I would like to begin by thanking Dr. Gregory Roper for his provocative needling in the “Why I hate the phrase ‘UD Bubble’ ” in the previous issue of the University News. He believes that its widespread use creates a mindset that reduces our alma mater to a provincial refuge, a bomb shelter uncontaminated by the ultra-neo-pagan, non-über-conservative-Catholic world-beast, which is as intrinsically evil as possible. If the good Dr.’s interpretation of the phrase accurately reflects student and alumni sentiment, I would happily join him in championing its elimination from our collegial vocabulary. If the bubble implies nothing more than a moated fortress, then it should be popped; blind fear of anything different is a wretched principle for those called to communion and joy.
I have never understood “the Bubble” in this way, whether as an undergrad in the early 2000s or today as a professor. My main reason for writing, though, is that Dr. Roper ‘dun gone and messed’ with his so-called “beloved Cistercian friends” in likening the University of Dallas to a priory. As a completely unbiased Cistercian monk, I feel duty-bound to follow societal custom and publicly explode in (feigned) outrage whenever my tribe is attacked. My articulated wrath is poured out in these words defending both the monastic core of the university and the bubble imagery.
Has Dr. Roper never seen aerial photos of the original UD campus in the 1950s? They reveal no civilization around the cluster of humble buildings, but rather unmarked miles of cow-paddied grazing ground: ideal monk turf, I dare say. UD has never been anywhere near a city-center, and thus it can’t possibly function as a Priory, whether Franciscan or Dominican. Even today, there is barely anything urban about the Irving-land surrounding us — the exception being PDK, that solitary beacon of civilizing light. The very location of our campus imposes a monastic mindset on us, and thus the comparison to an isolated bubble comes naturally to mind.
“You cloistered fool,” the high-spirited chair of the English department might retort. “Aren’t you aware that the monastic tradition is predicated upon “fuga mundi,” ‘flight from the world’ — the very thing I detest about the bubble mentality?”
Not so fast, my needle-wielding friend. I freely admit that the fuga mundi idea is a temptation for many here. That being said, I think a fruitful comparison can be made between our collegium and the monastery, defined by St. Benedict in his “Rule” as “a school for the Lord’s service.” The monks, and our faculty, devote their lives to learning how to love and serve Christ through their duties and liturgy. UD students can consider themselves the passing guests permitted to enter that sacred space. They have much in common with those medieval pilgrims who, for lack of hotels, paused at the great European abbeys to refresh themselves before resuming their journey.
Their stays were periods of discernment as they entered briefly into the monastic “conversatio,” or way of life aiming always at a deeper conversion of mind and heart. The monastery thus served as an oasis, offering pilgrims the gift of silence and a chance to imbibe the wisdom and chanted prayer of the monks. Upon returning to the pilgrim path, the guests carried away the refreshing waters they received there, channeling them to those they encountered outside the cloister.
“What does this have to do with the blasted bubble,” the professor of medieval literature asks wearily.
I freely grant that the monastic analogy is limited. I would nevertheless insist that the best understanding of “the Bubble” rightly reflects our conviction that UD is a sacred space set apart for that pursuit of wisdom and truth which is, unfortunately, rather unique today. This privileged space creates a cloister of sorts, an environment in which our “conversatio,” spoken as well as silent, inspires a greater love of learning and a more ardent desire for God among our brethren — both of which are hallmarks of the monastic tradition.
While some of us have vowed to stay here for the rest of our lives, “the Bubble” is essential to the gift bestowed upon our students for the duration of their Irving stay. As alumni, they extend that bubble wherever their pilgrim feet will take them; their vocation is to push its friendly confines into the world and create a similar sacred and refreshing place for their fellow travelers along the way. Our physical universe of space-time is currently expanding at a rapid rate, like dots on a stretched rubber band (I paid attention in Dr. Olenick’s astronomy class!). Our students should regard their own place in/on the bubble in a similar way.
Our “conversatio,” begun in Irving, must continue beyond our cloister for the good of the world. The bubble must float. May our “conversatio” be Bubblicious.