I’ll start with a confession about my year as a Life Together fellow: I never lived in intentional community. No community nights, no shared food budget, no Friday Prayer Partners, no tense house conflicts. At the end of a long day at my site placement, or a particularly intense Friday training, I would go home to peace, quiet, and the sympathetic ear of my partner. There were days when I counted myself lucky not to be sharing a house with six strangers.
My worksite is completely secular. But I am a self-proclaimed “church nerd,” and so I do a lot of thinking about the Church. In this tumultuous time in our society, I often wonder what role the institutional Church plays in our culture. In my generation, Church isn’t “cool.” To be religious is to be outside the norm, separate from what your peers do or stand for.
In anticipation of our annual gala, Love Matters: Rivers in the Desert, we're asking alumni, "When in Life Together did you see a river in the desert?" We added an additional challenge: respond in 1,000 characters. Alumna Libby Gatti's moving response is below. If you'd like to respond to the Rivers in the Desert prompt, email email@example.com
I spent part of last Sunday in a little Western Massachusetts town called Shelburne Falls, where my family and I had come to see the waterfall for which the town was named. Warm temperatures had caused the mountain snow to melt, and the Deerfield River plunged over boulders and through glacial potholes in a torrent of foaming, muddy brown-and-white water. Its power evoked the words of the prophet Amos, where “justice roll[s] down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
In anticipation of our annual gala, Love Matters: Rivers in the Desert, we're asking alumni, 'When in Life Together did you see a river in the desert?'" We added an additional challenge: respond in 1,000 characters. Continue reading for alumna Hannah McMeekin's beautiful response.
I have been lucky enough to be accepted to this program and placed at the Esperanza Academy in Lawrence to be a full time teacher, coach, advisor, mentor, support system, and most importantly, friend. In other words, I have essentially adopted 60 new daughters. I use that metaphor because in the few short months that I’ve been here, they have already lodged themselves right into one of the most sincere parts of my heart.
When I think of contemplative practice here at Life Together, I often imagine spacious silence. So our January Third Friday training around contemplative practice, held this year as our nation inaugurated its 45th president, became an experiment of sorts. The trainers that day, LT alumni Lydia Strand and Yani Burgos, decided to focus our contemplation on the forgotten spiritual practice of lament.
I was baptized Catholic by blood, Buddhist by fire. In the summer of 2015—immediately following my time with Life Together—I traveled to China to participate in the Woodenfish Humanistic Buddhist Monastic Life Program, a month-long immersive Buddhist studies/monastic living program for Western students led by a Taiwanese Buddhist nun. After a month of a shaved head, white robes, and meditation and tai chi daily, we concluded our sojourn with a silent retreat at a nunnery on Mount Wutai, one of China’s four sacred Buddhist mountains. After an ascent of 108 full-body prostrations in a climb to one of Wutai’s plateaus, bowing into stones gritted with incense from the fires of offerings, I participated in the ritual of taking refuge—the Buddhist equivalent to baptism. Among the fires of the shrines and the murmured sutras of old pilgrims, I took refuge in the Three Jewels of the Buddha (the teacher), the Dharma (the teachings), and the Sangha (the community).
Hello, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Savannah and I grew up to crickets louder than cars outside my window, the reggeatón at birthday parties hosted by Mexican families my mom knew that left my ears deafly ringing, the St. Olaf choir throwing alleluias to the heavens through my grandma’s Bose speaker at Christmastime, my dad picking out Aerosmith melodies on his guitar come evening, eyes closed, leaning back. When I was mulling over what to write for this piece, there were so many strands of my life here that I wanted to talk about. So, instead of choosing one, I’ve woven them into their own soundscape. Take a listen:
The day, January 6, 2015, had started as do many January days in Boston: bitterly cold, as I walked through the windy corridors of the Back Bay to my office. It was the Christian Feast of the Epiphany, but otherwise unexceptional. And then a random friend called to ask for a meeting later in the day. “Are you in the neighborhood?” I asked. “No, but I can come from Needham if you’re available.” Intrigued by her sense of urgency, I said yes.
My family left China when I was 3 and made a twenty five year plan to immigrate to the United States, with hopes of finding economic opportunity and freedom. This break, I sat with my parents and a few family friends for Christmas, other immigrant families we’ve loosely adopted as our own in the absence of blood relatives, and saw starkly again some of the tradeoffs our had parents made. I saw in many of the faces around the table immense courage and loneliness.
When I started this fellowship, there was no telling where it would lead me. It was hard to see what God may have had planned for me but I knew it was time for a leap of faith I had to take. In just 3 days, I had my interview, got accepted, signed my contract and packed up everything I owned. I was moving into a new house with new roommates and the promise of a new job within a community of folks who were as passionate about social change as I was.
