Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Preparing God's Kingdom - an Advent Reflection

The following is a reflection by Anna Mayer, one of this year's Little Village Volunteers.  Anna shared this with the Amate community during her house's Los Posadas-themed Advent reflection.


The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way.
A voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord,  make straight his paths.”
John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem
were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.
John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist.
He fed on locusts and wild honey.
And this is what he proclaimed:
“One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.
I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
   - Mark 1:1-8


I think I have a lot to learn from John the Baptist. He does come off a little crazy in this passage, eating locusts and all, but at LV we ate the ants that made their way into our peanut butter, so who am I to judge? But in all seriousness, I find John’s radical simplicity both inspiring and challenging. His ability to live with so little offered him the freedom to travel and preach the word of God. As I struggle to commit myself to a simplicity that my friends find difficult to understand, I need to remind myself why I’m doing it—to live in solidarity with those I serve, gain a better appreciation for what I’ve been given, and ultimately to bring me closer to God. Because in getting closer to God I learn how to better prepare the way of the Lord by building His kingdom.


This Advent season I have been asking myself how I can build the Kingdom of God, and ironically enough, I’ve decided that I need to start by tearing down much of what society has built. We need to start by tearing down the structures and systems that create injustice and divisions among us.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Recapping the SOA Protest

The following is a reflection by Michael Pederson, one of this year's South House Volunteers.

Saturday morning, the 20th of November greeted me unexpectedly, somewhere between Indiana and Georgia I had miraculously fallen asleep on the bus full of SOA protesters from DePaul, headed to Fort Benning, Georgia.  SOA stands for “School of the Americas”, and although the institution is now officially labeled as another name, its purpose remains; to train Latin American soldiers. As I stretched and painfully moved my overly stiff neck around, I was captivated by the beautiful landscape surrounding me; forests and hills and land! A stark contrast from the cement-laden city of Chicago, I was once again filled with the butterflies of adventure, I was headed to Georgia, to the fabled SOA protest I had heard about for so many years.  I had never been able to attend in college so when Amate offered to set us up to follow with DePaul for a small fee, I was in.  Friday night our trio of Amate House Volunteers, Colin , Lindsay, and I found ourselves entering the DePaul student commons, feeling older and more experienced than these undergraduate creatures we so recently were.

As we rolled into Columbus, Georgia, where we were to spend the night, I slipped on my headphones and put on one of my favorite songs, “The Adventure” (Check it out, it’s great!) and could feel I was about to be part of something way bigger than me. After checking into the hotel, we drove off to Fort Benning to add to the crowd gathering outside the gates of the SOA. As we walked down the coned-off road, which would hold the main events of the protest for the next 24 hours, I felt very intimidated and anxious.  Flanking us on each side were multitudes of police, most of them very large and stone-faced.  Looking around amongst the people trickling down the wide road, I was surprised of the polarity between the police and the protesters. Not one person that I saw on the way to the protest even displayed a trace of violence or a threatening look. By the end of the trip I would estimate the total police count to be over a hundred, not to mention the soldiers; I don’t even want to think about how many thousands of dollars was spent on their unneeded security.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Changing Faces of Chicago

The following is a reflection written by Lindsay Williams, one of this year's North House Volunteers.

This year I am working as an Oral Health Educator at a community health clinic, and a large part of my job is to give dental health presentations at schools and community centers around the city.  As a result I have been ping-ponging all over Chicago to present to parenting groups and schools in diverse neighborhoods.  Driving the alleged “grid system” of Chicago without a GPS has been a (slightly stressful) crash course in orienting myself in this city that seems to morph and expand exponentially each day,  but this has been one of the aspects of the year that I feel most blessed to have.  Because I spend hours and hours each week navigating the streets from my scribbled Google Maps directions I have had an opportunity to observe some of the most interesting, and most challenged, areas of the city.

People in Chicago really identify by their neighborhoods, and each and every neighborhood has its own unique taste.  One thing I have noticed as I drive around is the abrupt and significant shifts that occur in neighborhoods in just a few blocks.  These shifts can be seen clearly in the types of stores, restaurants, language, and populations of neighborhoods.  I can drive down one street for a few miles and feel like I have passed through ten different towns.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Giving Thanks

The following is a letter that Little Village House Volunteer Melissa Carnall sent to friends and family in this season of Thanksgiving.

