This morning we woke up, ate breakfast and prayed together as a group. We listened to the song Give Me Your Eyes by Brandon Heath as part of our prayer. I loved starting my morning this way because it helped me go into the day ready to totally immerse myself into a new environment. I was open-hearted and excited to go to De La Salle School and meet the kids I would be working with for the week. The windy drive was dark, but as soon as we reached the top of the last hill the lights of Browning illuminated our way. We drove towards the twinkles, eager to open our eyes to what the Holy Spirit had for us to see.
Unsure about what the day would bring, we drove over on the snowy roads to the school. We assembled in the gym with all of the kids for morning prayer and announcements. Right away I felt very welcomed by the entire De La Salle community. It was very evident that the Blackfeet people possessed a great gift of love. I then met up with the fourth graders (Sav) and fifth graders (Court) which is the class I am primarily working with this week. Just after one day, I truly feel that these kids are some of the most generous and kind-hearted people that I’ve met. For me (Court) it was incredible to visit the same students I worked with last year. I immediately recognized their growth and my heart was filled with joy as they remembered who I was.
We had the great gift of listening to a high school junior Blackfeet speak about her experience living on the reservation. Her insight was eye-opening and she was articulate and passionate. Through her, the Holy Spirit opened our eyes to the brokenhearted, the ones that are within our reach; giving us hope for the ones forgotten, giving us eyes that not only look, but SEE.
So far, I have learned a lot about Blackfeet history and culture, which I was unfamiliar with before coming on this trip. I’m starting to understand how generous a people they are. By immersing myself into their culture and getting to know the kids at the school, I can appreciate all the love they have to give. The Blackfeet spirituality is inspiring to me in so many ways. Through all of the brokenness that the Blackfeet experience daily, they continue to move forward with hope. I am learning how to carry my own crosses by growing in relationship with the Blackfeet people. Even after this first day, I know that I am loved deeply by each of the people I encounter here in Browning. I can feel my heart being overwhelmed with God’s love and hope that the kids I’m working with can feel this love through me. I’m excited to keep diving deeper and pushing myself beyond my comfort zone.
Love, Sav and Court
The 8 of us arrived in Browning after a placid 3 hour drive in the morning. We were earlier than usual, so we went to the grocery store before morning Mass at Little Flower Parish in Browning. In the super market parking lot, the differences of reservation kicked in immediately when about a half a dozen stray dogs ran over to us, a commonality on the reservation. Immediately we realized how incredibly welcoming everyone was, this really meant a lot to us all. At 10:30 we attending holy Mass with Fr Ed Kohler, the celebrant, who was very grateful and happy that we were there, and the parish extended a special blessing to us, which we were humbled by.
We then checked in with John Ficaro, a La Sallian volunteer who teaches and directs the immersion experience program. John described to us some statistics, demographics, and history of the Blackfeet people. Upon arrival at the Holy Family mission where we were staying, we unpacked all the groceries and settled in. Many of us went to the famous Buffalo Jump for a frigid, snowy hike- that was full of spirituality and fun all the while. In the evening, we had dinner at Brother Dale’s home next door. There we met other La Sallian volunteers who teach, other students from California, and Sr. Pat, a beloved sister of mercy and science teacher at the school. Later that night we all agreed that even on our first day in Browning our Lord spoke to us, and revealed himself in the Blackfeet people. This is a special place that we are excited and ready to be immersed and serve in any capacity we are able.
Ximena and Cody will be dropping some knowledge on ya today, live from McAllen, TX, in the lobby of the Hotel of the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan Del Valle. On this wonderful Thursday, we loaded up the Momma rockets (vans) and drove over to Sacred Heart Parish in McAllen for a Spanish mass at 8:15.
Even though it wasn’t in English, our Catholic mass is structured enough that we always knew what part of the mass that we were at, and tried our best to follow along.
