Meet Br. Stefan Waligur
Br. Stefan Waligur is a Benedictine monk and doctoral student of Christian Spirituality in the Historical and Cultural Studies department at the GTU. Read more about what inspires Stefan and the transformative power that he finds in music, community, and liturgy.
Tell us a little bit about your background prior to enrolling at the GTU:
I grew up in the inner city of Buffalo, NY. After a religious conversion, I entered college and decided to dedicate my life to God and serving people. I found myself working as a chaplain at American University in Washington, D.C. On September 11, 2001, I was in D.C. when the plane struck the Pentagon. The day after, we gathered students together on the quad and sang a chant for peace. Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, and all kinds of people prayed together as one in that moment. We lamented as one people. That changed my life and my life's purpose forever.
Since that time, I have traveled all over the United States and abroad offering concerts, retreats, workshops, and courses on sacred sound, lament, and the spirituality of music. I became a Benedictine oblate and a vowed monk in 2010. I knelt in the hut of Bede Griffiths in the Benedictine community called Shantivanam in India and made my vows. Prior to enrolling at the GTU, I lived in Ireland for six years, where I was researching Irish music, poetry, and stories. It was there that I discovered the ancient practice of the Irish Lament. I became convinced that a communal lament was one significant way that we can meet and find common ground in contemporary society.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
One of the main sources of inspiration for me is the ecumenical community of Taize in France. This is a neo-monastic community that welcomes young people by the thousands every year. Many years ago, I visited this community and discovered what was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. I witnessed thousands of young people sitting together in silence and in beautifully sung prayer for peace. These young people were present with one hundred monks of the Taize community. For seven days we prayed, ate, and worked together, and we entered into a dialogue for peace in our lives and in the world. It was an incredible moment.
What drew you to the GTU?
Five years ago, I applied to the GTU when I heard that the GTU was a place where interfaith studies and experience was a cherished part of life. I quickly saw that this was true.
What are your research interests at the GTU?
During my time here at the GTU, I have had the delight of studying various religious traditions, including Christianity and Hinduism. Dr. Arthur Holder, Dr. Rita Sherma, Dr. Kathryn Barush, and Dr. Thomas Walsh, Professor of Celtic Studies at UC Berkeley, have guided my research into the worlds of history, theology, and sacred sound. All of these areas inform my central research focus on the spirituality and practice of lament.
What role can music and/or liturgy play in social change?
Music and liturgy have always played a powerful role in transformation within religious communities. Now more than ever, music and liturgy is called upon to bring real social change. What that means today, I believe, is that our music and our liturgies must be open to fundamental change in themselves. In response to recent trends of religious disaffiliation, we must take a serious look at the music and liturgy that we offer and ask some hard questions. What do these times require of our music and liturgy in order to meet the real needs of our society? How must we change our theology and practice in order to love the world more deeply? What fundamental power structures must be transformed so that voices silenced may be heard, and our collective lives can move closer to the goal of personal and social healing and justice? Visit my composition of “All Shall Be Well” for an example of the transformative power of Taize inspired music.
Where do you see yourself after graduating?
I am moving to Louisa, VA, near Charlottesville, to begin a new community that we call Community of Peace. This will be my home for the rest of my life. Along with six other people, we will move onto 270 acres with a retreat center. Community of Peace is an ecumenical community, and our board is made up mostly of people of color and women. Like the Taize community, we will enter into beautifully sung prayer for peace and engage in dialogue for justice. Every member of Community of Peace is trained in non-violent communication and anti-racism. This will be a community that offers a radical welcome and seeks to be an expression of Dr. Martin Luther King's Beloved Community. I cherish your prayers and your support.
To support the Community of Peace, visit this GoFundMe page.