One of the unique features of education at a divinity school is the way so many of my colleagues already embody this counsel. They enter graduate work with the goal of ordination, pursuing a degree for the explicit purpose of bringing this training back to their religious community. Although the lay organizational structure of Mormonism alters the roles I might envision for my academic work, the example of my colleagues is a reminder that education can be a resource for “strengthening” our brothers and sisters.
I have experienced firsthand the values of religious community for my own intellectual work. My background as a Latter-day Saint and my interest in scripture motivated my decision to pursue graduate training in the first place. Mormonism continues to guide and orient the questions I bring to my study. Perhaps most importantly, fellow Latter-day Saint scholars improve the quality of my work with their support and willingness to act as interlocutors. Luke 22 aptly names these values under the term “strengthen,” which translates a Greek word meaning to “stabilize.” Mormonism and its community provide the grounding, orientation, and unity that together stabilize my work in the academy.
In the course of my master’s degree, that strengthening has been most evident in two ways. First, my faith is strengthened by my study. I am committed, more than ever, to the idea that religion matters, and that what we do each week in the pews is connected to life’s most pressing questions. I am convinced that Mormonism holds a legitimate place among the religions of the world. My devotion is richer, deeper, and more deliberate as a consequence of my time at Harvard, and I am thus all the more grateful for those beliefs and practices unique to Mormonism.
Second, more pragmatically but no less significant, I am strengthened by the financial support of the Maxwell Institute, which understands that a life of faith is forged in community, and that one of the offerings we can provide to that community is intellectual. The Institute gathers committed minds, publishes and promotes their work, and helps fund the graduate education of future generations of scholars.
It is especially meaningful to find myself the recipient of funding in the name of Hugh Nibley, who further embodied the counsel to “strengthen your brethren” by consecrating his academic training in service of the community he loved. I am grateful for the support I have received and, with these models in mind, hope to rely on and offer continued strengthening in years to come.