Friend In Residence Explores "Spiritual Hospitality"
Teacher, translator, and Clerk of Friends World Council for Consultation Section of the Americas Benigno Sánchez-Eppler joins us on campus for Religion and Spiritual Life Week.
Each year for the past seven years, Haverford College’s Friend in Residence program has brought a seasoned Quaker, with a life experience that speaks to the concerns of contemporary college students, to campus. These visitors serve as a resources to professors in their classrooms and offer public programs to enrich the wider community.
This week, the College welcomes Benigno Sánchez-Eppler—an interpreter and translator, instructor at Amherst College, and clerk of Friends World Council for Consultation Section of the Americas—for this fall's residency.
"Benigno brings years of engagement in the Quaker community across differences of age, theology, race, and ethnicity," says Walter Sullivan, director of Quaker Affairs. "As clerk of the Friends World Council for Consultation (FWCC) Section of the Americas, he leads one of the Quaker organizations that serves perhaps the most diverse constituency in the world. His work with the FWCC Quaker Youth Pilgrimage over the last few years has tuned his ear and his heart to the concerns of young adults and college-aged people. [And] his dedication to the translation of early Quaker texts into Spanish has nurtured a deep understanding of the Quaker way."
Sánchez-Eppler was born in Cuba (where he lived through the revolution), brought up in Ecuador and Florida, and educated at Williams College and Cambridge University. Though he was raised mostly in Cuban Episcopal Church, he first walked into a Quaker meeting during his time at England and found a spiritual home.
Now a member of Northampton Friends in New England Yearly Meeting, he has traveled in the ministry among Friends in Costa Rica, Cuba, Peru, Bolivia, and across the United States. He and his wife helped launch the monthly meeting in Northampton, Mass., and he is a founding co-editor and translator of raicescuaqueras.org, a collection of Spanish translations of Quaker texts.
"There was one translation of George Fox Diary and a few other things [for Spanish-speaking Quakers] scattered in print and not accessible," says Sánchez-Eppler. "In the context of FWCC, the Latin American Friends identified the need for them to have access to translated basic text from the beginnings of the tradition. Raicescuaqueras.org is our response to those priorities."
While on campus this week, Sánchez-Eppler’s residency will focus on the theme of “spiritual hospitality,” which is, he says, “not just a matter of letting people in your space and being nice to them. That will necessarily follow when you welcome the presence of God, truth, love, ultimate concern in you, and then act in accordance with the way those things in you want to make you do all other welcoming.”
In addition to meeting with student groups and visiting related classes, Sánchez-Eppler will give three public talks. The first is a brown-bag lunch in the library on Friday afternoon to discuss "A Spanish Voice for Early Friends: A Quaker Legacy for Spanish Readers." Later that evening, he will conduct an interactive workshop on translation as a digital humanities practice. On Saturday afternoon, he will give his main public address on the topic of spiritual hospitality, which will include discussion of how curriculum can make us feel "at home" in the liberal arts and how to make a new guest feel like a fully empowered host in the life of the College.
"Because I teach at a liberal arts college with demonstrated engagements, confrontations, curiosities, and resolutions, I eagerly await finding what of those things are most urgent parts of the condition I need to open myself to speak to,” he says of this residency. "Hospitality and feeling at home in a space that doesn’t look yours? Hospitality and respect and consent in sexual practices and explorations? Hospitality and the barriers to feel at home in particular academic disciplines? Hospitality and the accessibility or inaccessibility of agency in the governance of the college community? I don’t know what it will be. I don’t know what stories will speak to my condition, nor what part of your condition is asking to be spoken to."
Sullivan in the College’s Quaker Affairs Office has high hopes for this residency and, more broadly, for the future of a program that is continuing to evolve to meet the needs of our community.
"I hope," he says, "that students will come to understand that Quakers are more theologically and ethnically diverse than they might have thought and be inspired by Benigno's tender heart, sensitive ear, and deep thoughts on the nature of hospitality for the other among us."
Another Friend in Residence—author, speaker, and activist Eileen Flanagan—will be on campus in the spring for a second, longer residency.