Reaching Within Blog
Reflections from students, staff, and faculty about how they're living their faith, engaging spirituality, or trying to integrate their lives meaningfully. This blog began in May 2012.
Tuesday, Jun. 11, 2013
One day a few weeks ago I woke up at 4 am panicking about graduation, “who will I be when I leave here?” I wondered, seriously concerned that as I drove away in June my identity would suddenly dissolve. After attempting to deny the fact that I was graduating stopped working, I moved into a pretty consistent state of anxiety. This year especially Santa Clara has felt 100% like home. The pieces have come together and I finally know who and where to go to find peace, joy, inspiration and love. And leaving behind those people and spaces is one of the scariest things I can imagine.
Santa Clara is the first place that has been truly mine, where I haven’t had to worry about taking care of other people or being the glue that holds my family together. In the past four years I finally had the chance to become me in a deep and genuine way I never allowed myself to before. I have found myself, found God and found a community that has nourished me so much. The anxiety I’ve been feeling is not based in a fear of what’s next, but rather in a fear of leaving behind a place that has become home and friends who have become family.
When I came to Santa Clara I called myself a universe person. After surviving a really hard year with my family and ending up at my dream school I knew there was something more involved than my own resiliency. I thanked the universe regularly but was resistant to religion and God because my experiences were either of boring masses that meant nothing to me or stories of exclusion and judgment. Then I came to Santa Clara and found SCCAP where I met people who were loving, accepting and committed to faith and social justice. I started going to the 9 pm mass and met numerous people who showed me that religion was not synonymous with judgment and exclusion. I was introduced to a God that was loving, accepting and wanted peace, equality and justice for everyone.
Junior year I studied abroad at the Casa in El Salvador where my whole world was turned upside down. I came face-to-face with deep suffering in a community of people who couldn’t always feed their children, whose homes collapsed when it rained, and who had the strongest faith I had ever encountered. Why did they have to experience so much suffering and how could they have such strong faith when they were living with so little? Where was God in their suffering? As I struggled with these questions, the Salvadorans taught me about liberation theology and the God they believed was with them, accompanying them in their suffering. Everyday I heard “gracias a Dios," thanking God for each other, the food on the table, the sunshine, every little thing they had. And “primero Dios” when you said goodbye, because only God could give us another day together. Again, they challenged my idea of God and introduced me to a loving, present and compassionate God.
At the same time, they taught me to be vulnerable and, for the first time, I let myself feel, I stopped trying to be strong and together and started to open up to my own pain that I had been hiding from. I delved into and struggled with my own pain, and felt more alive, more genuinely me, and more in touch with reality than I ever had.
Then the four months ended and it was time to come home. Although I had changed, most things back home hadn’t. So many people were unaware of the suffering that existed outside of their comfortable bubbles, and people I had come to love were still struggling to put food on the table in El Salvador. I felt alone, lost, and didn’t know where I fit in at SCU anymore. Just like resiliency wasn’t the reason I had survived in high school, strength and determination were not enough to get me through that time.
I didn’t want to be at Santa Clara, I wanted to be in El Salvador where at least I was in touch with the suffering and surrounded by community. But as hard as I tried to resist finding my home again, Santa Clara provided me with the community and spaces to slowly bring the light back into my life. JC [Landry] invited me to read at a reconciliation service and, crying through the entire service, I realized that I needed something else. I couldn’t do this alone and I couldn’t keep dwelling on the past; I had to move forward somehow.
In the spring I went on the silent retreat and for the first time in my life I asked God for help. I never even knew how to ask the people around me for help, let alone some abstract divine presence who I was afraid would judge me for not knowing or being enough. But feeling stuck and suffocated by that deep pain, I had to surrender my pride and fear and ask for help. I had slowly opened up to a different idea of a God who was loving, compassionate and not judgmental, and I finally let myself take a chance at my own personal relationship with him.
I started to pray, even though I had no idea what I was doing. I came back with a new hope that I would make it through this time. Through the Search community, writing a talk on reconciliation and slowly opening myself to God and the community at Santa Clara, I started to feel at home again.
These intentional communities that are committed to faith and justice are what make Santa Clara home. They give us the chance to ask the hard questions, be honest and vulnerable with one another, acknowledge the suffering in the world and find hope in a communal desire to make change. Through Search, SCCAP, Sunday night mass and so many incredible people on this campus, the person I found in El Salvador came to life at SCU. These communities showed me that the two places did not have to be separate but were connected in so many ways. I found what I loved about El Salvador at SCU--the things that made both home. And I when I wake up at 4 am afraid of leaving I find comfort knowing that I can find communities of faith and justice wherever I go, it just takes a little searching.
