The Sounds of Silence

May 11, 2010

I’m a pretty extroverted person. I like talking. I like listening to others. I enjoy sharing conversation and laughter. So, when I learned back in August that JVC would hold a mandatory Ignation (read: Silent) Retreat, I was pretty nervous.

Ignatian Retreats, the longest being 30 days, have been a Jesuit tradition since the order’s early days, and have been a way for people to become closer to God through silent reflection, meditation, discernment, and prayer.

Ours was 40 hours long at the Loyola House of Retreats in Morristown, New Jersey. JVC provided us with various activities including prayer services, an all-night Peace Vigil, meditation, and yoga and resources like spiritual direction, books on personal growth, and prayers, but, otherwise, we were on our own in silence.

Like I said, at first, I was really nervous about spending so much time in silence, but the retreat actually came at the perfect time for me. I haven’t exactly been overwhelmed lately, but I’ve definitely been “whelmed” with community obligations, friends, work, and some big decisions coming regarding my future.

The retreat gave me time to bring God back into my life and my decision-making.

I was able to meet with my spiritual director for the weekend, Toni Moore-Duggan (from Baltimore, incidentally), twice during retreat for help in the best ways to reach out to God and listen. She advised that I think of God as a friend, rather than a judge, within me, who is continually reaching for me, guiding me, and talking to me. After that, praying and talking with God, rather than at or to God, became infinitely easier for me. I began praying out loud and started and ended my conversations with God with a specific prayer. It kept me focused and more able to listen.

Did I come away with all the answers? No. Am I now spiritually enlightened? No. Those things will take some more time to figure out.

I did, however, learn how to bring the G-man into my decisions and my every day- simply by looking, listening, and feeling.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Let us be silent that we may hear the whisper of God.”

How and where do you hear God? How do you reach out? Have you ever been on a silent retreat before? How was your experience?

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April Travels

May 3, 2010

Okay, I’m back. I know I haven’t posted since the very beginning of April, but this year ain’t over and neither is this blog (gosh darnit!).

It’s been a busy month. The winter has quickly turned to spring (or summer if you take into account that it’s currently 80 degrees at 11am as I write this!), and, boy, has it been nice to walk out the door in the morning without a coat!

Anyway, here’s a quick rundown of what I’ve been up to while away from the blogosphere:

  • After returning to Baltimore from a relaxing Spring/Easter Break at home in Massachusetts, the housemates and I made the trek southward to meet up with the Washington D.C. Jesuit Volunteer communities for a cookout. It was a perfect way to kickoff spring, plus the folks down in D.C. are top notch and a welcoming bunch. (By the way, you should check out their blogs, and other JV blogs, here)
  • On the 12th, we had our monthly dinner with the Wheeler House Jesuit community. As usual, the food was deee-lish, and the company was great. The Jesuits even donated some new kitchen supplies to us. It’s amazing how supportive they’ve been all year!
  • On the weekend beginning on the 16th, Scott, Kelly, and I made an epic, weekend-long journey, hitting southern New Jersey and the Connecticut JV communities in Bridgeport and Hartford. On Friday evening, we stayed at Scott’s family’s house in Pittsgrove, South New Jersey (I had been told that South New Jersey is a totally different state than North New Jersey, and now, I believe it! What beautiful country!). The Donovan’s welcomed us like long, lost sons and daughters and treated us with food (meat!), drink (good beer and soda!), and cable television (in HD!). On Saturday, we drove up to the Bridgeport Community intending only to drop off Kelly and pick up our friends Jeff and Alex to head to Hartford, but, instead, we spent the entire afternoon with the Bridgeport Brigade, and ate some dinner with them. They’re a pretty cool bunch, too! Finally, around 9pm, we arrived in Hartford to celebrate any early Cinco de Mayo with the 7 ladies of Agape House. It seems to be a weird pattern with JV communities, but the women of Agape House were fantastic hosts, and it was great to see them and my favorite Villanova “frienemy”, Karen. Finally, on Sunday, we made the long drive back to Baltimore (but not without a quick pit stop in Pittsgrove for lunch of course!) to begin a new week.

    My greatest of frienemies, Karen.

So, that was my April in a semi-long nutshell.

May should prove to be another busy, but great month. On the docket, I have a Baltimore Tweetup (when you actually meet Twitter friends in real life- weird, I know), a visit to the Philadelphia JV community, our Silent Retreat (yes, complete silence for a weekend), a potential http://tweetvite.com/event/BmoreTequilaTweetup party for our house, Stand Up for Comedy night with CRJ, and, my birthday on the 28th.

Have a great week, everyone, and I’ll see you when I return from Silent Retreat!


What’s Your Philanthropic Method?

April 8, 2010

I’m wondering, and it’s not a challenge, how do you give back to your community?

Do you volunteer?

Where? When? How often? Why?

Do you donate to charitable foundations?

What do you donate? To who? How often? Why?

Do you do something else instead?

What’s your philanthropic method?

I’d like to know, so comment away!


I Heart City Life

March 31, 2010

On Friday evening, while it was still light out, a man walked up to our porch, took two of our floral-patterned lawn chairs, walked to his green Yukon, and drove away. Four of us were home, but we were too slow in realizing what was happening to do anything to stop it.

It was an oddly gentle reminder that we live in a city. It’s a city full of many great people, places, and things, but it’s also a city where crime, theft, and violence are realities. We may live in Charles Village, a relatively decent area, but Greenmount, a street and area known for crime, is a mere two blocks away. In Baltimore, “relatively decent” turns to “pretty dangerous” in a blink.

This is all a bit new to me. I’ve never lived in a city before.