Dear Friends and Family,

I hope this letter finds you enjoying some crisp near-winter weather!  Will you grab a cup of tea or coffee and join me as I share a bit about what I’m up to here in the windy city of Chicago?

As you probably know, when summer drew to a close and my days of post-grad relaxation and snuggling with my precious nephew dwindled in number, I set out on an adventure to a city that I knew nothing about…Literally, I had to look up what Great Lake Chicago bordered (Lake Michigan) and I didn’t even know that the Sears (well, Willis) Tower is in Chicago. But I packed my bags and flew north to this city I’d never been… and Chicago quickly won my heart! Some naysayers like to tell me I might change my mind come winter though. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it!

But something that has won my heart even more than Chicago is Amate House itself. Amate House is the Catholic young adult volunteer program that I currently have the blessing to be a part.  Amate House is actually three houses throughout the Chicago area. I live in the one in a predominantly Mexican immigrant neighborhood called Little Village or La Villita. Here in Little Village, I live in community with 8 other volunteers. We like to say that you can’t spell ‘love’ without LV.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Amate Thanksgiving 2011!

What a special occasion Amate Thanksgiving was this year! For those of you who are unfamiliar with our Thanksgiving tradition, we invite Alumni, Board members, parents of Volunteers, and other friends to join us for a weekend of football, a special liturgy, and (of course) a big traditional meal. It's always a wonderful time. This year, we had the added joy of dedicating our new Little Village house!

Look below for some of the weekend's highlights!


Team Alumni gets ready for action

Team Volunteers huddles up pre-game

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Fall Retreat Recap!

Courtney Hardebeck, one of this year's Little Village House Volunteers, created a video of some of the highlights from our recent Fall Retreat weekend in Watervliet, Michigan. We hope that you enjoy it!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Self-discovery Through the Enneagram

The following is a reflection written by Earl Carlos, one of this year's Little Village House Volunteers.

One of my reasons for joining Amate House is to find out a little more about who I am by immersing myself in the neighborhood I am living in, by getting to know the stories of my co-workers and clients and by being inspired by my vibrant and loving community. The more open we are to experience, to change and to life itself, the more we will slowly and gradually uncover life’s mysteries and beauty; an unsaid and unexplainable beauty that takes conscious effort and perseverance to unveil. Deciding to spend a year with Amate House is a part of my effort to uncover that, and finding out about our personalities is just another small part of that lifelong process.

Our In-Service Day this past week took us to meeting a lady who is very passionate about the Enneagram. The Enneagram is a tool used to recognize our hidden and not-so-hidden tendencies of our personalities. It classifies individuals under 9 different types, each type being highly significant and interconnected to the other types. Everyone was very excited and open to the experience and it was definitely interesting actively trying to ‘type’ ourselves under a certain personality. It is very important to remember, as emphasized by our speaker for the day that identifying and recognizing our type is not supposed to trap us or destine us to be that type for the rest of our lives. Identifying and coming to grips with our type is supposed to help us find ways to free ourselves from both our hidden and not-so-hidden “kinks and quirks.”

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Day in the Life of an Amate Volunteer

The following is a reflection written by Katie Pollard, one of this year's South House Volunteers.

After pressing snooze on my alarm three times, I frantically pull myself together in the morning and hop in the red van with McKenna for the routine drive from South House to Academy of Saint Benedict the African. Upon arrival at the Catholic elementary school in Englewood, I greet a vibrant classroom filled with eager fifth-graders completing the morning work assigned by Ms. Schallock (Amate alum ’10-’11). This is my first year working in a school, and as the assistant teacher for fifth grade (slash substitute teacher, religion teacher, and extended day staff member), I have come to realize that the rest of our structured days in the school will in fact be wonderfully unpredictable. Our schedules are as set as they can be in elementary school, but every day in my first month at work has had its own set of challenges and joys.