After every mass at Sacred Heart, the community always came over and thanked us for being there, as well as checked in on how our week was going. They were very happy to pray with us. Their genuine interest in our work, and their joy in celebrating faith with a group of young people made us feel very at home and welcome.
We then transitioned over to the refugee center, where we snapped into action with 18 refugees arriving in the 9:30 group. This was the biggest group that we had served so far. By now, everyone had found a place in which they enjoyed serving, whether it was walking with a family through the process and picking out new clothes for them, or maintaining the showers outside. We all bounced between these and other duties throughout the day, eventually welcoming 29 refugees with an enthusiastic Bienvenidos!
It was very eye opening to see that most of the refugees coming through were a parent with one or several children. We thought that it was very interesting to compare the common perception of immigrants coming and taking American jobs, when most of the immigrants we have met this week were under the age of 21, and unable to work. It was incredibly humbling to listen to their stories about the violence, poverty, and injustices they were leaving behind, and the hardships that they had along the way. Coming here from Central America, these families had journeys lasting anywhere between 17 and 24 days, and they had to walk for a great part of it.
At the end of our last day here with the refugees, we got to literally walk with them for a short part of this journey. The head of the center, whose name is Eli, asked our group to accompany the refugees to the bus station, about three or four blocks down an alleyway from the church. We walked amongst the parents carrying their children through the darkened alley, and it was a very powerful moment for all of us, because it almost felt like we were getting a glimpse into what it was like for them to walk into the unknown. It allowed us to imagine ourselves walking with them in their previous journey, though we knew it could not compare to it at all to it. Moving alongside a smiling father holding his sleeping infant and a mother clutching her daughter’s arm with loving concern amidst the silhouettes of the rest of the traveling family of refugees pushed down the walls of life that may have been separating us, and let us step into their reality for a brief, but beautiful, moment.
There are really no words to describe what we saw and experienced, but it was a love and understanding which we won’t forget.
Afterword, as we were leaving Sacred Heart, Red Leader (Dan) spotted a group of people worshiping under a big awning in another alleyway. We quickly stopped, piled out, and hustled over to join them. They greeted us with hugs, kisses, and hallelujahs, and welcomed us into their praise and worship. After clapping along to “When the Saints Go Marching In,” we decided to depart to more hugs, kisses, and hallelujahs. What we thought was going to be a Mariachi street performance, turned into an awesome experience of faith on the streets of McAllen.
Oh by the way, things got a little tongue-and-cheek today when Eli slow-cooked a cow tongue and cheek for us in his Dallas Cowboys crockpot. We both preferred the cheek, though both were authentically delicioso; one of the many new experiences in our time down here in Texas, USA.
In Tar’s words, it was a knockout day, and we’re really excited for all that the Lord has left in store for us on this trip. But for now, as NSYNC so deftly put it, “You may hate me, but it ain’t no lie, baby bye bye bye, BYE BYE!”
The Morning was packed with goodness on all accounts. We started out by going to Sacred Heart, but there were so many volunteers that we decided to let the other groups get a chance to encounter the richness that our friends, the refugees bring. After leaving Sacred Heart we went back to the Basilica and did Stations of the Cross. The Basilica has life-sized statues of the stations on a walkway that spans all the way around the Basilica. This gave a lot of people a whole new view of Jesus. It was different being able to see how the size can relate Jesus to us. All too often we only see Jesus on the cross or in a painting, and not really up close. Being able to see the facial expressions made the feelings of Jesus present, and we were able to encounter Him in a whole new way. Having to walk between the stations was a way to be with Christ on His walk so that we may join him and take up our own cross. We were able to connect the struggles and injustices that the refugees have faced with the trials of Jesus in his crucifixion. From there, we had lunch and went back to Sacred Heart.