Next year I am going back to El Salvador to work at the Casa as a Community Coordinator. I will be living with students who are studying abroad, accompanying them as they too come face-to-face with suffering. And although leaving Santa Clara and my communities is scary I am so blessed to be going back to the place where I first found what really matters.
Sometimes I worry about returning to the country that opened me up to so much pain, but I have found that I am most alive when I am close to suffering. I am motivated by the honesty, strength, vulnerability and faith of people who suffer but know something about God that so many of us who have lived comfortable lives don’t know. I cannot understand their suffering, their joy, resiliency and strength, but to me that is proof there is something more out there, and in El Salvador it's hard not to feel close to the God of compassion the Salvadorans first introduced me to.
Again and again at Santa Clara we hear about finding our passion and going out to serve the world. The past four years have been full of people and experiences that have motivated me to make that a reality. Sometimes staying at Santa Clara forever sounds a lot less scary. But slowly I am seeing how easy, selfish and comfortable that would be. The nourishment I have found here is not meant to just live in me; I have to take it forward with me and share it with the world.
When filling out my application for the position at Casa I thought about the way it transformed me. The love, wholeness, community and honest understanding of the world I found there. Next year I get to continue to live into that and accompany students while they too find that. We as college-educated students are amongst the most privileged people in the world and I believe it is my responsibility to use that privilege to make change. I hope to continue to understand the reality of suffering so many are experiencing and live deeper into finding my place as a privileged white person in a world of inequality.
My decision to go to El Salvador next year isn’t necessarily the typical after college path. Lots of people look at me funny when I tell them what I’m doing and when I told my dad I got the position all he said is “how will you pay for your loans?” I am going to be far away, poor, and may come back more confused about what to do next than I already am. But my time at SCU has not taught me that I should be starting a life long career next year simply because it is comfortable. It has taught me that what’s important is finding my passion, learning about the needs of the world and combining the two into this thing they call a vocation. I am the best version of myself in El Salvador, I come to life accompanying others, being vulnerable and close to suffering. I know that next year I will be alive in a way that is honest, in touch and loving, and I hope that I can come closer to finding what that means long term.
Santa Clara is preparing us to take a commitment to social justice, faith, love and each other out into the world. In the last four years I have grown into a relationship with God that is about serving, loving and working for justice and I have found strength to carry that beyond SCU. I used to think I was supposed to be strong for everyone else, but I have found that being honest, vulnerable and asking for help brings us together. I have found wholeness in my brokenness and in the brokenness of the world. We find community, God, home and love in that suffering. Santa Clara has shown me that, rather than being about judgment and exclusion, a relationship with God and a home in the church is about love--about finding it, spreading it and living out of it.
Tuesday, May. 28, 2013
As I approached the season of Lent this year, I found myself looking for a way to truly get in touch with my faith rather than simply giving up an edible temptation. You see, in years past, I had usually decided to give up something like sweets or soda mostly with fitness, rather than spiritual, goals in mind. But this year, I was determined to use Lent not to fulfill my own petty goals but to deepen my relationship with God.
So as mid-February rolled around, I decided on two ways I could actively engage in my spirituality. Fr. Manh, after over a year of kind harassment, finally convinced me to join CLC. And in the same way I had never made the time for something as meaningful as CLC, I had never found the time to fulfill one of my goals since SEARCHing in the fall of 2011, Search Crew. So, this past Lent, instead of waiting for free time to find me, I made the time to get involved with Search.
The funny thing is, I was expecting to be somewhat immune to the way Search had impacted me the first time around, but instead, I think I actually got more out of it this second time.
I have always thought of prayer in a very traditional sense. You know the whole close your eyes, clasp your hands, and talk to God sort of thing. But while I was on the Search Crew retreat, I found myself experiencing God in an entirely unexpected way. After we had finished an activity, we had a little free time on the beach, so I went and stood at the water’s edge and closed my eyes. I expected to feel the refreshing sea breeze on my face and the sun on my skin, but I found that even without asking for Him, I felt God surrounding me at that time. I didn’t try to explicitly talk to Him, but rather, I just let the two of us be together on the beach. And it was peaceful and perfect.
I had never experienced God before in that manner, and I think the Search atmosphere allowed me to be open to something I never could have even imagined. You know when you get to a point in a friendship with someone where it’s no longer awkward to sit in silence with each other and you don’t feel obligated to fill it in with meaningless questions? Well, after 21 years, I finally reached that space with God, and it was pure bliss.
