I remember my first Love Matters, two days before I started working at Life Together. I remember the warmth and laughter that greeted me as I found my way downstairs, the familiar faces of Life Together friends I hadn’t seen in a long time. I remember nervously meeting the community of fellows I had been called to serve. And I remember the stories of fellows, challenging me to live into my deepest values, inspiring me to seek transformation and new life. Above all else, it is the stories I hear at Love Matters that stay with me, that help me lean into this work alongside our community.
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 Liz Marshall's stirring response is below. If you'd like to respond to the Rivers in the Desert prompt, email email@example.com
It is 7:30am and I climb out of bed after double-snoozing my alarm, I haven’t quite mastered becoming a morning person just yet. Dream walking downstairs, I find myself in the meditation room of 40 Prescott. For the next half hour or so, my three housemates and I will sit in contemplative practice as bold rays of sunshine contrast the small flicker of candlelight flames on the ground around us. It is in this silence that I’ll hear God’s quiet movement of paradoxical clarity move with tip-toed steps. It is the friend I have been waiting for.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.”
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.