When you live in the city, you can’t afford to forget to lock your door. You have to walk with someone else at night. You can’t leave the windows open all day. The GPS can’t stay on the dash. If you’re kids want to play outside, you sure as heck need to be out there with them. And when you get too comfortable, there’s usually a siren close by or a search helicopter to bring you back to reality.

On the other hand city living gives you have a unique community. You don’t need a car. You can walk most places: grocery store, watering hole, gym, the farmer’s market. They’re all close by. You have a certain protective bond with your neighbors. You see familiar faces around the local spots. You can sit on your porch on a particularly warm Saturday in March and watch the cars go by. You find a certain comfort in the sounds of the city: the barking dogs, the too-loud music or car engine, the side-walking passersby.

Living in a city is both scary and gloriously liberating for a country (suburban) boy like me.

Now, as I return home tomorrow for Spring Break and Easter, I’m reminded of the stark difference in living that I’ve experienced this year, and how much I’ve come to love living in the city of Baltimore… even if we do only have one more floral-patterned lawn chair left.

Decal from LiveBaltimore.com


I Had It Easy

March 23, 2010

I had it easy.

My road was clear. I knew what I had to do to get where I was going. I could see it in the distance. Sure, there were a few curves, a couple bumps, and a little traffic, but there were no detours, no accidents, no breakdowns.

I knew I had it easy. I did. It’s just so much more apparent sometimes.


Advocacy and a Voice

March 15, 2010

Image via "hiddedevries"

Last week, a student came to me and asked, “What’s A-D-V-O-C-A-C-Y?” I told him that advocacy is basically when a group or a person helps support another person or group in order to help them. Literally not 20 minutes later, I read Kristina’s post over on her blog. I like her explanation of advocacy a lot better:

“It is hard to know when to be an advocate for someone, and when to let that someone speak for himself. People have voices, and we walk a fine & creative line when we become advocates for them. I don’t think that advocacy means speaking for someone without a voice, but simply working with that person to help him express himself in a more effective way… I realized that advocacy is a powerful thing, but it is so powerful because as advocates, we are asserting that we are invested and that we believe in that other human being, in his voice and his abilities. Advocacy is not about saying, “Oh hey, that guy can’t speak, so let me do the talking for him,” but rather it is saying, “You weren’t hearing him before. I am not speaking for him, I am speaking with him. Two voices are better than one. Listen to us now.'”


Kristina is spot on. Sometimes, it’s easy to lose sight of this idea as a full-time volunteer. We want so badly for everything to go well and get better now that we can forget that we’re working for long-term, too. It’s important that the people we advocate learn to develop their own voice, so, someday, they have a voice for themselves and help others attain a voice as well. We shouldn’t be doing for. Rather, we should be doing with.


Built-in Support

March 11, 2010

Each year, hundreds of Jesuit Volunteers (and all people involved in programs like JVC) are thrust (willingly, I might add) into something unlike anything they’ve likely ever done before. How are you supposed to go to a new city, live with 5 or 6 people you’ve never met, start a challenging new job, and live on $85 of spending money per month all at once?

Image via "plentiful"

Well, JVC, for one, does something pretty amazing: they provide JV’s with support. Support from former JV’s (FJV’s), neighbors, Jesuit priests, bosses, and co-workers. JVC will even connect JV’s with volunteers from other programs, even if they’re rivals, heathens or *gasp* both (just kidding).

Here’s a few ways we get support here in Baltimore:

  • 2 FJV Support People – Earlier in the year, our two FJV Support people, Steve & Leah, came to our Spirituality and Community nights to participate and give us feedback for any problems or questions that we may have. We also each met with one of them for a one-on-one in which we could talk about challenges we’re facing.
  • An FJV Network – There’s a pretty darn good network of active FJV’s living in the Baltimore area and we’ve been lucky enough to get together with some of them on different occasions. In the fall, a group of FJV’s meets in Patterson Park for frisbee; this winter, Scott, Stacey, and I have been playing on an FJV-infused broomball team; we’ve hosted a couple of Pot Luck Dinners at our house with FJV’s; and the FJV’s always make an effort to invite us to different events and activities where they’ll be too. Being able to participate in these things has given us a sense of belonging in the city and the fact they they did JVC too is huge. That, and the FJV’s are some pretty cool folks!
  • Jesuit Priests – A group of Jesuits live down Guilford a few blocks from us, and, each month, they invite us over for mass and dinner. They’re an amazing group of caring, giving, and loving men who would stop at nothing to help us in any way.
  • At Work – Our bosses at our work sites know that we’re JV’s, and they know that we’ve committed to more than working at their sites this year. They regularly check in with us and are responsible for making sure that our housing, food, and travel are all up to snuff. Our co-workers also know that we’re JV’s, and, at least at Cristo Rey, teachers and staff are always good to use, whether it’s giving us tips on things to do in Baltimore or feeding us (read: meat!).
  • Other Volunteers – Earlier this year, we got together with another other groups of volunteers like the LaSallian Volunteers, Mennonite Volunteers, AmeriCorps Volunteers, Lutheran Volunteers, Mercy Corps Volunteers, and Bos Seccour Volunteers. We keep in contact with them and get together now and then.
  • Villanova Alumni – I know this is a bit more personal, but I’ve been lucky enough to happen into a group of Villanova alums who have been very good to me this year, always inviting me to Villanova basketball game-watches, making us food, or simply buying me a drink. Plus, I often visit a few friends of my own from Villanova living in Baltimore.

The support this year has been amazing, both from JVC and outside JVC. I honestly don’t know where I would be if not for the many people that provide us with this love and support.It lets me know that we’re a part of something greater, that it doesn’t end this year, and that people are appreciative of what we do. After this year, I’ll be sure to pay it forward.

So, if any of you are reading this…

THANK YOU!