Kate Holbrook sees the light in every person. A member of the Colorado College spiritual community for 11 years, Kate has influenced and guided members from every facet of the school through her time as a chaplain. In a current social and political climate fueled by fear and division, The Catalyst sat down with Kate to discuss her spiritual journey, the state of the world, and how opening one’s heart is the first step to peace.
The Catalyst: What role did religion and spirituality play in your growing up?
Kate Holbrook: I am grateful for my religious and spiritual inheritance, coming from a long line of Presbyterians. It has shaped me religiously and culturally—it is something that has been both frustrating and comforting at the same time. It’s also something I wrestle with. My inheritance is one part of what has influenced me. Attending a Quaker school helped me from an early age integrate the connection between social justice and spirituality into my life. It also taught me the value and importance of contemplation and reflection. In college, feminist, liberation, and embodied theologies were really influential, as well as feminist Christian groups I was part of. They helped me claim a faith that empowered me to embody values of compassion and justice in the world.
TC: What religion or practice has influenced your life the most?
KH: In terms of specific practices, one of the practices that has been most influential during the past nine years has been Zhineng Qigong, a tradition I now teach in. While not a religious practice, it is deeply spiritual for me as it has taught me how to pray on the cellular level, without words. It has also taught me how to live with a greater sense of expansiveness, mystery, acceptance, love, and grace.
TC: Having been chaplain for 11 years, do you find there to be a large spiritual community, or is it more of a niche environment?
KH: I think it’s somewhere in between, to be honest. I think that most of the students here would identify themselves as spiritual, and they seek it out in different ways. I would venture to guess there’s a portion who seek it through our [the chaplain’s] office, or other faith tradition groups, or if it’s through any of the interfaith dialogue, art and spirituality, embodied practice stuff we do. But there are other students who, being in nature, connect through hiking and different things, so it depends on how you define “spiritual.” But it is an active, vibrant part of the community, and in different years it has a different personality and different needs, and the spiritual needs of our community are as diverse as the people are. I think there’s been a lot of changes.
There are students who come from a specific tradition and stay with it the whole time, there are students who come in with a tradition and leave it all together, there are some students who come in with one tradition and leave with another. There are students who come in with many traditions and some who come in with none, but come in with the question, “how do I create meaning in the world?” We can help them find ways to do that.
There are many ways to talk about spirituality, but one of the ways is “how can we be one with the world, and how can we connect to our own heart?” There’s so many ways to be present to what you consider sacred. My work here is to both help students and be supportive.
TC: What have you noticed about religion and spirituality in Colorado Springs, given it is a predominantly Christian community?
KH: It’s interesting, because I’ve seen [the predominantly Christian voice] change throughout my 11 years, or maybe that’s because I’ve changed. When I first came here, Focus on the Family had a much bigger dominance, in a way. They’re still a very strong Evangelical Christian dominance because there are still many Evangelicals and still a lot of churches, but Colorado Springs is much more religiously diverse than people think; there’s a large eco-spirituality community, there’s a large Sikh community, a Muslim community, Hindu community, and a smaller Jewish community. I do think it can be a challenging place that is a non-majority, or has historically been considered non-majority.
But I don’t know if I can compartmentalize [the religious majority], because in the Christian tradition, the dominant group we think of is the Evangelical community, but it’s actually much more diverse. There are places that are inclusive, especially of the LGBTQIA populations. I think if you come—and you are Evangelical—to Colorado Springs you could find a lot of community, and I know it can be hard to not be Evangelical Christian here, as well.
TC: Sunday night in Quebec, there was a deadly shooting at a mosque that also served as the city’s Islamic Cultural Center. What do you believe is perpetrating people acting out of hate in fear of others’ religious beliefs?
KH: I think there’s a lot of ways to answer that. I think it has a lot to do with fear, and fear is a powerful driving force. I think there’s a lot going on currently that encourages fear, and fear by its nature is a way that disconnects us from ourselves, from our own hearts at times, from each other, from other concepts, and I think it’s used a lot to create divisions. But I think it’s interesting… I think religion is an easy excuse. It’s hard to break down. I mean, it’s one of those questions where you can analyze it in concrete facts, that in this current political climate, fear is divisive, and people are scared. Is it fear of people losing their privilege? Do they feel something is being taken from them? Is fear because they come from a religious or political community that does a lot of othering?