While the weather outside was stormy, the atmosphere in Sacred Heart was anything but gloomy. We were able to spend time with volunteers from other groups and share the experiences we have had with the refugees. We all enjoyed being able to help in any way possible, from cleaning showers and playing with the children to going to get food for the refugees. We were in awe of Eli, who is the director of the center, as he made the refugees brief stay as comfortable as possible. He sends each group off by carefully explaining what they can expect in their journey to their destinations to be with their loved ones. He wishes them a safe journey, and expresses his desire to hear of their safe and successful journeys. His compassion and dedication was evident in these interactions. Being able to understand Eli’s devotion was simply amazing. Truly a blessed Soul!
Taylor and John
Day 3 – Senior Adventures
Hello from Chicago, it’s Allyson, Anna, and Lisa! Today was another beautiful day in the Windy City (but, it actually wasn’t windy). Any who, we had a full day of work, playing with kids, and visiting with the senior citizens of the community. We started the morning doing a variety of tasks: cleaning the church, setting up for tomorrow’s community dinner, picking up trash, and filling confirmation retreat goodie good bags for 200 kids. It was a great day in the neighborhood! Here are our personal reflections for the day:
Hello… It’s me…. I’ve been wondering what all the seniors are up to and couldn’t wait to meet them. During our bible study and lunch with the senior citizens, I had the pleasure of meeting Erika. Erika was born in Germany and made her way to the United States after a series of tragic life events. I was privileged to hear about her journey and experiences. Learning about someone’s life and their hardships can really put your life into perspective. Erika has six children who were not only raised by her, but the entire community of West Chicago. Some of the many events that she has encountered were traveling to the US (from Germany) alone with children after her husband lost contact with her in the military. Once here, she struggled to get housing and lived with her sister. She reunited with her husband, only to develop an unhealthy relationship with him. She gave birth to one of her children alone on the kitchen floor, while trying not to awaken the rest of her children upstairs. Her life was threatened by her husband who said if she wanted a divorce, he would behead her and use her head to juggle with. Hearing these horrific stories and many more made my problems and struggles seem so simple and mundane. The best part of spending my afternoon with Erika was seeing the joy that she had. Even after everything she has been through, she always had a smile on her face and cares immensely about this community. The neighbors of West Chicago are her family, even with the many problems that are here. I am personally excited to continue our conversion tomorrow at the community dinner. Just in the short time we talked, I feel like I learned a lot about the need to appreciate the small joys in life. Peace and love to all
– Allyson H.
In preparation for this trip, we have been talking a lot about finding God in others. In mass on Sunday, I was reflecting on this and making a conscious effort to see Christ in every person present. While I was contemplating this, I realized that often times I forget to acknowledge that Christ is within me as well. It made me take a step back and think about how I am reflecting the person of Christ in my everyday encounters. How are my actions demonstrating God’s love and mercy for every person? Thinking about this has helped to guide my actions thus far this week. Not only have I tried recognizing Christ living within me, but in all those I encounter. This afternoon we had the opportunity to hang out with some kids at the after school program down the street. Today, I got to spend time with Lakayla, Jenny, and a few other kindergarten and first grade girls. They are all so full of energy, excitement and joy! It is really life giving to be able to spend time with them. We worked on their homework and they read me a few books. I saw God in their simple joy and enthusiasm for life. After dinner, we headed to the Immaculate Conception parish to have mass with the parishioners there, who were finishing up a parish retreat. After the mass, we went to a reception where we got to visit with some of the members. Don, one of the parishioners, made quite the impression on our group. Don is an incredibly outgoing and friendly man who is about 86 years old. He absolutely loved the fact that we were from Montana and would sing songs about Texas whenever one of us said where we were from… It was great. He had everyone laughing and had something to comment about each of our majors. Don’s love for us was evident, even though we were strangers to him. I think he really demonstrated what it means to be a family of God. Everyone is welcome, invited and loved. His loving, goofy presence is where I saw God the most.
So far, it has been a very blessed and eye opening experience. The people here are truly amazing and I am so excited to see what the rest of the week will bring!
Peace and blessings,
Peace and blessings,
– Anna F.