I am still adjusting to my new role as educator and role model, adapting to school mores and procedures, and getting to know the students and their stories. Low moments (or I suppose I will call them “opportunities for growth”) include: my somewhat frequent inability to take control of chaotic groups or motivate students to “keep their voices off” at appropriate times; frustration when students struggle to understand lessons; and the not infrequent act of misbehavior or backlash of attitude. Every day I learn from the staff, students, and my own mini successes or failures how to improve as a teacher, leader, and friend. High points (which always make the moments of frustration seem less important) include: the excitement on students’ faces when a topic truly excites them or “clicks”; frequent hugs, hilarious comments, and unsolicited kindness; and unexpected questions about life, God, and everything from seals to my love life. Although it can be easy for me to get frustrated, the kids and their genuine goodness help me to keep everything in perspective. At the end of the day, I am there to help them realize their full potential. They push me to cultivate the unselfish patience and thoughtful understanding that this task will require.


Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Carrying on in Community

The following is a reflection written by Katy Gill, one of this year's North House Volunteers.

As the story goes, an old, old nun, known as Sister Clotilde lives in limbo amongst us Amate North volunteers, never to have left this convent which was once her home. She lurks about the halls, once inhabited by the habited. (Pun!) Mostly keeping to herself, Sister Clotilde is only spoken of on occasion, when something goes missing, or strange noises are heard. She is very mysterious. She is very inconspicuous. And she is very… made up.
It’s certainly a fun way to entertain ourselves, musing about what Sister Clotilde might be doing with her days in this place. But it’s perhaps more curious to imagine what the real sisters who dwelled here before us, were once doing long before we arrived – the very real sisters, whose ghosts don’t really haunt our bedrooms, but whose legacy has been left behind, and perhaps been a bit forgotten.

To follow in the footsteps of vowed religious life: what big shoes we must have to fill. But the shoes are nowhere to be found. How are we to know whether our feet are really fitting into the sweet little black sneakers that once squeaked about these grounds? We don’t see the faces or know the names of the leaders here before us.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Welcome to Chicago!

The following is a reflection by Tori Dice, one of this year's South House Volunteers.

Considering I am not a native Chicagoan, becoming an Amate House Volunteer has presented me with many more new experiences than just volunteering. For one, I am new to Chicago and this first month has given me a wonderful opportunity to explore the city and begin to appreciate my new home! I never realized how diverse and opportunistic the city of Chicago is. It is a gross understatement to say I am excited to be living in this mid-western metropolis. Between the food and the people, there are so many additional aspects of the city I am learning to appreciate. For instance, each of the city's neighborhoods has its own personality, restaurants, and ethnic roots. Another facet of Chicago is its unique sense of architecture. If you are living in Chicago and have not yet taken the architectural boat tour downtown, then you should. It is an absolute must! One side of Chicago that I have not witnessed, and am apprehensive to endure is the city's brutal winters. Growing up in Nashville and going to school in Los Angeles have only presented me with mild winters. I still need to invest in a good pair of gloves and some waterproof boots. Any suggestions of additional warm attire are greatly welcomed!


Aside from the city itself, Amate House has given me the opportunity to live with nine housemates and experience this year as a community. Living with nine other people is interesting to say the least. For one, there is always something to do and someone to do things with. Although many of us have different personalities and living habits, I am taking this chance to appreciate learning from my housemates and growing as an individual through this community. I am quickly noticing that I need to allot myself alone time and go to sleep earlier. While I love hanging out with my housemates, unfortunately many bonding moments go late into the night. This is an aspect of community living that I am still learning to balance. I guess I am fortunate that this is currently the largest problem I am experiencing at home. Everything is a learning experience and I look forward to embracing those opportunities as they come my way the next nine months!

Friday, September 09, 2011

2012-2013 Application now available!

Hi Friends,

Our Application for the 2012-2013 Program Year is now posted on the Amate House website! Follow this link to gain access to the download site.

Our Staff, Volunteers, and Alumni will be visiting several Post-Grad Fairs around the country this fall and winter - visit www.catholicvolunteernetwork.org for more information about upcoming events.

If you have any questions about the Amate House program, feel free to contact Ryan Lents, Program and Recruitment Coordinator, at volunteer@amatehouse.org or 773.376.2445.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

New Beginnings

The following is a reflection written by Katie Kenefick, one of this year's Little Village House Volunteers.

