The following is a reflection prepared by Stephen Umhoefer, one of this year's North House Volunteers. Stephen shared this reflection as a part of her community's Pentecost Reflections, which explores the movements of the Paschal Mystery. Stephen spoke of living out the Pentecost and the spiritual gifts received and recognized through service.
The following words were written by Ralph Waldo Emerson in his essay Circles. “Life is a series of surprises. We do not guess today the mood, the pleasure, the power of tomorrow, when we are building up our being. Of lower states, of acts of routine and sense, we can tell somewhat; but the masterpieces of God, the total growths and universal movements of the soul, he hideth; they are incalculable.” I have included these words because to me they give shape to the Pentecost experience, an experience that I have realized has been quietly occurring, below the surface, throughout my time in Amate.
Back at the beginning of this year in August I knew that I had started on a new journey. I was living in a new city with people I had never met and was working at a school that I had never been to. It was a time of change and transition into a new way of life. In my work at St. Thomas I envisioned myself to be a difference maker. Going into the year there was an image in my mind where I would be working day in and day out tutoring students and everything, be it reading or math, would make sense to them at the end of the day. They would listen closely and be excited to work with me. My smarts, I thought, were my gifts that were going to make the biggest difference. These expectations proved to be wrong.
My position at St. Thomas this year has been much more muted than I thought it would be. From having a lack of supervision, the classes when a teacher doesn’t have anything for me to work on, to feeling stuck when a student doesn’t understand something after I’ve tried to explain it four times, my time at school has often been spent wondering what difference, if any, I was making. Most days have followed the same pattern and schedule with little to no variation. The “lower states, of acts of routine and sense,” as Emerson puts it.
But as I have been reflecting on my time at St. Thomas I realized that my gifts are not in my smarts as I thought they would be. My gifts have been revealed to me in the handful of moments, moments that I cherish, where a student has expressed their gratitude for the time I have spent working with them. There is the Christmas gift I received from an 8th grader I helped with reading, the uninhibited hug from the first grader I helped with math, and hearing the words “I like working with you” from a fourth grader I’ve only worked with two or three times. With none of these students was it my smarts that made an impact, but my giving of time, attention, and assistance to someone who then needed it. It was in these moments, unplanned and unexpected, that my gifts were revealed to me.
Emerson says life is a series of surprises, and the masterpieces of God, the growths and universal movements of the soul, are hidden and incalculable. The times when the impact of my gifts were shown to me are not as frequent as I may like them, but that is not up to me, but neither does it take away from the fact that my gifts were in action whether I am aware of them or not.
The Pentecost embodies the life and energy that we receive from learning and growing from our experiences. I would say that this life and energy also may come from the times when the impact of our gifts are revealed to us. When we realize that we do have a capacity to reach out and connect with those we serve, though often it will seem otherwise. At times unappointed and unplanned God will give us a glimpse at the effect of our efforts. It will be a surprise. Brief and simple these moments may be, but they show us that something has been going on the entire time, just beneath the surface.
What have been your moments this past year, or at any time in your life, when you were given a fleeting peek at the impact you have? What was revealed to you as your gifts in those moments? What are the surprise masterpieces of God in your life, and how do you allow them to give you the energy to live out the Pentecost?