Hi everyone! Today was another blessed day working with the Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady of the Angels. After serving with them these past few days, I have come to truly appreciate all the work (especially the behind the scenes jobs) they do and the amazing impact they have on the community here. While dusting and cleaning the back closets of the church this morning, I thought about how every job has meaning and purpose no matter how small it may seem; the Sisters have taught me that. The Sisters do every job, whether minute or important, with such joy and so much energy, it’s infectious! I am having more fun than I ever thought I would working here at the mission. While cleaning out bins yesterday, I reflected on how every person is called to serve God by serving one another in little, indirect ways along with the big, direct ways. I truly see God in every single Sister, especially in the way they treat the people they serve here (who they refer to as their neighbors). I have been very blessed to witness God’s love in all the people I have interacted with thus far (shout out to Ms. Agnes, the adorable elderly lady I visited with this afternoon at bible study!) and am excited to interact more with the kids later this week. Thank you to everyone at home for your prayers and well wishes! Good night and God bless!!
– Lisa V.
March 8, 2016
Hola Amigos! Today was an eventful day to say the least. We began by celebrating International Women’s day with a march with some other wonderful women (and men)! We heard some amazing stories from amazing women while we ate lunch. These stories ranged from a 75-year-old women still working in the fields, to a woman talking about her success and perseverance in her education. These stories helped us to reflect on the great role that women play in our society, to put it in a nutshell proverbs 31: 10-31.
After our celebracion, we headed to Sacred Heart to continue our work with the immigrants. However, many hands make idle work and in our case there were many hands, so it was a little bit slower today. There were two other groups volunteering, a high school group from Dallas and a college group from Miami. Both of these groups were very enthusiastic and wanted to help out which was really great to see, and despite being slow we were still able to connect with the immigrants and the other volunteers. Even though it was hard to let the other groups step in and take a more interpersonal role with the immigrants we were able to let go and help them with the process of forming these relationships with the immigrants. It will be fun to see these two groups change as we did: going from shy and unsure, to excited and welcoming.
Tonight we went to daily mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan Valle. It was a lovely mass, but sadly no mariachi band tonight! The mass was very much needed, because a lot of us have been swept up with all of the emotions and stories shared while serving and walking with the immigrants. It provided peace and refilled our spirits, so that we can come back tomorrow and better serve those who we are called to encounter. After mass, we received a tour of the Basilica from Sister Rosa. She informed us about the history of the Basilica and some of the miracles behind it. For example, a plane crashed into the original church, which caused it to catch fire. However, despite there being a very damaging fire there was only one causality (the pilot) and the statue of the Immaculate Conception was saved by the religious who inhabited the church. Then, approximately ten years later the new Basilica was built and is a common site for pilgrims to come visit across the nation.
Overall, this experience has pushed us all very much outside of our comfort zone and has forced us to see issues that we never have had to face in Montana. We are excited to see what God has in store for us tomorrow. J
Alize and Migin (Elise and Megan)
3/8/16, Denver Colorado
Post by Kyle J. Baker
Special thanks to Firestone Complete Auto Care on N. Broadway in Denver for providing me with the free wifi needed to submit this post while I waited for not one, but two tires that picked up nails somewhere on the freeway in Wyoming to be repaired.
This morning we were invited to join the Christ in the City missionaries in their daily practice of attending 6:30am Mass with a community of Missionaries of Charity that also reside at St. Joseph Parish. In modern history no giant stands taller in regard to service to the poor and vulnerable than the foundress of the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa (who while walking the earth stood at barely 5’0”). Born in 1910 as Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu and known as Sr. Teresa after her entrance into the Sisters of Loreto, she received what she described as a “call within the call,” on a train to Darjeeling which led to the founding of the Missionaries of Charity. During her life on earth, Mother Teresa both inspired and disturbed people with her unflinching commitment to the dignity of every individual person and most particularly society’s most vulnerable, including the unborn, those shunned due to physical or mental disabilities and illnesses such as leprosy, tuberculosis, and AIDS, and those society has left to die in the streets. After her death, Mother Teresa’s profile increased even more when her private writings (which she requested be destroyed upon her death, but the ethics of post-death publishing can and should be discussed in another forum) revealed that she had experienced a distance from God for decades. Again this invited criticism from those greatly discomforted or confused by Mother Teresa’s ministry, and a sense of solidarity for those many of us who know the feeling of starting out over vast horizons and wondering if God does indeed know us in the intimate ways the scriptures suggest. In spite of this “darkness and coldness and emptiness” that Mother Teresa first began writing about in 1957, her Saintly service to the world continued and she began each morning with her sisters in the presence of the Eucharist, just as we were invited to do today.
