I spent a reflective weekend at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin with 40 other volunteers dedicated a year to simplicity and community. The Vincent and Louise House is part of the Amate House (amatehouse.org), a young adult volunteer program for the Archdiocese of Chicago. The 30 other volunteers, who are picked annually, have already graduated from college. They spend 40+ hours a week volunteering at schools, non-profits, clinics, etc. It’s already fortunate to have a support structure within my 9 other housemates, but to recognize the larger community we are a part of is a supremely comforting notion. When the going gets tough or the path ahead blurry, we can depend on others in our organization to dissolve the muck, simply by their presence. This weekend was a reminder of this cushion.
But this weekend was also a reminder of what is within ourselves to pull us through those difficult moments in our lives. Getting away from Chicago and into the crisp air on the outskirts of a lake lined with browning and reddening trees gave me time to be still with myself. The retreat was organized in a way that it encouraged giving plenty of time for ourselves—to nap, relax, read, write, run, walk, pray, or whatever we need to reenergize ourselves from a long week. Although beautiful scenery isn’t needed to for these things to happen, it is a reminder to slow down and release those worries that are nothing more than a rocking chair, giving us something to do, but getting us nowhere.
But giving ourselves time to be still does not end on the retreat. One of our large group sessions centered on making voluntary simplicity a habit. Celebrating the things we are grateful for like friendships, community, family, the arts, good health and the mystery of life are lasting gifts that enrich our lives. Whether it’s watching how much we say “I don’t have time,” taking 10 minutes of daily silence and stillness, or eating mindfully—chewing 30 times there are ways to free ourselves to live more deliberately. I will be posting more on this future post.
The other sessions on intentional relationships and leading an examined life were meaningful on both an individual and group level; however the most joyful part of the weekend was a session on eating intentionally with the world. Together, we all opened with a meditation on the dock, and then entered into music and song. In a fluid movement, we processed up the hill till we entered the dining room where 9 blankets on the floor with plates of rolls and cups of water awaited us. We were instructed to grab the water and to meditate on the power of water, especially in terms of a scarce resource. Looking into the cup of water, we were reminded of our instant access to clean water for washing and drinking, while at this moment, near half the population in developing nations is suffering from a disease caused be a lack of access to clean water and sanitation. According to the United Nations Development Program, about one in six people – have no access to clean and safe drinking water. I looked from my cup of water and then across the room. Six people were sitting on each blanket. I imagined one of those six people suffering from the effects of unclean water, and I became rushed with feelings of despair. It’s incredible when you put a face on a problem—or statistic—how real it becomes.
We then did a similar exercise with a piece of bread. We meditated on all the hands and elements that brought this piece of bread to our plate. Like water, a lack of food is not because there is not enough food in the world, but rather disparities in the allocation of resources. World agriculture produces enough to provide everyone in the world with at least 2,720 calories per person a day (worldhunger.org), yet the causes of poverty and tremendous unequal income distribution in the world, as well as conflict, create hunger itself. Thinking of this, we broke bread, and realized again the power we held our hands. However, our privilege is merely responsibility to the world—and to continue the struggle in bridging these enormous gaps in our communities, nation and world.
This weekend, as relaxing as it was, also served fuel for my fire to continue to be guided down a path towards social responsibility. I’ve also thought of some postings I’d like to do on the future, like “daily practices for simple living” and “the slow food movement.”
On Thursday, I’ll be having dinner at L’Arche, an intentional community of people with and without disabilities living and working together. Not one of the communities I originally intended to visit, however my other housemates and are planning to go for community night.