How am I supposed to reflect on 5 years worth of people’s stories? It’s just too much. It’s been a remarkable experience, and I’ve acquired a skill set that no school could teach. If you’ve not been around a grapevine recently, I wrote this little reflection because I’m leaving my role as Communications Director within the next few weeks. My replacement, Danielle Koleniak, begins tomorrow, and I’m to train her on…? I haven’t quite figured that out yet. I’m guessing the core function of my job here is: getting people to trust me.DOWNLOAD THE BULLETIN
Aside from laying out the bulletin every week, graphic design, curating content from the media, fielding complaints from the uber-Holy and managing the website, the Main Thing I do is tell stories. I try to tell them in the most spiritually focused way possible, but sometimes, that’s difficult. The one thing I’ve learned about people – Christians of all types, Muslims, Hindus, even the Irish – is that every individual has their own brand of spirituality.
What a vague term, right? “Spirituality”? What does that mean? I looked it up in the dictionary and it tells us that it’s the quality or state of being concerned with religion or religious matters. Hm. Religious matters? Do they mean “God” or prayer? Or something more objective like memorizing your favorite Gospel verse?
Another definition is Sensitivity or attachment to religious values. What are religious values? Values are essentially standards of behavior, so are they referring to helping the poor? Going to Mass? Participating in a bake sale? Paying your bills on time?
I guess you could argue that values are all of these things, and that spirituality is an intangible concept that can be neither measured or judged from the outside. I’ve seen some decidedly non-spiritual people participate in the rituals of religion, and I’ve seen some people who’ve lived brash, licentious lives become humble, selfless servants of the suffering.
What I’ve learned through the people I’ve met and interviewed, is that God is acting through all of us, and the stories of our lives are our journeys away from, and back to Him. Each person has their spectrum of fatal flaws and deadly sins that they struggle with, but their willingness to admit those flaws, and seek God’s will, can be the closest thing to a measure of spirituality we can get.
I have met people with an unbelievable capacity for forgiveness. Remember the guy who was shot 6 times by a gangster in DC? That was a spiritual event in his life, one that taught him acceptance and forgiveness.
Remember the young Vietnamese man whose refugee boat was attacked by pirates twice, lived on a half cup of rice per day for a month and fled his country with not even a shirt on his back to find religious freedom in the States? He had to be open to God’s plan for his life (he didn’t really have much of a choice).
And the spouses… The spouses that deal with dementia, cancer, 1000 forms of addiction, dying children – these become the events that form the spiritual life. What can teach a person acceptance better than a loved one who commits suicide? It’s that type of powerlessness that brings people closer to the reality that we live in God’s world, and the time we spend ignoring that fact, is time spent in pain.
People are only willing to tell these stories because they trusted us. Either Father Bob or I got through to them enough that they became willing to share. They came to the idea that their humanness, or their pain, or their frailty could potentially help another person. They realized that they were already naked before God. The veil of denial had already been lifted. They could choose to withdraw into themselves and feed the monsters of self-pity and resentment, or they could acknowledge that the majority of people around them – to varying degrees – are off their rocker, and let them know they are not alone.
Our college student friend Vinny, the one who suffered with an eating disorder, didn’t tell his story because he wanted to broadcast his shame to 2000 people. He told it because it had the potential to give someone hope.
If nothing else, I’ve found that we should tell our stories because they diminish the shame and guilt we’ve spent our lives accumulating. We share and we realize that our sins are the same as other people’s. Our emotions are all the same. But more than that, our need to be loved is something that is planted in us by God, and it’s something that cannot be experienced in isolation.
When we share ourselves with other people, and when people share themselves with us, that is an act of love. Telling our stories is how we show that love, and it’s the medium through which others grow to love us. When we can tell the truth about ourselves, we can allow people into our lives – the ones God intentionally places there – and they can help us through our difficulties.
Our spiritual journey is finding out who we are – what God’s truest expression of our ideal can be – and then letting the world know who that person is. When people get to know us, they will love us, and we will love them… and that’s the stuff that matters… and that’s what the past 5 years have taught me. Thank you for telling me your stories.
I also want to extend my gratitude to the Pastoral Team and Tony Majeri. Tony basically created my job out of thin air in 2009. The “bulletin as publication” was his idea. The multimedia approach to our communication strategy was his idea. As the retired senior editor for the Chicago Tribune, I could not have gotten luckier than to have him land in our Parish. He’s proof that we never retire, God just uses us in new ways. Thank you. -DH