This particular community of the Missionaries of Charity was established in remarkable fashion by Mother Teresa herself, and is part of the incredible story of how Denver has become the seat of the New Evangelization in the US. Since entering the Catholic Church ten years ago, I have found the charisms and practices of religious orders and communities within them fascinating. Each religious order and communities within them establish specific operational expressions of spirituality, often called “rules.” Another way of describing how religious orders develop this might be to say that they establish the way in which the members of the community individually and collectively live in relationship to God and others. Being invited to join in the practices of a community is similar to being invited to the most personal areas of your home, and I am always honored when I am invited to do so. The opportunity to join at the Eucharistic table in the community’s small chapel with Carroll students was very special.
I wonder what in that experience moved them. Was it similar to what struck me? Did the thorns on the crown of the crucified Jesus remind them of the tortured he endured? Did the photograph of a laughing Mother Teresa next to the altar remind them of the joy which God intends us to experience, even in the midst of trial and heartbreak? Did they wonder if being 5’0” or under was some kind of secret requirement for entering the order after seeing the four barefoot women clothed in white and blue kneel on the floor in the front of the room? Did they wonder if the celebrant was part of the Capuchin community I used to rent a house from? (Okay, I am sure they did not wonder that, but perhaps they were intrigued by his brown habit?).
And were they moved to tears by the same names that I was? Sister Margherite, Sr. Reginette, Sr. Judeth, and Sr. Anslem. The four Missionaries of Charity who along with a number of others (including those they were caring for) were killed in Yemen last week. Did they contemplate the horrible pain the sisters in front of us must have experienced upon hearing the news? Did they wonder if their killing had strengthened these sisters’ commitment to their vocation, or make them question it, or both? Did they wonder if any of these sisters in Denver knew the sisters that were killed in Yemen? Did they hear these names during the prayers of the faithful and know who they were; did they see the names written on the small chalkboard next to the number that showed them which hymn to sing?
What a powerful reminder of the commitment that we are invited (and this is such an important word, because it is not forced upon us, it is something we must choose in each moment) to in our faith. Our Bishop Thomas of Helena has often stated that now is not the time for “lukewarm Catholics.” Sometimes in the developed western world faith is to conveniently lived out. Parishes are places where people get dressed up for Easter and Christmas. A cross is a nice piece of jewelry. People state that they are praying for another person when they don’t know what else to say. I don’t mean to say that there not people who live their faith in deep, purposeful, and committed ways, there certainly are, but I would count myself among the many who must accept the invitation to grow in relationship and commitment to God, and in doing so serve those around me more consistently and in more compassionate ways.
Is the crucifix not the greatest reminder of what this commitment requires? After all, that is one of the reasons why we as Catholics venerate the crucifix and not just a bare cross (whose simplicity and symbolism also certainly have their place). Perhaps. But this morning, contemplating the realities that people face on the street every day here in Denver but also all around the world, there could have been no greater reminder for me of the limitless commitment that God is constantly inviting us to than to see the names of Sister Margherite, Sr. Reginette, Sr. Judeth, and Sr. Anslem scrawled on that tiny chalkboard through eyes filled with tears.
