Community. The place we call home.
This time, one year ago, I said goodbye to one of the most formative and challenging communities I may ever call home – Pearson College. The Pearson community includes not only an international body of passionate students, teachers, and families, but also an ancient forest and ocean of life. It is not a utopia, by any means; there are many rainstorms, and real-world tensions. But the community of Pearson nurtures a different reality than contemporary society. It is a body that operates on the principle of consideration of others, and the integrity of all voices. My friends’ stories became integrated with my own. Saying goodbye was a difficult process.
In the past year, I stepped back from Pearson. I came home to heal and reconnect with family after the strenuous two years. I realized that I had taken my task too ambitiously at Pearson, and I had lost true joy. Going in to college, I decided to reinvent myself – as strange as it sounds, I woke up one morning and heard the call to take the name Elizabeth. This year has transformed me by the power of relationships. I now understand my need to be integrated in community.
Like Pearson, Davidson is a bubble at times, a small liberal arts college on a beautiful landscape. Our community came to life for me the very first day when strangers offered to help move me in to my freshman dorm. Within weeks at Davidson, most faces became familiar and I adopted the Davidson custom of greeting strangers while walking to class. I remember how surprised my father was when our college president knew my name within a month of school. This means that I am always surrounded by people that know me; the “Davidson rule” taught me that if I talk about someone, they will appear within ten minutes. Community supports our academics in small classrooms, and open professors’ offices. Community at Davidson also extends beyond campus – since the first Sunday of the school year, I was drawn to the Davidson Friends Meeting where I found mentors and a new family. I have worked at the community garden, a flourishing gathering place of multigenerational volunteers near the town green, a center for weekly gatherings and festivals. The town is currently working to provide every child with computer access at home, a project I will be working on later in the summer. Davidson is a truly rare embodiment of relational commitment.
Throughout my journey this year, I have found home in several niches on campus. Within the first week at Davidson, I found community with freshmen eco-reps. I also found home on my small, welcoming, and friendly freshman hall – nurtured by hall sporting events and bonding activities. Over time, friends welcomed me into the interfaith movement on Davidson’s campus through a dinner club and group called Better Together. I was welcomed into an ecumenical worship community and open dialogue Bible study. Beyond activities, I found a family of friends that gathers over dinner and shares life in celebration and in struggle. The blessing of new sisters and brothers came through tea dates and prayer sessions, backpacking trips and sleepovers. Then, my vision of community extended to El Salvador, where our team from Davidson formed relationships of solidarity with the Salvadoran body of Christ that will influence the rest of my journey.
The strongest relationships I have experienced this year have shared Spirit at the center, the communion with the Light in our hearts. I feel most alive when I share walks, songs, prayers, and writings with companions on the journey of faith. This year, I feel the body of Christ spoke through the hands of friends guiding me through challenging questions, holding me in community. Each one of my friends and mentors has shown me how to love from my truest self.
Now, after a year at Davidson, I feel called to give myself to a new community this summer. Through many friends’ encouragement, I have been led to a college staff community at Ghost Ranch Retreat Center in Abiquiu, New Mexico. My excitement is overflowing as I sit on the plane for several reasons: 1) I have never been to New Mexico, 2) we will enjoy weekly campfires and many opportunities for adventure, 3) I will be working with youth and hiking through the desert canyons. And – before I go – I am spending time with friends from Pearson in New Mexico. It will be the first time I see Pearsonites in a year, and I am so grateful to finally reconnect!
Image Source – View from Ghost Ranch
I cannot picture what this summer holds in store, but I do know that I will be challenged and changed by it all. The intentional community I am joining calls me to be a joyful servant, to bring singing to dishwashing and simplicity to daily living. I feel led to surrender the “work as hard as you can” burden and give my energy to relationships with new friends, youth, the land, and God. I look forward to putting down my laptop and cell phone to pick up journals and hiking maps. While I am intending to have a technology-less experience as much as possible, I do hope to share stories with you and keep blogging.
This summer is leading me to words that begin with the letter “s”: surrendering, serving, singing. Serenity, simplicity, solidarity. Sun. Where is it leading you?
A prayer for your travels, from John O’Donohue:
May you travel in an awakened way,
Gathered wisely into your inner ground;
That you may not waste the invitations
Which wait along the way to transform you.
May you travel safely, arrive refreshed
And live your time away to its fullest;
Return home, more enriched and free
To balance the gift of days which call you.