Tent Raising JRH Reflection May 2012

So Reflections from Jesuit Retreat House.

Yesterday a large banquet tent was installed on JRH grounds to prepare for Friday’s Hearts on Fire benefit dinner.   One might worry that such heavy work might be a prayer distraction, but watching a tent being built provides surprisingly ample fodder for spiritual contemplation…

My first thought was, “Wow! What would St. Paul think?!?”  An ancient tent maker, Paul would likely be wonderstruck by how quickly and efficiently the crew worked –just like I was!  I scratched my head thinking, how did they make our simple parking lot look like a wedding hall?

As one of the workers came inside for a break I shared my admiration, “The tent is looking beautiful!”  He smiled, “Yeah, it looks good, doesn’t it? But it’s really a group effort!”  He and I chuckled at his statement of the obvious as we glanced through the window and into the parking lot where the mid-sized crew worked with hefty hammers and large metal poles.

Walking back to my office, the truth of his words struck a chord.  “A group effort” –that is what every day is like at the retreat house.  Like any other household, there are routine chores to accomplish to keep things clean and ready for every guest.  Beyond caring for the physical house and grounds, it is also a group effort to remain a place of spiritual wellbeing.

It is very easy to slip into a work mode that simply chalks out the to-do list and tackles it, forgetting the unique mission of this place.  It is too easy for any one of us to become a work-zombie, lifelessly attending to the present without any presence.  In the routine we risk forgetting that we walk on Holy Ground. We miss the work of God around us.  I think this is why we try to eat lunch together each day, and are mindful to say hello in the morning and goodbye as we leave.  These are reminders that there is a community here and we are part of it.

In truth, this risk of “zombiehood” is a hazard of any household.  Every Christian, regardless of trade, can slip into autopilot.  Prayer practices like the Examen help prevent this deep slide, but equally important is our sense of community.   Each of us must ask, “How do I share in ‘the group effort’ around me?”

Even if my daily tasks are accomplished in isolation, I can find ways to reflect upon the many hands and feet that share in my life.  Whenever I pause to consider the ‘life-story’ of food at my table, the paper clips on my desk, or the change in my pockets –it is easy to see that I am part of a great chain of events and people!  Becoming aware of our great human connection can be a first step toward strengthening communal ties and responding to systemic injustice. How do you take time to appreciate the group effort surrounding you? What do you see?

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