Tuesday, May. 21, 2013
In the course of my Christian life, I have met many Christians who fear immersing themselves in other religions. They often say that they fear losing their faith, or feel no need to study other religions when they know that Christ is the Way. I do not understand the mentality of these "prophets of doom" who feel their faith threatened by the presence of those who believe differently. But for me, embracing the unknown is a crucial part of being Christian, especially in our interreligious world.
My religious formation has always been interreligious. When I was 20 and in RCIA, I began meditating at a local zendo, immersing myself in the apophatic mystery. Around the same time, a chance encounter with an acquaintance converting to Judaism led to my taking Biblical Hebrew lessons from the local rabbi. More recently, I spent last summer at Rangjung Yeshe Institute, a Buddhist Studies program attached to a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Kathmandu. As part of this program, we had a 10-day meditation retreat after the course was over. On the eighth day of the retreat, a group of students and I hiked up a nearby hill to a Hindu shrine to Shiva. Here we were, at ten at night at the top of a hill in a Hindu and Buddhist country studying Tibetan Buddhism - yet the conversation turned to Christ. This and other profoundly shaping experiences in my Buddhist Studies program did not diminish, but strengthen my faith. I empathize with Eboo Patel, founder of Interfaith Youth Corps, when he said that serious encounter with members of other faiths actually clarified and strengthened his religious identity as a Muslim. Most importantly, I feel blessed that I have always been welcomed as guests in these other traditions.
So for me, the experience of God in my life is not what some would consider "Catholic." I am not an avid prayer of the rosary. I do not go to confession as often as I should. I do not have any special devotions to saints. As a practitioner of an "interfaith faith," I seek to be both at the center of the Christian tradition and on the fringes, finding God in Zen meditation or rabbinic exegesis of the Bible. I find God in study, in encounters with others, in those moments in conversations where ideas I didn't even know I had are being challenged and overturned. All of these are graced moments, moments in which I feel Ignatian consolation of God's presence.
Jonathan Homrighausen is a junior double major in religious studies and classics. For the 2013-2014 school year he will be the Campus Ministry Interfaith Intern. Lately for fun he has been reading H.P. Lovecraft and parsing Hebrew verbs.
Tuesday, May. 14, 2013
When I started college, I was pretty uncertain about my spirituality and what that word even meant to me. As a senior, I still have a lot of questions. But I’ve become more comfortable with that uncertainty. I’ve learned that some things bring me peace, while other things bring me disturbance. I think that’s how I would describe my spirituality at this point in time. Father McCarthy discussed this phenomenon at our immersion kick-off meeting, and it really resonated with me. I’ve also learned that sometimes it takes those moments of disturbance or turmoil to redirect myself towards peace. After three years of experiences that taught me this dichotomy, I entered senior year hoping to take advantage of opportunities that I felt would lead me towards peace. When I think of the places where I find this feeling, I think of the authentic communities I have found at Santa Clara. One of these communities has been created through my immersion trips. Immersions have blessed me with experiences that tested, deepened, and nurtured my spirit.
Last year, I went to Arizona on the Navajo Nation trip. The opportunity to have a reflective week without the distractions around me at school was one that I embraced. It was a week where I felt more in touch with my spirituality than I had in a long time. I yearned to keep this feeling alive, and I applied to be an immersion coordinator for this year. Next thing I knew, I was preparing to lead the spring break trip to San Jose. I was correct in thinking that leading a trip would deepen my spirituality, but it did so in ways that I didn’t anticipate.
As a participant in the Navajo Nation trip, I had felt more present than ever. I was able to leave my phone, my classes, and my life at Santa Clara for a week of simplicity. My focus was on whatever person or moment presented itself to me, and I spent more time reflecting than I ever had at school. This year, as a leader, I was focused on making sure things ran smoothly. I had my phone with me and was constantly thinking of what was next. In some ways, this took away from the unique experience that I had as a participant. But in so many other ways, I was able to grow.
Throughout college, some of the experiences that bring people the most growth are contemplation, volunteering, community, and immersion into new environments. Being an immersion coordinator was an intensive way of experiencing a combination of these things. In the span of a week, I was exposed to the challenges and gifts that come with being a leader in an already intense environment. The combination of the immersion and being a leader brought up so many questions about myself, my spirituality, the suffering we witnessed, my vocation, my relationships, and my responsibility to others. I think it taught me that there is much more to my spirituality than giving myself time to reflect. My spirituality is tried, but also nourished by pushing myself. It deepens further by forcing myself to find out how I want to be better, how I can help make things better for others, and by exposing the questions in myself that can be challenging and sometimes uncomfortable to explore.