The First Encounter Monday March 7
By Mariah Schell and Ashley Maes
After a long day of travel and a good night’s rest, the Denvarians were ready for whatever the Lord had to show us today alongside our fellow missionaries here at Christ in the City. We woke up bright and early to start the day off in prayer, with mass celebrated at 7am in a renovated convent that now houses the CIC missionaries who have committed to a year of service here in Denver. If your question is, “how did a group of sleep-deprived college kids stay awake through a mass that early in the morning?” Well, the answer would be… not very easily. In fact, some of us may have closed our eyes and “prayed” for a while before snapping out of it again with the sounds of the original hardwood floors and pews creaking with every movement.
Our nerves were running high as we wondered what our first day would look like. We had very little information about what we would be doing, but the missionaries came to our rescue with (quite a few) slideshow presentations letting us know what we were getting into. We learned more about CIC, which has only been in Denver for 6 years, the “do’s and don’ts” of street ministry and how to have a meaningful conversation with the homeless we would inevitably encounter on our street walks. There were several groups that split up throughout the downtown Denver area; a few to the Capitol district, Speer Park and a couple to the 16th Street walking mall. Ashley and I were in one of the 16th street groups and our very first encounter was a surprising one. We approached a group of men who were sitting under a ledge getting shelter from the rain just off 16th street. They were immediately happy to see us and started chatting us up about their travels, hobbies and hometowns. In case you didn’t think this world is small enough, one of the men was originally from Butte, MT. That hit us Montana kids pretty hard, especially hearing his story about how he ended up as a homeless man in Denver, CO. Our eyes and hearts were immediately opened to the reality of poverty and to the individuals who are experiencing it.
Our second and final encounter, lasting two hours, was found on the walking mall itself. We approached two men, who had only been in Denver for 3 days so far. Jay was only 19 years old and a five-year traveller, while Matt was 28 and a ten-year traveller. They were sitting on a cement wall, their belongings only filling a backpack and small duffle bag. They didn’t hesitate to answer our questions and tell us their life stories, sometimes even telling us deep personal experiences without our prompting. There was never a break in the conversation, and you could see the gratitude in their eyes throughout the two-hour encounter. Most of the people that Christ in the City missionaries and volunteers encounter just want to be known and loved for who they are, instead of ignored or scowled at by normal people who pass them by on the streets. As our friend Jay told us, “It would make all the difference to us if more people like you would just stop and get to know us. We actually have personalities.”
Overall, the Denvarian Saints had an amazing first day in Denver. We had many stories to share at our group discussion and also some reflection time about what we saw. We spent time in silence and prayer after a day full of conversation with the impoverished citizens on the margins of Denver. At the end of the day, even though we may be in very different situations then they are, if we take the time to get to know them, we find out that a lot of us share some of the same struggles.
Welcome to the blog post of AJ and Taylor! Proceed with caution…
Beginning the day with mass at Sacred Heart Parish was a great way to get our corazones de servicios started. From there, things only got better. We spent the next part of the morning helping clean and organize the inventory. Eli, who is in charge of the Sacred Heart Refugee Center, took us to the El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras consulates, where we were able to see and hear from the people that work at them. They opened our eyes to the different types of lives which people have that come across the border. The crime and dangers that surround them in their home countries are greater than we could ever imagine. Each country has its one issue and reasons as to why they leave. For Guatemala, it is because of the poor economy and lack of jobs where as Honduras and El Salvador are filled with violent cartels, which threaten lives. Young men are at great risk of being taken by the cartels and if they refuse, the cartels threaten the lives their families.
From there we went to lunch at Maria’s where the laughter was flowin’! Between the funny jokes and lighthearted conversations, this group is one that we are sure thankful to be apart of. Katie managed to close line herself in front of the restaurant, which gave everyone quite the laugh. After that we headed back to Sacred Heart where there were 14 migrants that we were able to be with. Thinking of their journey, it was hard for us to imagine ourselves in their shoes with the amount of danger and perils that they have to face. There is little to no security and everything they own was on their backs. They didn’t have anything to go back to and everything in front of them was risky and undetermined.