I have family in Northern Ireland, and I think about the religious divisiveness between Catholics and Protestants and the complexity of how much economics played in, how much politics played in, how much rhetoric of this othering played in.
I think what interests me, along with why, is that we can analyze all we want, but then the question of why it drives somebody, in their heart, to do those things, is equally as interesting to me. While I can analyze why people act out of hate in fear of other’s religious beliefs, there is always some part of me that has trouble comprehending violence, any type of violence.
TC: With President Trump’s current executive order shutting refugees, immigrants, and green card holders from various predominantly Muslim nations, how do you think our community and world can promote peace and tolerance in the midst of this?
KH: First, it’s incredibly racist and xenophobic and just very upsetting. We’ve seen it so many times in history, which is also very sad. I think there’s a couple ways to answer that. One of the things I have to say is, it’s the more we stay connected to ourselves, the more we find ways to connect to our heart: the heart has its own language that our mind can control, but the more ways we can find to come home—individually, collectively—through different practices—meditation, walking outside, or whatever that may be—the more we can show up in the world and in the community more fully and more connected to ourselves. Because I think when we lose that connection to ourselves, we’re more likely to other different groups of people instead of doing the hard work in here. Because in here, the heart, is one of the hardest places to sit with, because there’s so much happening there all the time, and there’s a sense of fear of, “if I sit with it, am I going to be overwhelmed? What might come up?”
But stuff comes up and then it goes, and one thing is, how do we stay connected to ourselves? Because in terms of the long haul of activism we might be in, there will be different challenges that this administration brings. That’s not a practical answer on one hand, but on another, it is. It’s important to come from a place that’s connected instead of reactionary, so that one thing. Another is, how do we learn to listen? I believe activism is a means for peace. I think one of the problems in academia is that it’s disembodied, so the head is valued. And intellect is super important in order to think critically and analytically, but how do we bring that sense of analytical ability and merge it with our heart and our sense of spirit?
It’s important for our community (individually and together) to engage in self-reflection around power and privilege: systems and structures to engage in challenging intentional conversations such as the ones the Butler Center offers and ones related to Interfaith Dialogue coming out of the Chaplains’ Office. We need to be able to listen more deeply to each other, including with our hearts.
TC: Do you believe that under the new administration, our nation’s current trajectory of fear and hate can change?
KH: I don’t know if the administration will change. On one hand, I hold things as they are and how people tend to act, but there’s an optimism in me. I hold optimism and realism together, which isn’t always an easy place, so my hope is, as we are seeing in different forms of protest —and we have seen this before in different movements—people calling forth and calling out injustice, and people choosing to embody their beliefs and to choose different language and different rhetoric, and that hope will continue to grow. We can always work to change our own fear response, but there is good reason why people are afraid, and I don’t diminish that at all, but we can work with our fear and change it from it being paralyzing to it motivating us to change our communities. I want our fear to stop being paralyzing and start being motivating.
I believe that love is stronger than all that is wrong in the world and that its transformative power can empower people, even in heartbreak and fear to transform/change systems of domination. It is in the current administrations best interest for people to be afraid, and (again) there are really good reasons to be afraid specifically for marginalized populations…and, at the same time, there is the possibility to work with the fear, with the reaction to fear, in ways that can be helpful…including to our nervous systems, which can help us cultivate deeper capacity to change this trajectory.
Finding ways to stay grounded is so important and spiritual practices (from all types of traditions) are great resources.
TC: What are you personal goals in your spiritual practices for the near future?
So I’d say right now, in the present moment, I’m very intentional. I have a daily Qigong practice I’ve been doing for about six years or so. I also practice heart-centered mediation. So I’m being very intentional about increasing the amount of time I’m meditating to stay connected to myself. I think in the chaos that’s happening right now, we need time to be disconnected from ourselves. I’m practicing being present, and that’s really important for me to discern how I embody my spiritual beliefs in the world in a way that’s authentic for me and has a sense of integrity.
Yes, I’m still connected to my religion, and yes I’ve grown, so maybe I’m a lot like CC students in terms of integrating different traditions.
TC: Do you believe people are inherently good?
KH: Being nurtured by the Quaker tradition, I do believe the light of the divine is in everyone. I try to see the light in each person, and so in that sense, I think we all have the capacity. Some people would call that naïve, but I do. I think as human beings, we try to do the best that we can.
But I’m saying this as someone who is not currently being targeted, so I recognize that privilege.