After taking some time to reflect on the past couple of weeks, marking the first weeks of placement at our service sites, I recall the nervous anticipation of the unknown my fellow housemates and I were feeling as we geared up to begin our year of service. Now that the first-day jitters have passed, the initial unknowns have been demystified. Not only have we seen where we will be serving, met our supervisors, and interacted with coworkers, but we’ve started to discover the true meaning behind our work. As time passes, and as we travel out into Chicago to serve every day, the faces of commuters on the train will no longer be strangers to us, the quirky office jokes will become endearing, and we will find comfort in the familiarity of our new routines.

We’ve started the 9-to-5 grind but through the support of our community, belief in our work, and trust in God, we meet the coming months with enthusiasm and energy. At every work site lies an amazing potential to serve and be served, to learn, to grow, and to be challenged. We will be using each of our unique, God-given talents to act as legal aides, translators, mentors, teachers, health care assistants, coaches, and friends to the under-served in Chicago. We have taken a leap of faith and stepped outside of our comfort zones to be challenged as individuals of faith and as members of intentional community. We will share the burdens of those facing injustice, connect with those who go unnoticed, and delight in the simple joys shared by all of humanity.

In Little Village, at the end of the day, tired and wary from the miles we’ve traveled and the sights we’ve seen, we come back together as a community and recall our day’s events. Hearing the passion in the voices of my housemates as they share the stories they’ve heard and the relationships they’ve built provide a space that encourages each and every one of us. The wonderful community Amate House fosters, allows us to meet the coming day with the same excitement to inspire one another and learn from those we serve. Thank you for your love, support, and prayers as we continue this journey.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Looking back at Orientation 2011

The following is a reflection written by Kelley Ambrose, one of this year's North House Volunteers. 

Confession: I am absolutely awful with directions.

Most of my family and friends know this, and I willingly admit it to those who don’t. Last summer, my grandparents (saints that they are) equipped me with a GPS we lovingly named Gertrude. I grew to rely on Gertrude’s robotic British accent to get me from their house to my internship—and everywhere in between. Luckily, I also have a GPS system on my phone. If (God forbid) I need to park a couple of blocks away from my final destination, I can watch myself as a pretty blue dot moving closer and closer until I stumble upon whatever I need to find.

About a month ago, twenty-nine young men and women set their GPS systems to Amate House. Hailing from as far away as L.A., Hawaii, Boston, and Georgia or as close as the western suburbs of the city, we arrived in Chicago and gathered for two weeks of orientation.

That word, orientation, strikes me as I pause to reflect, now almost a month-old “Amatian”. Orientation. Something by which we orient. The process through which we seek direction. For Amate House, it began with the physical. I reside on the north side of Chicago, four blocks west of the lakefront. Even the name of the house—North House—communicates an orientation. As we moved in, we began to seek out our place in our house communities, in the program as a whole, in our neighborhoods and the city itself.

Perhaps at some point during those two weeks we were reminded of the state of our heads and hearts when we found ourselves pointed towards a year of service with Amate: our mental orientation. Flashback to four years ago, it was my freshman year at Boston College and I wanted to be a doctor. I was going to major in Biology, go to a prestigious medical school; I had set my navigation system towards this goal. Through the participation and continual involvement in a service-learning program on campus, my inner compass slowly began to waver, eventually shifting away from medical school and towards the pursuit of a career in social services. Final destination? Unknown.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Walking Towards the Ascension

The following is a reflection written by Theresa Hayes, one of our North House Volunteers. She offered this as part of her community's Pentecost reflections, which took place last Wednesday.

Every morning, I struggle to wake up. As my neighbors can attest, I snooze my alarm clock for approximately 36 minutes each day. There are a variety of reasons I might want to stay in bed. Sometimes I am tired from a late night hanging out with my housemates. In the winter, I did not want to leave the warmth of my bed
and face a snowy Chicago commute. And even sometimes fear of not knowing what the upcoming day would bring kept me hitting the snooze button.

My life changed significantly when I moved to Chicago and began Amate. Change is never easy. It is a challenge to be fully present in the now, rather than looking forward or backwards. It takes a great amount of courage to wake up, truly, to all that each day has to offer. As I lay in bed each morning, trying to convince myself that I really can’t snooze one more time, many thoughts cross my mind. Sometimes I think about the clients I will meet that day, wondering if some days they do not want to get out of bed, either. Maybe the tiredness from working two jobs and being a single mother is wearing on them, or the fear of not knowing when they will see their kids next, or whether they will be evicted from the only home they have ever known.