Along with these, so many blessing filled our day. Today was filled with eye opening experiences that is giving a wider perspective of the world around us. We are excited to see what tomorrow will bring.
Taylor and AJ
(Representatives of the unicorns in McAllen, Texas)
Greetings from Chicago! Ben and Kelsey here to catch you up on the first two days of our week. We can’t really complain, our trip started out by arriving safely at the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist mission where, yes, we get to eat the delicious food of Chopped Champion Sr. Alica Torres. Sunday was our first official day where we went to Mass at the Cathedral. When people tell you that deep dish pizza is the best pizza you will ever have in America, they are not lying. We ate at Giordano’s restaurant. We can all according to Savanna, now say “we’ve officially “BEAN” tourist’s in Chicago” after we visited the bean. We also took the time to stop at The Chicago Art Institute. Today, we worked around the mission doing different tasks such as cleaning and organizing bins (which I (Kelsey) will probably dream of, there were so many). Cleaning pews in the church. Experiencing working with kids at Kelly Hall YMCA after school program and reflecting on the many adventures we have had thus far.
Even as I continue to step out of my bounds and into this crazy world of adulthood, I still find myself running into the metaphorical brick walls of differing cultures. Today we traveled to Kelly Hall, a YMCA center that is a part the mission for this neighborhood. The after school program there is designed to keep kids off the streets while giving them a safe haven for a couple hours after school. While talking with some of the older kids, I quickly realized that I held very little in common with them. While their sports were basketball and football, mine were rowing and gymnastics. Their lives differed from mine in almost every way possible and I sat their awkwardly while trying to think of something to say. For me it begged the question, what have I done to deserve the life I have been given? I know in my heart that I have been blessed by the grace of God, yet it is still difficult for me to be content that this is merely how things are. Nothing I do will drastically change these people’s lives in a week, but my hope is that through these awkward exchanges, that I will learn to better communicate with a people I don’t always fully understand.
The Hidden Christ (Kelsey Bogumill)
I am a person who loves to understand, well, pretty much everything in life! Symbolism and reflection hold much meaning in my heart! So, one would assume that walking around The Chicago Art Institute is the perfect place to encounter meaning through symbolism and reflection. However, walking around the Modern Art exhibit was everything except being able to make sense of the art before us, which included paintings with just plain orange and white stripes, abstract art that made you question if you should submit your own abstract art to the Chicago Institute, and blank canvas’s in the color of white and blue (yes, I did say blank). This is not to stir you away from the Chicago Art Institute, we saw many truly beautiful pieces. It just shows that wandering around this exhibit, I was very quick to judge. Not just the art, but the people who made the art. Until I stumbled across a painting titled, “Heaven”…
Standing before this piece, I found myself (as I did with every other piece I came across) trying so hard to understand it. If I didn’t understand it, I was quick to judge it, and in my mind it shouldn’t be up on the wall. Art isn’t supposed to be hard to look at, right!? Then, something hit me. A word that truly we don’t understand, empathy. I started to let go of understanding, and began to view this piece through the lens of empathy. I tried to put myself into the shoes of this young woman. Instead of trying to understand this creative beauty, I let go, and tried to see what this artist see’s. That her painting reveals to the world what “heaven” is to her. What life is to her. What beauty, truth, and goodness are to her. But, most importantly, what love means to her. Woah!
This experience changed how I was going to enter into the rest of the week. I didn’t come to Chicago to “understand” a new culture of people, their world, or even who they are. I came to Chicago to serve! I came to put myself in the shoes of “the other”, to be with these people in their world as it is and love them there. Understanding is my way of grasping to make the uncomfortable, well, comfortable. Like the painting, it was time to let that go. As St. John Paull II famously stated, “Do not be afraid”. This week, will be a week of being open to where Christ is inside these people and sharing that love to help their poverties become less of a poverty, and more a grace and love that takes a deep root! It’s time to “go out” and meet Christ in the lives that we encounter.