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The Record Spring 2014 - Jacqueline Kelsey

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Beyond the Stars with Dr. Jacqueline Kelsey '63

Jacqueline KelseyDr. Jacqueline Kelsey ’63 is a self-described “rural girl” who has studied and written much about imagination and sensitivity to God’s gift of nature. Her distinctive way of looking at the natural world shapes her creative work, which includes two books, Beneath the Tall Black Door (2011) and Flight Beyond the Stars (2013).

Kelsey studied English at Greenville College. After a full career of teaching literature and writing, Kelsey completed a doctorate of philosophy in English education at the University of Illinois and became a teacher educator. Her studies led to alternative teaching in teacher education at both undergraduate and graduate levels, with a special interest in rural education which integrates students' out-of-school learning with their circular, cognitive style of learning in school. Her interdisciplinary dissertation incorporated ideas from agriculture, psychology, religion, folklore, education and literature. Drawing on interviews collected and published by folklorist Henry Glassie, Kelsey explored the interconnectedness of agricultural work and story telling in Irish folklore.

“Picture farmers sitting around the hearth, sharing stories after a day of cutting peat in the bogs. Smoke drifts upward through the chimney. There is a transference of work and story and prayer,” Kelsey says. “The farmer’s workaday world is one with his storytelling and his home and community.”

Through her dissertation research, Kelsey developed a theoretical nature-based worldview that understands imagination and creativity as connected to cycles in nature and agricultural work. Kelsey says, “I showed that imagination is very closely related to the natural cycles in planting and harvesting that we find in farm life.”

Her worldview emphasizes interconnectedness, a strong sense of place, and oneness with God. For example, in a recent blog post, Kelsey invited readers to take up gardening, what she calls the work of "co-creating with God." She also believes that her research on worldview creates cultural meaning and connection to agricultural story for developing countries.

Beneath the Tall Black DoorKelsey eventually left the world of academia to pursue her dreams of traveling and writing. She has studied with First Peoples groups in the Pacific Northwest, Hawaii, and the South Pacific.

After twenty years of leading workshops on life story writing Kelsey recorded and performed her written stories of experiences with animals as teachers in Beneath the Tall Black Door. In the book, she tells seven parables to teach observational skills regarding the connection between nature, animals and the commonplace of human experience. She says her greatest teachers are humble people and animals.

In addition to writing, Kelsey focuses her creative energy on co-creating with God in the backyard of her Apple Shed Story Center and its two small fields. She aims to make a difference to her community in her own small way by flower gardening and planning outdoor space for sustaining beauty. “You have to be focused,” Kelsey says. “I do not have a television or computer. Instead, I pay attention to what’s in my own domain. It is there that I make the difference. Much like a lesson taught by Benedictine monks, I believe when you live out your life in small ways, it creates ripples which affect the world.”

An adventurouFlight Beyond the Starss free spirit, Kelsey encourages others to reach for their dreams, even when it means taking risks. That is the message of her book, Flight Beyond the Stars. Kelsey hopes to inspire others to embrace the uncertainty and mystery that comes with imaginatively reaching for their dreams.

Kelsey writes, "Without self-expression through beauty and nature the heart’s desire would die. They are integral to God showing Himself through who one is."

Read more from Jacqueline Kelsey on her blog.