I woke up to the news on November 9th of the election results with shock and pain-- pain at the deep fault lines it revealed within our nation, pain for those who fear the future for themselves or those they love. And pain at my own failures to build bridges with people I know, people I love deeply, even, who don’t understand the lived experiences informing that fear. The “dividing walls of hostility” felt impossibly high that day.
For students at Esperanza Academy in Lawrence, Massachusetts, this election cycle has instilled a growing sense of fear and negativity. The students, largely young women of color, hear hatred and fear aimed at them from some of the highest political leaders in the land. They have learned from a young age what being a young woman of color means in the United States today.
It might be odd to say this, but, I think, my biggest learning from my time as a fellow in Life Together was the importance of failure and the absolute necessity of re-framing the concept of failure. I worked as a community organizer with the Church of the Good Shepherd in Watertown. My role was to bring the church to the community and address an issue of social justice. And that was pretty much it. So vague, so large, so unknown. For the first few months I hit wall after wall after wall.
Dear Friends, Almost one month into my work here at Life Together, I was finally able to experience the fullness of this community. Last Friday was my first experience of a training day, my first opportunity to meet all of this year’s fellows. At 9am, I went downstairs to the training room, excited for what the day would bring, but also nervous, uncertain as to how the day would go.
Greetings Life Together, I love this image of me with the Chip and Dale characters as it reminds me that wherever I go in the world, God is and will always be my Rescue Ranger. Congrats to all the new fellows that have made the life-changing decision to enter this community. Whether by curiosity, purpose or drive, I am fairly certain that transformation of some kind is inevitable. Similar to my service year as a fellow with the Boston Workers Alliance four years ago, my current day to day consists of ensuring communities have access to technology and training that will enable them to fully participate in society.
“I really levitated off the floor when I meditated,” a guest lecturer stated, shrinking into herself before a skeptical audience. Those sitting around me cocked their heads or snickered. Contrarily, to my surprise, I immediately thought "Of course she levitated".
It hits me as soon as I walk into the room: the loud chatter of folks settling in and catching up with fellows from other houses, the sight of the candle-lit altar in the center of the room, sometimes the scent of incense floating on the air mixed with a coffee aroma. All of this buzzing energy is held by the clean white walls of the the training room at 40 Prescott Street, decorated with praxis posters and Dorothy Day quotes.
A couple of weeks ago, after a fabulous birthday party, I was on vacation at my home in the mountains of North Carolina. I spent the week and a half on the side of a mountain in a house that has been in my family since my great-grandfather. The property is surrounded by National Forest on three sides, and an Episcopal retreat center on the fourth side, which leaves a view of God’s undisturbed and magnificent creation.
Every day on my commute during Life Together, I would get off at Park Street station and head up the hill toward the Statehouse, to the Massachusetts Council of Churches office. I couldn’t have imagined early in that year that two years later I would be a street minister on the Boston Common.
On our final day last week of vacationing in the Green Mountains, (before making our pilgrimage to that den of cheddar and chocolate temptations, the Cabot Creamery Annex in Waterbury, Vermont) my family and I went for one last hike in the woods. As we set out from our car, a woman pulled up, rolled down her window, and said to us, “Do you know about the Candy Tree?”
In the spring of 2011 my partner Reed Loy and I had been together for two years, and engaged for several months. We had been doing work that called to us- he in campus ministry and I in environmental education- but in different parts of New England. We each wanted a change, and we wanted to be together while doing so. We needed a change because the work we had been doing, while in our desired fields, had sapped our spirits a bit...
As I prepare for disorientation in a few weeks, I can’t help but to think back to our orientation. Like many of you, my time this year has stretched me in ways that I never thought I would be stretched. I am much more thoughtful about my role in systems and much less excited by weekly taco nights than I was when I entered this program 10 months ago.
On Saturday, May 14, one hundred and forty of our friends, supporters, and alumni gathered in the Cathedral Church of St. Paul to celebrate Life Together’s success and the faithfulness of our outgoing director, the Rev. Arrington Chambliss.
I came to Life Together at 21 and somehow already burnout, done with Christianity-- tired of being a sinner, scared of what I would have to give up to be a saint. I found life here, in the transformative power of community, I found new life! So in many ways, even though it’s May, I feel like it’s just the beginning.
Now that I’m back home in Oklahoma, managing a database at a hospital foundation, I am continually reminded of my community in Boston. When I am tempted to isolate myself, I remember their encouragement, support, and the challenge and reward of relying on more than yourself. Labor may conquer all things, but without community I know I can’t continue to work toward justice in our world.