Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"Come then."

"Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel" has been on repeat in my head since Sunday; it may not have helped that I played it on repeat Sunday afternoon before heading off to Mass, solidly cementing it in my psyche for the liturgical new year. Then, I just happened to wake up Monday morning with it dancing across my mind. Really what could be better than awaking to a chorus of rejoice after a splendid long weekend?

All of my blog friends out there in InternetLand posted their Advent reflection on Sunday. Not this chica. Have no fear, though! In the life of a full-time volunteer (and with the delay that has recently been placed on my brain), Tuesday is the new Sunday.

In the midst of holiday preparations and work stresses (which in some cases are one in the same), "Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel" has echoed in my ears. How redundant is it that we say "Come, God with Us, Come!"? If God is with us, why then must we call on God to come? I know, I know- Jesus is God with us, the incarnate presence of the Divine; I do have a religious studies degree, you know, so it's not a question of what Advent is or the preparation that takes place during this time, a readying of ourselves for the coming of God both in the Christ child on Christmas but also at the end of time. Instead, I wonder in what ways I have been crying out to a God that is so close that s/he is intertwined with my very being and doing.

To sing out, "Oh come, oh come God with us" is less of a plea to God than with myself. God is already here, I but need to recognize it. If I seek, I will find; if I cry out, God will hear me; if I dare to hope, the door to Hope will be opened. After all isn't that what this season is about? Hope.

There are lots of reasons to lose hope. When people can't feed their families, when a woman is without a coat to keep her warm in her barely heated house, when people you've never seen before show up for assistance days before a holiday because they heard you were giving out assistance. There's no easy way to grapple with those things. How do you do justice when you don't know where justice needs to be served, where charity goes in vain, and what/ if an authentic, basic need is being or needs to be met.

Those reasons to lose hope can easily transform into reasons not to hope. How can I have faith in people who are seemingly playing the system? How can those in need be rightfully served when so much has yet to be done to meet their most basic rights and needs? I can choose (to the exception of my conscience) not to serve them, but that does neither of us any good. It is much easier to choose not to hope.

That is, to completely turn one's self off to the possibility of goodness, of justice, of righteousness. Yet, to choose not to hope is perhaps the worst thing one could do. Without hope, there is no promise. Faith cannot survive without hope. And unlike grace, which is freely given and can be recognized as it acts, hope is something that is inspired and which grows out of our being. Sometimes, even, hope exists within us without our fully recognizing it.

Ultimately, if I want others to retain hope, I myself must be free enough to hope. In a way, seeing someone else hope gives us permission to hope in our own lives. The call to hope is one of openness and faith. Remaining open to God, faith can flourish- I but need to bring my whole heart. If I can do that, there can be hope. With my whole heart, I must trust that when I call out to God to come, hope in finding God will allow me to see what has been there all along. And as I cry out "Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel", God will respond, "Come then. I've been here all along."

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Landscape of Choices

Disclaimer: If you are looking forward to the SSJ Mission Corps 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!

As always, thanks for
reading & enjoy!

Life is full of choices. Some are simple and others aren't. Every choice we make brings with it its own set of circumstances and consequences. And as a wise friend once told me, in choosing not to make a decision, you have nonetheless made one.

This entry has been in the works since my first week of ministry at Visitation BVM parish. Actually, that's a lie- this piece has been writing itself since I began my journey into the Mission Corps. When and where that journey began, I can't exactly pinpoint, but I do know that it has brought with it a number of decisions over the past few months.

A year ago I made the choice to actively pursue the idea of doing a year of service. That decision led me to choose to leave a full time job in a field I enjoyed to see what possibilities awaited me. Arriving in Philadelphia two months ago, I plunged into a world of new possibilities, challenges, and, yes, more choices.

Some of those choices were conscious, like living in community, opting for a simple lifestyle, and committing to remain focused daily on spirituality and justice; others were unconscious, like choosing to live more reflectively, learning to love a seemingly unloved community, and entering into conversation anew everyday with strangers, God, the world, and, more often than not, all three at once.

Each day, before my feet even hit the floor, I have already made choices that will impact how I go about my day. As I wake up, I remember that I have chosen to live in Kensington. This, I am aware, is a choice that could be changed at any time, all I need to do is say the words: I quit, I’m done, take me home.

My options are many and because of my place in the world, they are (for the most part) boundless. My education ensures that certain doors will always be open to me. My skin color grants me access to people and places that those I serve would never be able to reach otherwise; it also makes it perfectly clear that I do not fully belong to this community. Yet, the color of my skin gives me the ability to advocate for my neighbors. It carries an invisible weight and authority with it. Classifying me as an outsider, it may distance me initially from those I seek to serve, but ultimately it gives me the chance to shorten the distance that must be covered in order to meet their needs.

I am a product of the choices I have made and those choices have led me to where I am today. My options abound. I have the luxury and blessing to choose to be here. The individuals and families I meet everyday do not have that choice.

