As the Winter came to a close this year, I was invited by the community development office at the community center to document a Catholic school here in Philadelphia that is being re-purposed in the coming months. Once a thriving Catholic educational institution, Nativity BVM school will soon be gutted and remodeled as senior housing for the aging population in the Port Richmond neighborhood of the city. It is an exciting new project and being allowed into the old, now empty building before it is re-form was an artist's dream. I hope you enjoy the sights and can find the beauty that I discovered in the impending rebirth of Nativity.
Friday, March 18, 2011
Disclaimer: If you are looking forward to the SSJ Mission Corps Winter Newsletter, you probably shouldn't read the following entry, as it is my piece in the newsletter. Consider yourself warned. If you're not waiting on the newsletter (or just can't wait), dive on in!
It was midway through my conversation with Vladimir, the Bevilacqua Center’s new maintenance director, that I realized I was talking to Christ. Believe it or not, this wasn’t the first time I had discovered the Divine among our mops and brooms at the center. Dorian, our former maintenance man, and I had shared conversations of faith and conviction prior to his return to Mexico right before the New Year. I can’t say I’m surprised God came through to me in Vladimir but then again, I always find myself astonished when I realize the conversation I am having speaks volumes beyond just the two people present in the room.
Vladimir had started by asking a question of what had led me to Philadelphia and my family’s reaction to the move and all I was doing. Soon enough though we were uncovering what it means to follow your heart.
“After years of doing lots of things you realize that all that really matters comes from here,” he said pointing to his heart.
“Sometimes when I’m talking to God, I ask ‘Daddy, are you really sure?’” he continued as our sharing got deeper and my soul took note that the Divine was in the room, “and God says to me ‘What did I tell you? What did I put in your heart?’ He’s saying do that, silly.”
Midpoints are important places. From the middle you can both look forward and backward. There you are given hindsight enough to make changes as well as foresight enough to know that much more remains to be uncovered.
Six months into this year, I have reached such a midway point. The past six months have flown by and there is no doubt that the remaining months in our year here in the Mission Corps will soon come to pass. The question of what to do next year certainly looms large. I could apply to graduate schools like I intended when this experience started. I could apply for a second year in the Mission Corps. I could choose to stay in Philadelphia beyond this year or I could not. Such choice is the nature of the midpoint; from here I have the ability to set, alter, or maintain a specific course in my life.
It is also the middle of winter, a place of scattered darkness and slow restoration. Here, in this middle, signs of life flitter in fits and starts. Life in community is more familiar than it was in the fall. Winter in community means more time together indoors growing in relationship. That growth is a blessing and a challenge; it involves living with two wonderful women, who teach me something new about myself and what in means to live in relationship each day. This growth also requires us to learn to live in community under new circumstances, absent of the initial formalities and cordialities, which fell away months ago. At the same time, winter in community also means laying the groundwork for renewal and restoration. Examining our life together on retreat in January made clear our need for such renewal- a call to live more deeply and truly the values of the SSJ Mission we signed on to just a few short months ago.
Restoration and renewal also take hold of my being this winter. As the dusk light recovers itself and blue tones fill the five o’clock hour, new hope returns as well. I feel as the Spirit goes deeper and my soul once stripped bare, in the midst of winter doldrums, begins to bud and turn towards the light. Within me there is a distinct shift towards resting in God and being in relationship with those around me, opening myself to them so that all might benefit.
Midway in my ministry marks ever evolving new ground, made greener by an enjoyment and gratification in and of the work I do. Such satisfaction is marked by a growing comfort that comes simply from having been able to grow in my position at the community center everyday over the course of the last half year.
Part of that growth comes from those I work with and ultimately those I work for each day. The neighbors that I visit and assist are the people whose lives I am most often able to bear witness to, finding life in their stories and gaining perspective from them as we work together for something better. Yet, this is not the only place this occurs in my ministry. Each and every person I encounter has a window to the soul ready to be opened- that is, if I look hard enough and those I encounter are willing to share. And sometimes, like with Vladimir, I don’t even realize I am looking until I am already peering in, gently sharing in life with another. At this point, our lives have converged and a new midpoint is made, marked by the past when we didn’t know each other and a future where we cannot forget one another.
This is perhaps the most important midpoint. It is the convergence point and it is the place where hearts can be changed. Here is where I happened to realize God was there. I note as my heart jumps in my chest that there is something there to follow, something that I hope I have been following. Looking back on moments and months, I can see it at play in my heart, looking forward I await where it leads, and for now, I rest in it- saying every now and then ‘are you sure?’, only to be reassured that if God meant for something else I wouldn’t be here, silly.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
A Poem for Sunshine
What does God's voice sound like?
It sounds like the sigh I let out right before I fall asleep.
A sigh full of exhaustion and contentment
that wakes me from time to time as I hear it
and it jars me from sleep.
It sounds like the breath that passes my lips.
It emits a light that warms, a light that spreads from the smallest spark.
I feel it on the back of my eyelids
It sits in the center of my chest.
That voice speaks clearly in the muffled fuzz of a discerning heart.
Among the swirling feeling, there it is.
From deep within and yet from deep without.
I recognize it and the most fitting response is a murmur,
almost indistinguishable except for its feeling.
Words unformed but known by you.
I cannot say them
for I know them but my lips cannot form them.
My heart speaks.
Your heart speaks.
Voice is there.
I feel my mother's thumb trace a cross on my forehead
the grace of her fingerprint running over the tiny hairs on my brow.
I could be 2 or 10 or 20, no matter.
Peace & blessing arrive, the inaudible sound of flesh on flesh calls them-
God's voice in action.
What does God's voice sound like?
I don't know.
But I surely know when I hear it.
Saturday, March 12, 2011
February has come and gone. The shortest month of the year was not lacking in fullness for sure, as you can tell by the more than a week's post time on this post. But February was also a month that allowed me to get back outside to take pictures. Visits from friends and family enriched my lens and gave me perspective on what I do. By the end of the month I was in need of time to reflect, which would come in March as I face the choices of what to do next year/ after June. Philadelphia is a city of murals- commissioned and not. Around every corner there is an artistic vision waiting to be discovered... Below are those I've been blessed to find-may they give you new vision and reveal what your eyes are meant to see.