February 4, 2022 | NEWS | By Sabrina Brewer
Chaplain Kate Holbrook discusses moving to Colorado Springs, her roles at CC, and her favorite poems. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
As a chaplain, I do many different things. I accompany the campus as faculty, staff and students, but especially students, in the search for meaning making. There’re so many different ways that people make meaning in their lives. For some people, it’s through religious and spiritual traditions, through practices, through text. For other people, it might be through an aha moment. It could be through nature, it could be through art, it could be through an experience of crisis.
In the Chaplain’s Office and contemplative life, we try to create space for that sense of meaning making. Whether you are an atheist, or whether you practice Santería, or whether you find your practice in nature, or whether you’re interested in exploring spiritual practices in anti-racism. Whatever it might be, there’s space if you just need to be and not explain yourself for a while.
So really, supporting students where they’re at, and finding space for the head and the heart to come together. On campus, a lot of times we spend so much time here, in the head, but we are so much more than that. We are integrated beings. And so how do we create space for the heart? How do we create space for spirit? How do we create space for that sense of embodiment, the different ways of knowing that inform our values, that inform how we want to live in the world?
In my life, every experience has led to another experience that has led to another experience. When I was in college, I would never have imagined ending up in academia because I thought it was very disembodied and very disconnected. It wasn’t a blip of a thought.
After I graduated college, I ended up working on farms for a year and then at a retreat center. Any glorifying of becoming a farmer or working at a retreat center was dashed pretty quickly because it was very intense. It’s very physical. And there wasn’t a lot of community.
I did an internship at a girls’ high school in New Zealand, because I couldn’t find a high school setting to get an internship at in the Bay Area. While I was there, something resonated, something sparked, something clicked.
Colorado Springs was different in 2006. It was really hard to leave the Bay Area at the time. It was a harder move landscape wise than I was expecting because I was a very coastal person.
I remember driving here, and I passed the Air Force Academy, and then I passed the Focus on the Family sign. At that time, Focus on the Family had a much bigger presence in town than it does now. And I was like, ‘Why did I do this?’
It was an adjust culturally because it was very culturally different than what I was used to having come from Berkeley, but the Springs has changed quite a bit and it made me do a lot of internal work deep inside.
I have a cat named Beto and he’s amazing. He loves to lie on top of me which often means that I cannot move. I refuse to move him because I just, I can’t. So he’ll sit and he’ll just purr and purr, and I just allow myself to take that time just to be present with him and allow his purring to be present with me.
For many years now, even before COVID, I noticed increasing loneliness on campus. As a way to try to create space for this desire of more meaningful friendships or intimacy will be the opportunity for students to connect for 45 minutes or an hour to be matched with somebody else and to engage with more mindful friendship. They’ll be given some short reflection with questions from a variety of traditions. And they can either ignore it and just connect with each other, or kind of reflect on the questions together. So for Blocks 6, 7, and the first week or two of Block 8.
I was always interested in spirituality since I was a little girl. I always had a sense that my life would have something to do with spirituality. I just remember being even three or so and just having a sense of connection to something bigger than myself. I would baptize my cats as a little girl over and over and over, you know? Even in middle school being in Quaker meeting and just feeling this deep peace or this deep calm sitting in the silence.
How I make meaning continues to evolve and grow. How I experience the world having had a traumatic brain injury, and how that shaped spirituality has changed how I think, or do not think, or how I even contemplate thinking. Why do we even think so much? Is that important? Or not?
I had a real experience, living from this energetic space or this heart space, when I couldn’t formulate words well or sentences, but I could stare at a tree for a long time and watch the light shift. Do I want to repeat it? No, no, I do not want to go back and repeat a segment of months of my life. However, I had a profound spiritual experience. Do I have all the words to define it? No. Do I need to? No, I don’t. Do I need to explain everything? No. Does everything need to be explained? No.
I like all sorts of poetry. June Jordan is huge. “On A New Year’s Eve”. The end of the poem says that all things dear will disappear. There’s a “Poem About My Rights” that’s very powerful.
I really poetry that is not abstract. That is clear in its speech. I really like Rilke. “I live my life in widening circles”.
“I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.
I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
I’ve been circling for thousands of years
and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?”
Written by Rainer Maria Rilke. Translated by Joanna Macy.