Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Building Relationships for a Lifetime

The following is reflection prepared by Kelsea Manion, a Volunteer in the North House community. Kelsea shared this reflection as part of her community's Pentecost Reflections, which explores the movements of the Paschal Mystery. Kelsea reflected on Christ's Ascension, and how she has experienced ascension and transformation through her service at Exodus World Service and in her experience of community living.

It can be very difficult to move on from negative experiences without holding on to some of those old grudges. Often we are told that hard times make us into better people, that without struggle we wouldn’t know joy. While that advice may be true, rarely are we told that on a deeper level, we should let these struggles bless us. That is an interesting thing to consider. Let those negative moments bless me? Yet, if you identify with the Christian faith, one of the greatest examples is the Passion of Christ. He endured a horrible death, some of his best friends were not at his side, and at one point he felt totally neglected by God. But in his Ascension, we see Jesus completely at peace. He has appeared to his disciples, reassured them, and letting his past experiences bless him (and all of us as a bonus), he moves on to be with God.

Reflecting on this year as an Amate Volunteer, there are times I can identify with this sense of peace and blessing, and there are times I’m still working on finding peace.
As the year comes closer to the end, I think a lot about ending well and how I will transition out of this experience. At every transition point in my life, I’ve been very good at looking toward my next steps and not worrying about staying connected with people from my past. Aside from a few close friends, I don’t mind keeping things to just casual Facebook updates, and although I like to think that I can move on with a carefree attitude, I also know that I’m pretty good at holding grudges when an experience has really hurt me. In many negative circumstances or tense ex-friendships, I can honestly say that I haven’t been able to let these things be a blessing. But I can say that I have experienced something completely different this year at Amate House.

Moving in with 8 strangers was pretty nerve-wracking for me, but I quickly realized that this year was going to be different. Whether it was laughing together on an individual “date”, talking about happy and hard decisions while cooking dinner, or experiencing some grace when I get over-passionate about a certain topic, my housemates have shown me genuine friendship that I can’t easily forget. I do not anticipate moving on from this year and resorting back to occasional Facebook updates because I’ve built a different type of trust and care for these friends. Perhaps recognizing these differences has been the start of letting my harder experiences bless me, and I hope that it will allow me to receive the fullness of the future of these friendships.

Another insight I’ve reflected on this year really started during my junior and senior years of college, when I began having a lot of questions and not feeling connected with my faith community. I was studying pastoral ministry, and while I enjoyed the subject matter, I couldn’t see myself working in a church setting anymore and I was becoming frustrated with stories I was hearing from other women who were in this setting. I began considering every word that was said in the mass and I felt alienated when none of the other students in my theology classes seemed concerned with language about women written by many renowned theologians. Nothing I read was really speaking my language anymore and I was beginning to think that feminism and Catholicism were never going to mix.

Maybe they still don’t mix perfectly, but luckily I had truly wonderful professors who guided me toward what I was looking for. I began reading feminist theologians coming from the Catholic and other faith traditions and I have been intrigued ever since. Finally, someone was speaking to my heart and giving me a sense of solidarity with other women around the world who have been feeling the same struggle.

Coming into my Amate year, I was free to re-discover my faith and create a spirituality that made sense in my life. I’m definitely early in my journey, but I can see that this was a healthy step for me and also that these initial struggles and frustrations really did become a blessing. With guidance from my spiritual companion, I know that I don’t have to hold on to all of my old ways of prayer or reflection; it’s okay to acknowledge that some things work for others and don’t work for me. From experiences at work, I have been inspired by people who put their faith into action by welcoming refugees to Chicago. Again and again I am humbled by refugee families who arrive with so little, yet insist that I sit down and drink tea or soda that they’ve brought from their home country. I’ve learned so much from my roommates who come from different backgrounds and experiences and who are willing to be vulnerable and share their lives and experiences with me. All of these pieces from my year in Chicago have become a part of my spirituality and my connection with the Divine, and I know that these pieces will still be a part of me as I move toward the future.

Similar in theme to Jesus’ Ascension, all of us Volunteers are getting ready for the next step. We probably have all had both difficult and truly wonderful experiences this year at our work sites and with our communities. I hope that like me, you have discovered something new in yourself by letting go of the things that were painful and embracing the fullness of friendship, community, and the future.