On the first Servant Year retreat, I accomplished one of my life goals: seeing a bald eagle. It may sound ridiculous but it really was something I held as an experience akin to spotting a phoenix or unicorn. Bald eagles are symbols of the majestic and serene natural world and of this great nation. I had just vocalized to the people around me that I had never seen one when I was told to look over and up towards the bay and when I did, I saw the most beautiful bald eagle soaring above the water. I recognized God’s beauty and timing in that moment. It was like hearing God say to me, “You are in the right place and I am with you.”
Another of my life goals is to help people. While the environment that I work in is not as picturesque, serene, and beautiful as the retreat house that I stayed at, there are just as many small examples of God reminding me that I am where I am supposed to be at the right time. Today I learned that my supervisor at the day shelter where I work two days a week, the Norristown Ministries Hospitality Center, does not have more than a few years to live. I knew that he had a disease called ALS that has limited his physical capabilities drastically but I did not know that the disease moved so quickly. I feel that I have a lot to learn from him and I am thankful that I am here to learn from him at this time.
At the retreat, I was able to reflect on the work that I do with the homeless by stepping back from it and realizing the strengths that I bring to my workplace. In day-to-day work it can be easy to lose sight of the bigger meaning of the work because of all of the small tasks that must be done, which require our compete attention. When those tasks are difficult or when they do not appear to have an important and immediate impact, it is even easier to forget what it means to be called to service.
For me, Servant Year is about growth and becoming more comfortable with myself and whatever God has planned for me. At the retreat we discussed the different types of strengths that each person brings to the table. We each took a survey to determine our most apparent strengths. Some things that I had felt were weak traits in myself were redefined as my strengths and I realized that it is not about moving past those parts that are inherent to our unique personalities but learning to view and use them in the light of their potential strength. This is a powerful and freeing realization. I look forward to learning more about myself and God as this year progresses. There are endless lessons to learn and I am thankful to be in the perfect place to keep learning.
Karitsa's Agency Placement is at St. John's Episcopal Church in Norristown.
By Lindsay Barrett-Adler
I opened my Book of Common Prayer to find today’s Gospel and happily came upon the following verses from Matthew 22, translated by Eugene Peterson. Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence. This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: Love others as well as you love yourself.”
Scripture can be fraught with some pretty confusing and offensive texts, but here we find an apparently simple directive: love on people. By loving on people, you’re loving on God. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like Jesus is being a bit of a Captain Obvious here. Of course we should love everyone, would anyone seriously argue that it’s virtuous to hate others or that doing so would bring us any closer to God? Thanks for the advice Jesus, I’ll be sure to remember that it’s always preferable to be nice to other people.
But, as usual, a quick and simple reading of this verse doesn’t get to the heart of Christ’s message. Advent is a time for us to wake up, to get ready, to prepare for a baby to break down all of our presumptions and self delusions. If I’m honest this Advent, there are some changes I need to make in order to really love God, by seriously loving other people. I can hold a grudge and let that most cancerous form of hate, resentment, fester in my soul. I can also be impatient with others and ready to jump to unfair conclusions. I am great at building walls to protect myself, even when they close me off from those outside.
Maybe I’m not as great at loving people as I thought.
When I discovered that two antonyms to the word “love” are “indifference” and “neglect”, Christ’s words became even more challenging. Advent seems like the perfect time for us to beat our chests in front of the temple and cry out, “Indifferent? Me?! But I gave that Salvation Army ringer $5 and donated 2 brand new toys to our office Christmas drive.” While charity for the one month between Thanksgiving and Christmas is wonderful, it is not enough. Not when, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 1in 5 children live below the poverty line. Not when, according to the NCAAP, the U.S prison population quadrupled from roughly 500,000 in 1980 to 2.3 million people in 2008 and a disproportionate number of prisoners are people of color. Not when our neighbors in the City of Brotherly Love will die this winter from exposure, unable to find shelter in freezing temperatures.
Indifference and neglect are tempting, and easy, ways to live in today’s painful and broken world. I find myself thinking that it would be easier to lock my door, close the blinds, and keep the outside world at bay. This is seductive, but also completely different from the way God tells us to be in the world. We are Advent people. We are called to run out into the world and shout, “Wake up! Get ready! The world is about to change forever!” We are called to stir the pot, to disrupt complacency, and fight for justice. Christ’s call to love others is dangerous, radical, and absolute. We love others by allowing ourselves to be as vulnerable as a lamb, but as fiercely defensive of our neighbors as the lion laying beside him.
This Advent, I pray for the strength and courage to really love God, by seriously loving on people; It’s not as easy as you’d think.
Lindsay serves as Program Director and Associate for Young Adult Ministries.
I never have lived in a place where public transportation was an accessible and reasonable option for travel. Where I grew up, we didn’t have sidewalks either. The only methods of transportation I knew were my family’s mini-van or my trek 820 mountain bike which I only used to ride down the hill I lived on to visit friends (I never was physically blessed with the ability to ride bikes successfully up hills).
Also where I went to college in rural upstate New York, public transportation was nonexistent. The campus was located on its own small hill without any roads traversing the campus, only walking paths to connect all the buildings.
Coming into the Servant Year program, embracing public transportation seemed to be one way to live out the program’s commitment to ‘living simply.’ I began the program living in Germantown, a northwest neighborhood of Philadelphia, and working at a placement in South Philadelphia. What would have been a 21 minute car ride from home to work (according to Google Maps) ended up being around an hour long commute involving two buses and a subway ride. In those days, I was spending about two hours a day just traveling to and from work.
On the positive side my work days were buffered by an hour of time for contemplation, reading, and people watching. For adjusting to the challenges of my placement and the new experience in the city, it was really helpful because it created a space for me that I don’t think I would have made otherwise. I call it a space because it was a time in my day where I was pretty limited in what I could do.
I don’t have a smart phone, so there was no way to pass the time checking my Facebook feed or playing CandyCrush like the majority of SEPTA users. One of those long commutes I experienced a certain kind of peace and freedom that came from knowing there wasn’t much to do, my options were limited, and I was not in control of when I arrived at my destination.
I spent a year traveling the globe prior to Servant Year and really fell in love with the freedom of the travel space. I found I could be in the present moment, rather than overwhelmed by a multitude of distractions or objects for consumption. Purchasing a bus ticket in India became an act of surrendering one’s control and submitting to the perilous manner of driving embraced across the National Highways. Here in Philly I can’t remember how many times I have stood on the corner of Broad and Erie waiting for the H or XH bus to come or how many times I have walked the final ten blocks to my work because the 79 bus never came.
In travel you’re dependent on something outside your control and more often than not it does not conform itself to your desires. Instead of fighting for control, I’ve been learning to embrace the dependency and rest in that still space. On the train or in the bus I’ve tried to find the still space for my mind to rest, and experience the freedom in being limited to my present surroundings.
I’ve always thought about this freedom and surrender like the freedom we have in our relationship with God. We submit to God’s commandments in order to experience the freedom Jesus proclaims in Luke 4 and what Paul touches on in Roman’s 8 as we live out our identity as children of God. True freedom doesn’t come from the absence of rules and isn’t fully experienced without surrender. Does using public transportation help us understand the surrender God asks of us and the freedom Jesus was talking about? Can you really see the connection of submission and freedom from the backseat of SEPTA Bus? Don’t take my word for it. Just buy a token a take a ride.
Nate's Agency Placement is with The Southeast Philadelphia Collaborative.