Other mornings, I look out my bedroom window over the North House courtyard. I have watched the seasons change from the sunshine of late summer to falling leaves of every color, to barren and snow-covered branches, and finally, budding leaves and green grass have reappeared. I have watched Spring unfold outside my bedroom window, as it has each year before. Yet the mystery of the changing seasons never fails to puzzle me. Life coming from death? It seems so illogical.

And yet it happens in the Paschal mystery, as well. Death is followed by resurrection. The apostles have heard the good news of Easter, yet they are frequently in hiding, doubting, or not recognizing Jesus among them. They are fearful for how their lives will change, what the Resurrection means to them. They are not able to fully accept the present life they are being invited to live through Jesus. Even though they have heard the good news brought by Easter, they maintain the fear that prevents them from entering fully into this new life.

This year, I have found myself fearful and unsure of my ability to accept the challenges in my own life. I have a very difficult time trusting - I want to be in control, to anticipate outcomes. Some days I want to be able to just check items off of my numerous to-do lists. Through life in community with twelve other people and among the ever-unpredictable client and volunteer behavior at a legal aid clinic, I have repeatedly been reminded that I am
not in control. The pressing demands of each day make things go much differently than I planned, or ever could have even imagined. These are the invitations to a life much richer than I could ever plan myself. We are called to be open to these lessons and growth. However, sometimes I am not open to the gift of the moment, afraid of how things may turn out, how others may perceive me, or how my actions could impact the life of a client in need.

We are called to live courageously and to trust that maybe we are more equipped to face our present circumstances than we might know. I must remind myself that I am not facing each day alone. No matter how difficult it is to trust and admit that I am not in control, the spirit continues to work through me, even when I am not aware of it. Over time, the fear subsides. Coming home after a long day of work is not daunting because our house is still getting to know one another, but it becomes comforting, even a source of joy. Work becomes more than just a place to spend 40 hours each week, but I can recognize the supportive community has formed there, sharing in struggles and successes.

The challenge posed to the apostles after Easter, and the challenge I found myself facing along with them throughout this year, is: How can I accept the changes in my life? How do I properly mourn for what has been lost? Even though experience tells me otherwise, it does not make it any easier to trust that spring will in fact come after winter. I have seen it happen each year, but I still struggle to let go of the fear and accept the invitations to grow in new ways.

Each morning, we are faced with the choice of waking up, facing our fears and making a conscious decision to recognize, accept, and celebrate life all around us. There will be challenges, and things may not go as planned. We must trust that our experiences, both good and bad, will all lead to growth. Personal growth, professional growth, growth in community, and growth in love.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Commencement Speech, Amate-Style

The following is a commencement address delivered by Jeff Peak, a 2008-2009 Amate House Alum. Jeff now works with Creighton University in Omaha, NE. Jeff shared these words with graduating seniors who were preparing to go on to serve with various service programs.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the class of 2011. Wear sunscreen.

This seems like a rather odd piece of advice to be giving to a bunch of graduates being missioned forth for life as a volunteer or in a religious community, but I stand by it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proven by scientists, and Baz Luhrmann wrote a song about it twelve years ago so it must be valid advice. The rest of my advice though, has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the beauty and freedom of your year. Or two years if you’re doing one of those programs. Or the rest of your life if that’s your thing. It’s a wonderfully liberating feeling to know that you’ll get back from a long day of work and there won’t be a huge pile of homework waiting for you with open arms. The open arms waiting for you will either be those of the rest of your community, or the stalker hiding in your bushes. Parents: it’s almost never a stalker in the bushes.

Write a letter every day. If you don’t have time for a letter, e-mails are fine. Phone calls are better. My relationship with Grandma flourished during my volunteer year because I was able to call her every Monday on the 15-minute walk home. Not only do letters or phone calls give you a chance to reflect on life and tell some amazing stories, but they serve as a constant reminder that there are others around the world also going on a journey of faith because of your volunteer experience.

