On Thursday, Jan. 18, Bates students gathered at the home of Brittany Longsdorf, Bates’s Multifaith Chaplain, to participate in Hearth, a dinner event centered around discussion and engaged silence. This week’s Hearth included queries based on the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr. and spicy drunken noodles. Those at the gathering separated into small discussion groups to discuss this week’s topics. Conversations were lightly guided by Multifaith Fellows, but overall were unstructured and freeform.
In this relaxed “hygge” atmosphere, complete with scented candles, soft lighting and comfortable furniture, students felt free to express what made them passionate or angry or fierce. What made this event stand apart from lunch discussions with friends, was the exposure to silence. Seldom do we have social interactions in our modern age with silence present. Often we feel pressured to fill those awkward gaps in conversations, removing the sense of intimacy contained in silence between people. Students could momentarily forget about the pressures of work, school, or friends hanging over them and could be present to hear the voices of others.
After the queries were over, students rejoined and talked with one another before returning across the street to Bates’s campus. Alexis Hudes ‘20, a frequent visitor at Hearth, explained what initially brought her to it: “When I was at the beginning of my freshman year, I was sort of dragged along by some upperclassmen on the frisbee team and I just fell in love with the small community and the good food, the opportunity to get off campus and engage in a really different kind of conversation than I get to have in my day-to-day life at school.” Jin Wei ‘20 added that, “Being at Hearth offers me this opportunity to find the balance of social and calm states of mind.”
Prior to being the co-coordinator of Hearth, Sara Moradi, ‘20 said, “I had a pretty rough freshman year and I found myself very ungrounded and lost.” What initially excited her about working at Hearth was how welcoming the space was: “I loved how open students were with each other, students that they really didn’t even know that well. I thought that that was really important.” She continued, “I like fostering a space where people can just come and feel at home and out of the Bates Bubble that we normally are stuffed into.”
One of Moradi’s favorite queries was earlier this school year, “There was one time earlier last semester, it was like really stressful—I think it was during midterms—and we made it about the seasons.” Moradi went on to explain that the first query is a lighter question and the second one tends to be deeper. “For that particular Hearth, the deeper question was ‘What grounds you?’ For me, that grounding comes from Sufism, the chaplaincy, and Hearth, and all the programs that I attend. It’s cool to hear how different spaces around campus do that for other students that are going through the same things like anxiety or just the pressure of being at Bates,” said Moradi.
In the other room, Longsdorf spoke amongst other Hearth goers. “Hearth has existed in a couple different forms at Bates for a while,” said Longsdorf. “But the real brainstorm behind the query-centered Hearth that we have now was from Emily Wright, who was the Multifaith Chaplain before me, so I inherited this beautiful program, and have loved to continue it and grow it in some small way.”
Over the years, Longsdorf has collected a couple queries that have meant a lot to her, “We had a query early on which was like ‘what was a time when you experienced childlike wonder?’ and I think that one’s really stuck with me and one that I think about a lot.” She paused to think for a moment, then continued, “Then, last semester we had one that was ‘when do you feel full?” Some people talked about food, some people talked about wholeness, about when they feel peace, and some people talked about meaningful moments in their lives…The ways you could interpret it were really cool.”
What’s the secret behind Hearth? “I just think it’s a special thing,” expressed Longsdorf. “I am just so touched to see my hallway filled with shoes every Hearth,” she laughed, “like there are few things that make me happier than that, so yeah I really love it, wouldn’t change it.”