Fire in the Belly

This weekend, I traveled to Minnesota for a discernment retreat put on by the Forum for Theological Discernment (FTE). I had no idea going into this retreat what it was or who would be there or really anything about it. I was happy to have something to do this weekend but I wasn’t particularly excited about going—it seemed that I had already done all my discernment for next year and this was just another thing on the list of things to check off before graduation. But four days later, I am blown away by everything I have experienced and felt, the people I have met and who I now call friends, and the conversations and reflections I have engaged in.

The retreat brought 64 young adult leaders from across the church together for four days of worship, exploration, discernment, and growth. I don’t think I have ever connected with a group of people so quickly and so deeply—we may have different theologies and different backgrounds, we may come from different states and we may be at very different points in our lives but we are all deeply rooted in our faith and striving to find ways to live out our call in the world—a call that is deeply tied up with social justice and community.

I still have a lot to process and reflect on from the past four days. There were so many things about this retreat that impacted me deeply but I can’t name them all so I will just highlight a few here:

  1. Social justice as an extension of faith: While I have engaged in conversations with fellow students at BU about politics and social justice and a desire to change the world, most of those conversations skirt around or completely ignore religion and faith. But my faith is such a fundamental part of who I am and is a driving force behind my desire to work for social justice. It was so refreshing and affirming and life-giving to be immersed in such a vibrant community in which the compulsion to work for social justice is a natural extension of faith.
  2. Deep conversations and sessions. There were so many moments where I felt filled by a conversation or a speaker, where I was overwhelmed with the force of the words, where everything snapped into fresh perspective, where I felt so moved or inspired or heard or challenged. In sessions we talked about spiritual gifts as compulsions—as fires in our bellies that won’t let us rest unless we use them; we talked about the things that break our hearts but then we imagined what it would look like if those things were magnificently solved. For the first time that I can remember, someone told me that justice is possible. We talked about how the tribes of Israel divided up the promised land equally and instituted a Jubilee year in order to return people and land to their original states because that’s what you do for family and that if we all treated each other like family, there would be justice. We wrote down our ‘curses’—the things in our head that tell us that we can’t do it or that we’re not good enough—and then we ripped them up and threw them in a bonfire, watching the tattered ashes fly up into the air as we spoke out words of blessing—the words of power that we wanted to replace those curses in our minds. In a session on immigration, my heart was weighed down by all the stories of injustice and cruelty in our immigration system but I was filled with a shred of hope as we spoke about how the church can and has worked to combat these injustices. As I listened, I was filled with a deeper sense of purpose and call as I thought about my work for next year working with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. We were asked if we were admirers of Jesus or if we were followers of Jesus. We were told to listen for the sound of the genuine in ourselves. Parker Palmer stopped by and told us that we should always strive to do the things that we simply can’t not do. We were challenged to think about the language we used around people experiencing homelessness, poverty, mental illness, incarceration—we were reminded that we are not the circumstances that people tell us that we are. We were told to practice delight rather than disgust. We talked about liberation.
  3. Embodied worship. This was the first time in a very long time where I have felt at home in a space in which people danced and yelled out affirmations and praises, raising their hands and not just their voices in worship and praise. There was such energy and love in the space and it was so freeing to engage in worship not just with my mind but also with my body. I realized that my worship in many ways had become disembodied, limited to my head rather than flowing through me, praising God through dance and song, bodies vibrating with emotion and joy and wonder.
  4. A sense of connection to the larger church. It can be so easy to get bogged down in local details and to look at large systemic problems in the world and the church and feel so helpless to change. But this weekend, I connected with people from all over the church who are all engaged in meaningful, amazing, inspiring work. They are all working to create change in their communities and it was so comforting to know that even as I go back to my little piece of the world, they are going back to their own cities and towns too and that we are all working toward change together. We work with different populations and different issues and we may even have different opinions and theologies but ultimately we all just want to make the world a better, more just, more loving place. With a goal like that, why would we ever let our differences get in the way?

Now as I return to school and normal life, I am weary and refreshed, challenged and affirmed, saddened by goodbyes but excited about these relationships that have started to develop. I’m not sure how I will respond when people ask me how my weekend was but I am excited for what is to come and ready to continue discerning and living out my vocation in the world, strengthened in my faith, supported by an amazing group of friends and mentors, and reminded of the radical love and hospitality that God extends to us through Jesus Christ.

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