Don’t worry about the future. It’s far too easy to become consumed with MCAT studying, applying for law school or other quote important things, that you miss out on the most meaningful things happening around you. There’s a terrible cliché about today being a gift and that’s why it’s called the present. But, you should try to unwrap that gift once in a while and see what it has to offer.

Pray. If that’s not your cup of tea, reflect or meditate, journal or contemplate. Find a way to meet your spiritual needs. It’s great being on fire to serve the world, but you’ll burn yourself out if you don’t occasionally take the time to stoke the fire.

Dance.

The best advice I learned about living in community, I read in a book by a Jesuit two years after I finished volunteering. One, you are not God. Two, this is not heaven. Three, don’t be an ass.

Compromise is important, but only if you know what in your life is non-negotiable. For some people in my community, this was the type of cheese that we bought at the store every week. For others, it was that we tried to live sustainably. It’s a certainly a challenge trying to meet everyone’s needs, but it’s better than hating your life because you’ve sacrificed what’s most important to you in order to make others happy.

Take lots of pictures, it’s a great way to keep wonderful memories alive.

Speaking of great pictures, keep your student ID. It may seems slightly dishonest using this card to get discounts at movies and other endeavors after you’ve graduated, but technically speaking, you never stop learning if you’re a student of life. This just helps allow you to get into some places for cheaper than it would normally cost. That being said…

Find cheap sources of fun. This may be playing hide and seek in a dark convent with your roommates, throwing a Frisbee as far as you can off the roof of your volunteer house, or just spending a relaxing night in your courtyard with friends and a bottle of cheap wine. Great memories aren’t just made because of the amount of money that you spend, but because of the people you are with.

Maybe you’ll marry. Maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t. I’d suggest not doing either during your year of service because it’s nearly impossible to raise the appropriate dowry on a volunteer stipend, and your community budget would certainly take a hit paying for diapers and baby food.

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t love or care for others. Sharing your love with those you live with, those you work with, and members of the larger community is the most authentic way that you can give of yourself. And as the prayer of St. Francis says, it’s in giving that you receive.

Read.

Don’t break the stupid rule. What’s the stupid rule? Don’t be stupid. This isn’t advice from volunteering but rather from my mother and probably every mother sitting here in this church today. In my research, over 95 percent of injuries happen when one is being stupid. While this normally makes for a fantastic story in the future, make sure your volunteer program has health insurance and that you can take the physical, emotional, or spiritual implications of said stupidity.

You will not return from this experience as the same person who started it

Finally, wear sunscreen, and give hugs. You don’t have to do both simultaneously because that might make for a greasy and possibly unsatisfying experience. But there’s a saying, that we need four hugs a day for survival, eight hugs a day for maintenance, and twelve hugs a day for growth. Make sure to stockpile some from your family and loved ones today, tomorrow, and everyday until you leave so that you’ll always be able to meet your daily quota. Then, the least of your problems everyday is whether to use the SPF 30, or 45.

Thank you all, and God bless you on your future endeavors.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Embracing Transformation

The following is a reflection written by Carlos La Puente, one of this year's Little Village House Volunteers.

What's one of the hardest things about both Lent and Easter? Is it the fasting? Nah, that's small stuff compared to what I'm thinking. Is it the emotional roller coaster as we break through the passion narratives to get to the resurrection joy? I wouldn't say that's the hard part, all of that is a natural part of life.

So what is the hardest part? It's Jesus looking us square in the face, his eyes staring intently into ours, as he says, "You need to change."

"Wait a second," we think. "What are you talking about?"

"Take a look at my death and resurrection. I came back with a glorified body. It wasn't the same as the one before my death. Some of my closest friends didn't even recognize me! I changed. Do you remember what I said at the last supper?"

"Well, Jesus, you kind of said a lot of things. There was the institution of the Eucharist, of course. Uh, you told us that you'd go away but then send the Holy Spirit to help us. You also washed your friends' feet..."

"Stop right there," he says. "What did I tell you after that?"

"No servant is greater than his master."

"If you're going to be my disciple," Jesus says, "if you are going to walk the path of self-giving love like me, you're going to change. It's not a question for you to answer. I don't ask you if you want to follow me and then let things stay the same. If you want to continue this life of a loving Christian, you need to change. No questions asked."

"But don't you love me as I am?"

"Yes," he replies. "Of course I do. But I also know something you don't know."