On the trip, we were asked to design a flag in response to the question “why do you do what you do?” I realized that, for me, I do what I do to revitalize myself and to instill that peace I talked about earlier. My response was “to fuel my spirit.” Experiences like immersion are really what do that for me. They remind me that there is more to life than what I see every day. They remind me what it feels like to be surrounded by authenticity. They also remind me that there is so much to work on in myself and in the rest of the world. The feeling of peace, the feeling of really being alive, doesn’t come from being comfortable. This is strange for me to realize, because I associate peace with comfort. But the feeling of peace I’m describing is so much deeper than that. It’s the feeling I have at my core when love fully fills me. I think what I’ve learned above all else is that I get this feeling from challenging myself, from shaking up my beliefs, from learning from people who are so different from me, and from being remolded to become more whole. My experiences at Santa Clara, immersion being a key one, have helped teach me this. I have gained a greater appreciation for the afflictions that can come during spiritual discernment. My path after I graduate is unclear, both spiritually and vocationally, but I hope that following what brings me peace will lead me in the right direction.
My name is Michelle Davidson, and I am currently a senior at SCU. I love to spend time with friends, travel, run, and be outdoors. On campus, I've enjoyed being involved in groups like SCCAP, EMS, and immersion programs. Over spring break, I led the San Jose immersion trip. It was a wonderful experience that taught me a lot. I will be graduating this spring and plan to stay in the area.
Tuesday, May. 7, 2013
The Virgin of Guadalupe is recognized as a symbol of all Catholic Mexicans and “Nuestra Morenita’s” brown appearance speaks to the mestizaje or mixedness of a new culture in the Americas, part native and part European. “La Virgen Guadalupana” is a celebrated Roman Catholic icon of the Virgin Mary and is considered by many the Patroness of the Americas. Like many other Catholics, the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe speaks to us about the strong connection she has with her “children” and her “pueblo.” La Virgen has been part of my life since I was a child and she continues to be someone I can always pray to and have faith in. The knowledge I have gained here at Santa Clara University has allowed me to have a deeper understanding of Nuestra Morenita. Professor Ana Maria Pineda is someone I can definitely thank for teaching me about La Virgen, because her courses revolve around La Virgen and the history and symbolism attached to La Virgen de Tepeyac. The Virgin of Guadalupe has been accompanying me in my path in life and she has shown me that she will always be with me in the best and worst of times.
As a young child I had always been taught to pray to La Virgen to guide me in the right direction and to always be my protector. La Virgen was someone I could reach out to in times of both joy and sadness and she always helps me realize how blessed I am. Although I had never really been in a situation of high stress and fear, La Virgen was with me and my family when we found out my mother had been diagnosed with cancer. This was a very difficult moment in my life because it was just weeks before I started my first year in college, and I was uncertain about what was to come, both for my family and myself. After much time of prayer and reflection I knew that the best decision would be to continue my dreams of attending college because this was something my mother had always hoped I would accomplish. My first three years at Santa Clara were great, yet I always continued to fear the worst for my mother. What kept me motivated and at peace with myself was the fact that my mother was being well taken care of and that I had a great support group here on campus. Not only did I have friends and professors who showed support and love, but I always knew La Virgen de Guadalupe was with me in my struggles.
It is not easy for me to talk about my personal life to others, but I chose to write this piece, because I believe La Virgen de Guadalupe performed a divine act, which I will never forget. On January 12, 2012, I received a phone call from my sister telling me how my mother had taken a turn for the worse. I was uncertain of what to do or even what to think about it, especially because I had planned to take a retreat with the Christian Life Community (CLC) just a day later. I was unsure of the severity of my mother’s condition and I did not know if I should plan to drive back home to Pasadena that weekend. That afternoon I went to the Mission Church and prayed before the image of La Virgen de Guadalupe and asked her to give me strength and to allow me to make the best decision. After much reflection and prayer that day I knew La Virgen was telling me to head home and be with my mother and all I could ask La Virgen for was to give me the opportunity to see my mother once again. All I could say is that I am blessed to have had the chance to spend one last day by the side of my mother talking about our family and dreams before she passed away on January 15, 2012. I am forever in debt to La Virgen for continuing to give me the strength, wisdom, health, and faith I have today. This piece does not do justice for how much I love La Virgen, but I hope this story can help others realize how faith and hope can help when they too face a difficult challenge in their life.
Luis Efren Aguilar is a senior psychology major who aspires to obtain a PhD in Clinical Psychology. If you run into him right now you might see a GRE study book under his arm. In his spare time he works out, follows soccer, and has a soft spot in his heart for the LA Dodgers.