The single mother on 5th Street, who has five children and is trying to make ends meet, is the same age as me, yet finding ways to relate is difficult. We are of the same generation, but her life and mine are radically different. It is not simply a few choices that lie between us, but the breadth of lives lived on different planes; I wonder if we ever had the same list of choices laid out before us.

Still, as I stand on her porch, we find ourselves face to face. She has chosen to let me into her home and no matter how many different choices we’ve made, I must respect her vulnerability and find a way to give her tools that might make her next decision a little bit easier; be that by giving her a voucher for furniture so that she doesn’t have to choose between food and furnishings for her family or offering a compassionate ear to hear the story, her story, which no one else cares to listen to.

As I ride to the Bevilacqua Center on my bike each day, I am aware of the choices that are being made all around me. There are those individuals, junkies and prostitutes, whose choices have stranded them on the corner of Somerset and Kensington. Pulling up to the double spires of Visitation, I pass parents walking their children through the doors of the parish’s school. Navigating the physical and systemic dangers of the neighborhood, these parents sacrifice financially so that their children might have opportunities in their lives- opportunities that are dreamed of by families today and fostered in young minds as they’re taught to think and make choices with faith and goodness at the forefront of their minds.

In my time here thus far, I’ve borne witness to an ever changing landscape of choices. By choice or not, the neighbors I visit may never leave Kensington and there is nothing wrong with that. The choices they face are not as simple as good and bad. I can hope, though, that the little bit of assistance I can give them might empower them to discover the grander scheme of decisions available to them.

Poverty doesn’t need to be an endless cycle. Abuse doesn’t need to be proliferated. Choices can be discovered anew each day if someone is there to compassionately and realistically say it’s ok to hope.

By listening and being present in my actions, I try to say that to those I work with. In return, I choose to accept the invitation from each person I encounter to do the same- to find hope under it all. That’s a choice. Life is full of them and each moment I take the chance to say yes, new doors are opened.

Sure, I have made plenty of decisions in my lifetime, but no matter how many choices I could have made, one thing is clear: today, there is no better choice than the one I made to be here.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Strike Anywhere.

Here is my inspiration as I write tonight, a beautiful revelation by Elyse Raby that rightfully stands on it's own:
"I am a theologian.

Not because I know something that the average lay folk doesn’t. Just because I love God and seek to know this all-pervasive God in any way I can. Because the only way for me to make sense of my world – internal and external – is by finding God’s fingerprints in it.

I am alive.

The depths of my heart and soul – my insides – are buzzing and burning and churning, like a pot of water about to reach boiling point. Because of some way that Lisa Cahill spoke about knowing and loving God in community. Because it was real and alive in her, it just seemed natural. It was not a theory, or a revelation, or a proposition. It just was. It is in her.

Theology is in me and God is in me. I know that because I feel it moving. Like an infant leaping in my womb with joy, at the moment the greeting reached my ears. It is energy. It is bubbles rising faster and faster until the water boils over – onto roommates, friends, strangers, photos of sunflowers.

It is a moment of myself speaking to me, saying 'I need to go to grad school.

The best grad school.'

Believing in myself. I can. This is what I do. Not because I am the best at it, but because it is written in my soul, carved into the fibers of my being. Because I am, I exist, within it.

I need to go to grad school, not because there are many things that I should know but don’t, but because this flame needs oxygen. This flame knows it can be a wildfire. I can take down California.

A voice cried out in the desert of my heart. It said, 'this is you.'

It was my voice.

It was God’s voice.

The Holy Spirit, it sets fires.

Call 911.

Tell them not to come."

- Elyse Raby

After that, all I can say is it's funny sometimes how lives coincide...

Tonight was a long night. You know one of those nights when you're tired and can't really focus, even when you really want to? When the person in front of you is the most important person right then and there and you can't seem to connect. The moment passes and you move on, mourning a lost moment, lamenting that intent could not be grasped and try as you may your ears would not listen. You may not be able to listen as much as you should, to hear all that is there, but without knowing it your heart did.

Then something falls into place. Another conversation, the same night, a lackadaisical stupor, making conversation for conversation's sake, humoring cordiality. The joke, though, is on me.

From a smoldering space, sparks fly. Simple questions develop into more. So what did you talk about tonight? Could it be that we don't know how this all turns out? What is it that you don't connect with in teaching? Why then teach on an upper level? Isn't being a professor something more than developing knowledge and researching? There's no way teaching can be an afterthought for a professor, for isn't to be a professor to first and foremost discover and live out the vocation of positing knowledge? Needless to say, as smoke rose from our conversation sparks of intuition, belief, and core truth flew.

Blah, blah, blah, BAM.

Vocation. That's a big word. A big word with lots of meaning on the small scale. It can also be a scary word if all you've ever known of it is huge things. But I love this word. Well, not just the word but the entire notion and concept of vocation. Vocation is that which stirs deep within you; it is who you truly are. No matter what you are doing, if it is truly and genuinely lived out, is vocation. It's a big word but ultimately it is a be all not an end all.