"That's not a surprise. What is it?"

"You think you're happy now? Just wait for all the joy I'm going to pour into your life when you let me transform you."

"..."

"You trust me, don't you?" he continues. "Hey, I calmed the storms, I made the dead walk, I conquered death! And people are STILL talking about me thousands of years later. Now I'm telling you that if you let me change you, you will experience a glorified body and life like mine, and you'll be happier than you've ever been, happier than you ever could be without me. What do you say?"

"I say I think this is crazy."

"I know. Which is why I'm giving you 50 days of the Easter season to get used to the idea."

"Well, what do I need? Is there any prep-work that needs to be done?"

"You can hardly prepare yourself for this," he says. "But I will ask of you two things, the two things you'll find in all the stories of the saints. Without these two things you can still have a great success story, sure, but you won't have a holy, joy-filled story."

"Well, what are the two things?"

"Ready?" he asks. "It's simple, really. All I ask of you is humility and obedience. Those are the only two things I ask of you so that I can change you and so that your joy can finally be complete. You want to know what that's like? Forget all the cheap imitations, I'm ready to give you the real stuff. Are you?"

This is the hardest part about Lent and Easter. Watching Jesus come back, conquering death, rising from the tomb transformed. He looks at us and says, "Can I transform you, too?"

The hardest part is this question. Once we say yes, however... well, we saw what happened to the 12 disciples. The rest is history. Actually, the rest is more than just history. It's our story, we're living in it.

I, for one, hope to embrace this holy transformation. May God give us the grace to say yes.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

In the Tomb

The following is a reflection that Volunteer Natalie Crary wrote as part of the South House's recent Stations of the Cross Prayer Service. Natalie's reflection was shared during Station 14: Jesus is laid in the tomb.

I like nature, that’s probably not a secret to anyone- particularly my housemates who might sometimes think I like trees more than I like people. In the student center where my office is we’re in the first stages of growing wheatgrass. So I’m really excited. Wheatgrass is the kind of stuff that health places are always trying to get you to add to nutritional shakes. According to the booklet on how to germinate it this will almost literally cure any type of disease you have because it harnesses the power of the sun and has something boldly called ‘living energy’ in it. Living energy! This is the stuff of miracles- if we can believe the hype.

But let me tell you, this miracle-wonder liver healer and lung replacement stuff doesn’t look like much right now. In fact I must confess a certain level of disappointment. The first two steps in the process don’t even have anything to do with planting, or growing or sunlight or water or any of the other cherished notions that science fair projects have drilled into my head. The first step is to soak the seeds overnight. Next you have to rinse them off and let them sit for about a day. These seeds are doing nothing for a full day!

So today I came in and rinsed them off and right now they are sitting on my desk in the process of ‘germination’. So I took a good look. And do you know what those seeds are doing? They are actually sprouting. I mean, literally they are just sitting in a watering container I took from the teachers’ lounge. But they have these little heads poking out of the shell, and they are doing this without any water or sunlight. The growth is small, hardly noticeable really.

I got really excited and showed some of my students. I am a very enthusiastic person, and when they saw the barely perceptible sprouts some of them snorted derisively, unimpressed. And maybe compared to what the wheatgrass is going to look like- tall, vibrant, and endlessly healthy- it’s not very noteworthy.

So I sat down to write this reflection. And I was thinking about how exactly I’m supposed to express all the weighty emotion of seeing the purest thing in the world (Jesus) laid to rest in a tomb with death. Of course that is not the end of things at all. Being laid in the tomb is solemn and grave and horrible, like burying hope. But it’s also just another step in the process of life.

And here’s what I think. Maybe being dormant and unobserved and silent and dark for a while is a good thing. Before the wheatgrass starts to grow, and before it can cure everyone’s problems, it needs to be stored in a dark, cool dry place. That’s pretty much exactly what a tomb is. So maybe Jesus is just tipping his hat some sort of natural order. Maybe while we mourn the death of the best human in history and while we weep that ‘God is dead’, maybe Jesus is wintering and lying fallow. And maybe we need that sorrow to help us realize how valuable Jesus is. So maybe the tomb isn’t as abject a symbol as I usually think. And cliché as it sounds, maybe burial is another part of life.