Friday, May 21, 2010

March Madness Week 1: Walsh University, St. John's and St. Ben's

From February 28 to March 6 we welcomed Walsh University, and St. John's/St Ben's from North Canton, OH and Collegeville, MN respectively to the Farm. They were our first group in what is affectionately called March Madness around here. March brings the onslaught of college spring breaks. Many schools offer alternative spring breaks that introduce students to cultures and service opportunities much different than those they know. The Farm is an alternative spring break destination for many schools. To maximize this time, Bossman likes to schedule multiple groups in a row. College and High School groups come with their own unique blessings and challenges. While high school groups are a lot of fun and normally very enthusiastic, it is a truth that they require more supervision. The greater independence offered by college groups means that March Madness is a time when we can really get a lot done in the community without having to divide our energy into supervising.

Being the first of three consecutive weeks of March Madness, the details of this week are a bit fuzzy (again, sorry for my epic fail in trying to keep this thing updated). However, there were a few things that surfaced in the soupy mess that is my memory. Each group usually connects with one aspect or charism of the Farm particularly well whether it's simplicity, God's Time, community or any of the many others. This particular group really enjoyed being out in nature and the beauty that the Farm's grounds offered. They took advantage of the opportunity afforded by being away from the hectic atmosphere of everyday life and used Nature as a reflection source. While this was inspiring to watch, the three of us Farm Managers had forgotten over the winter what it was like to have access to the Farm's grounds so we hadn't emphasized that groups should check approximately how much time they had for hiking/ exploring after getting back from their worksites. That led to this hilarious scene:

We had gotten dinner prepared one evening. Whoever had dinner duty had guided preparation of the meal and had paged the staffhouse. We rang the bell and were gathered upstairs in the kitchen, waiting for everyone to show up. We waited...and waited...and waited. There were still a few volunteers that had yet to show up. Naturally, we started asking where they were. The volunteers that were in the kitchen responded that the missing ones had gone on a hike. So we sent one of the volunteers on a mission to retrieve their missing comrades. After a little bit she reappeared. We waited with bated breath for her to reveal where the rest of the crew was. She informed us simply that "They are across the creek in a tree and they'll be here in a bit". Needless to say we didn't really know how to react.

Her kitchen was a mess but she had a great grasp on the charisms

Besides our volunteers morphing into monkeys (though thankfully not contracting Ebola) there was another thing that stuck out to me. The Johnnies and Bennies left a day before the Walsh girls but we still had a reflection that night with the Walsh girls. It was a really excellent reflection that showed a lot of honesty and thought from the girls. I could really see how the Farm and its many gifts had affected them. No two reflection sessions are alike and there's really no way to differentiate a "good" reflection session. I think people are often intimidated by reflection because they think they have to come up with grandiose ideas or craft an eloquent dissertation on theology distilled into 30 seconds of speech. There are a few people who can package profound statements on faith and humanity in stunning soundbites of eloquence. But normally, the reflections that really have an impact are straightforward and, most importantly, honest. It's the honesty that gives a reflection its gravitas, not high-falutin words. Simple, honest statements about the week are always profound. And this reflection session was filled with examples.

One girl had been moved by meeting Herma, a local woman we often help because of medical conditions that render her homebound. She's a very intelligent woman who reads a ton of books and is a big fan of old Western series on TV like Bonanza. She has a lot of spunk and spirit despite having to rely on a motorized wheelchair to get around. The girl reflected that Herma really reminded her of an old woman she used to visit at home. Her visits became less and less frequent as the woman's health started to decline because it was very difficult to see her suffer. But after visiting Herma and seeing how much joy she took from seeing all the students, this girl realized that the woman she used to visit needed her presence now more than ever. Although it might be hard for her to see the woman in her current condition, she knows the impact that her presence has.

A second girl had a reflection that stuck with me. She started her reflection by saying that she thought she had done an excellent job at keeping her distance. She described how at some of the ministry of presence sites she had made the effort to not get involved emotionally. She had kept people at arms length, symbolically. It just wasn't her thing so she had constructed a wall between herself and the people she visited. It was a startlingly honest bit of reflection considering the Farm focuses on Ministry of Presence, saying that we work with our hands and our hearts here. But I think she realized that the Farm is also not about judgment and that the people in that reflection circle were not there to judge her, but to listen to her. That strategy of closing herself off had worked well, she continued, until that last day. We had gotten a call to deliver firewood to a couple in town. I had asked for a few volunteers and she came along. When we got there and began unloading the wood, the woman who lived there came out. She began thanking us and telling us how it was so cold in her house without the heat that she couldn't sleep at night. She began crying as she thanked us for the help because she was so overwhelmed that people would take care of her like this. As the girl reflected, while the woman was pouring out her gratitude she began thinking "Is this what I've been missing out on all week?". She was stunned at the depth of the woman's gratitude and how a simple delivery of firewood had brought her to tears. She vowed to remember that moment of realization and take it back with her to remind her of the impact that presence has on people. Strange that a reflection that had started out with thoughts that were the complete antithesis of the Farm ended up summing up one of the core elements of the this place so simply, yet eloquently.

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