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.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Being Present

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

During the course of a week, a month or a yearlong volunteer experience, I would imagine that many, like myself are faced with the question, “What difference am I making?” It’s hard to know whether or not the little tasks I have completed or the people I have interacted with are really “changed” because of my work. I used to think that service was about completely changing or “fixing” the way someone lived. Maybe service is not about that drastic change at all. Maybe it is about being present, listening and loving those who are struggling.

For example, take an eight year-old girl named Ariana. Ariana began this year with a lot of anger, attitude, and lack of motivation for anything and everything. She was a very unhappy child and often played off her frustrations as no big deal. Ariana would refuse to do school work, participate in class, or actively engage with anyone.

After about two months of school, the principal, assistant principal, second grade teacher and I had a meeting with Ariana and her mother. Once the door was shut, Ariana broke down and began to cry. She told us that she hurt inside and didn’t know why. Her 17 year-old brother would tease her and pick on her while watching her at home after school. Her mother worked and took night class in order to support her family and there was no other family around to watch Ariana. It was difficult for Ariana’s mother to manage the 17 year-old high school drop-out. But Ariana told us that she wanted to learn and be smart so she could go to high school and college someday. She wanted to be a doctor for babies. We reminded Ariana that we were here to help and that we all cared for her very much.

It was this emotional meeting that sparked a change in Ariana. From that day on, she came into class every morning with a smile on her face, ready and excited to learn. The most amazing part of this whole transformation was that Ariana was internally motivated. She was not influenced by stickers and candy, but she wanted this for herself. Ariana quickly became one of the most likeable students in our second grade class. She was positive, enthusiastic, and hardworking. She would tell silly stories and share her quirky comments. Ariana was always a bright spot in my day.

About two weeks ago, the old Ariana entered our classroom once again. The anger, bad attitude, and lack of motivation were back in full force. Fearing this abrupt change, I took Ariana out into the hallway to practice her math facts. I casually asked Ariana if everything was ok. She broke down into tears and eventually told me that her 17 year-old brother was bullying her again. He would come into her room while she was playing with her toys and cuss at her. He would call her fat, ugly and tell her that she was never going to be anything good. I can only imagine what this might feel like for anyone, let alone an innocent, impressionable eight year-old girl.

As I talked with Ariana, I found hugging her tight. I was not about to let her slip back into her old self. I asked Ariana if she believed what her brother said about her and she said no. I reminded Ariana how lucky she is to have teachers and friends who care for her so much. At the end of our discussion, I told her that no matter what happened, no matter how sad or angry she was, she had to believe in herself. I reminded her of how much I care about her, just the way she is. Ariana looked up at me with a huge smile on her face and said, “Ms. Schallock, no one ever told me that before.”

My time at The Academy of Saint Benedict the African has taught me that even though I cannot change or fix the way someone lives, I can provide hope in the midst of their hurt. Ariana is just one of many fearful and hurting students. While I can’t stop the violence, abuse, and alcoholism that take place in their neighborhoods and homes, I can be a teacher, a role model, a friend, and a shoulder to cry on through difficult times. I can provide a safe place for my students to learn and I can be a constant reminder that they are cared for.