A desired end is not vocation. It is not a dream nor a wish. Vocation is not becoming something; it is the something etched inside of me, the something I am constantly uncovering and discovering anew, it is my very being.

Can it be scary? Yes. That may be why my conversation partner left after that last point... maybe the more important question to ask is "why is it scary?" Fear? perhaps. Or is it more so lack of humility? An inability to recognize who you are and to be that person most honestly and forthrightly.

If you aren't ready to humble yourself to the fact that you may not be able to know it all ( or you may not even fully know or be your true self), then true vocation may be a long time coming. But if you can embrace the freedom of unknowing, the peace of slowly feeling out what God has etched out inside of you, then maybe the deep passion and yearning of vocation will strike anywhere.

God likes to start fires. Maybe the friction of our being is just enough to ignite the match God intends to drop within us. From there, all that needs to be done is to stand back and see how the flames rise.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

October Skies & Pumpkin Pies

Bruce & I are still out and about. Although, I must admit toward the end of the month, it got a little chilly to go on long rides with him. Alas, we still enjoy the ride to work together and the occasional venture out into Philadelphia on a larger scale.

As I said before:
For the last month, I've been out and about seeing and settling into life in the city of brotherly love. I hope to make photos a regular (see: hopefully once a month, if not more often) feature of this blog. Some will be explained, others will speak for themselves, some will do both, and even more, I would hope, will take on their own voice and vision.

Below are glimpses from October, from views from the Ben Franklin Bridge to our trip to Ellis Island with the sisters and fall foliage & Philly sights. May they show you what I have seen and reveal what your eyes are meant to see.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

When all that is, will be God.

There is something about All Souls’ Day, coupled with All Saints’ Day, that stirs something up within me. Last year, it was a post reflecting (albeit briefly) on the promise and hope of eternal life. Now a year later, in a very different place but among the same set of days I find myself reflecting once again on the importance of these days- not just these holy days but the days that we live out each day of our lives.

As I write this, I think back on the past few days; days of reflection, deep connection, and exploration. And in this moment, on this All Souls’ Day, two things strike me.

The first is contained in the last few days, which have been full of connection- of realizing the awesomeness of this life, no matter how unknown or unknowable it is at times, and having those in my life who are willing to help me and be with me in genuinely and sincerely recognizing that. Truly it is a blessing to have such people in my life, to have the ability to share, and to find where God is acting and speaking deep within me by journeying with them.

The reminders abound and blessings are aplenty. Today, as I wrapped up a long day in a long week leading up to the health fair I’ve been planning for this Sunday, a message came into my inbox. There at the end of a business e-mail lay a signal, one of those blessings & reminders:

“What a beautiful sky today. Hope you had a chance to see it.”

And then I paused. I looked out the front door of the community center toward the sky peeking through the iron work of the El and between the row houses across the street.

Had I seen it? No. I hadn’t had a chance.

Among the hustle and bustle of the day, I hadn’t seen the sky that was so beautiful; the sky that caught the eye enough to warrant a line, moved enough within someone to be put into words for me. It had been there the whole time, but somehow I had missed it. The chance for today was gone.

Not that I didn’t see the beauty around me- a coworker feeling appreciated by recognition of a haircut, a movement of the Spirit during the sign of Peace, homemade pie and homegrown appreciation, a volunteer coming into her own in a space she finds safety in, and conversation far beyond the boundaries of cordial office chatter. All of it was meaningful and beautiful.

Still, I wish I could have seen the beauty of that sky. The chance beauty found and shared by another. While I know it will be there tomorrow, somehow having missed it today is missing a connection. A connection with another soul, with the moment, with God.

That leads me to my second sentiment for this All Souls’ Day. It surfaced at Mass this morning. Reflecting on the readings for the day and the meaning behind this day of remembrance and, ultimately, celebration, Fr. Bruce honed in on a very certain point about this day and the end of this life: When all that is, will be God.

I sat with that phrase for a while, considering in all my humanity what it was meant to say to my soul. First, I faced the meaning in it, that at the end of this life as we draw close to God and enter into the Kingdom to come, all that we encounter in the joy and glory of that moment will be God. In that moment of being in a way we have never been before, all will be as it is and will be God. Such divinity and sanctity- to find at the end of known being, not simply the unknown, but the grace-filled, triumphant moment of being one with God- completely unknown yet known inexplicably in the depths of our soul.

That moment is one held in faith. Rested and grounded in the confidence of the promises of Christ. It is the result of a life well lived- a life that seeks unity. One that strives to discover and be present to all that is and, in the process, recognizes that all of this is and always will be God. It is in this that the soul rests.

Today, I find that that is what my soul can rest in and I pray that all those who have passed from this life are enjoying that- a place, a space, a being where all that is is God. That is serenity. It is what I seek in this life, and as I draw closer to God that sensation of nearing that being is but a foretaste of what is to come. It is the sensation of finding God in the moment; being united with others and through them God; uncovering beauty among the mundane- even if it only peeks through the iron grate of the El, the smallest window of a soul shared, or the call from another to take a chance to see it in what has been there all along.