Overlooking Jerusalem there’s a church I love, where “Jesus wept”. Instead of the dark stained glass and thick gold overlays it has a clear window that frames the temple mound and gives a beautiful view of the city.
In front of the altar is a mosaic of a mother hen with her wings around her chicks pulling them toward herself. Every month I feel like her; I pray that the volunteers will come together and I can “gather them like a hen gathers her brood.” But there is the one who was badly injured last week and the one who is sick and the one who’s stuck at the airport and so on.
Then I remember Henri Nowen’s reflection ‘I have always been fascinated by these wagon wheels with their wide rims, strong wooden spokes, and big hubs. These wheels help me understand the importance of a life lived from the centre. When I move along the rim, I can reach one spoke after the other, but when I stay at the hub, I am in touch with all the spokes at once.’
–Henri Nouwen, Here and Now (1994).
My primary task as an Ignatian Volunteer Corps Regional Director is to meet the volunteers and reflectors at the hub, in the centre where God joins us all together instead of racing around the rim trying to touch base with each “spoke”. That’s what the monthly gathering is to me. This week we began a new Service Year and gathered for the first time this “Year”.
I love to arrive early and prepare the table, with the help of a trusted volunteer. We make a space for everyone, and cover the table with cloths and a candle. Greeting each one who arrives is a ritual as well. Volunteers cluster around the room and the chorus of conversations begin—catching up with old friends and welcoming the new.
To paraphrase Pope Francis’ from ”Big Heart Open to God”, he encourages us to “live in tension…not to look too much in upon oneself, or put oneself at the center not to run the risk of feeling safe and self-sufficient. To always have before us the always-greater-God. This tension takes us out of ourselves continuously. ” we begin with prayer, “The Empty Tea Cup” and I fill a cup past full to overflowing and again share a passage from Henri Nouwen
A university professor came to a Zen master to ask him about Zen. Nan-in, the Zen master, served him tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he could no longer restrain himself. “It is over-full. No more will go in!” “Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I teach you Zen unless you first empty your cup?
I ask those gathered to empty their cups and make room for what God has to share with them and they sit in silence, emptying their cups, opening their hearts. The silence is a witness to their prayerfulness.
Each takes a turn reflecting on an experience of God since we last met and we are in awe of one another as each story is shared. No advice, no corrections, just honoring what God has revealed to each in his or her own way. “I spent the summer healing…” “I spent the summer on pilgrimage on the Camino…” “I prayed my way to St. Charles, MO in a storm… “I had a heart to heart talk with the guy from a grocery store that serves our pantry and he’s much more generous now…”and on and on. Grace filled moments shared and honored.
We celebrate Mass together and Fr. Joe Folzenlogen, our “Spiritual Animator”, encourages us to “speak with authority like Jesus” with our lives. He tells the story of how when he served in Indianapolis as the Director of Evangelism one pastor told him that he didn’t know how he could fit more RCIA candidates in the sanctuary come Easter. When asked why he was told that a good number of the eighty candidates came in response to a couple who had lost their 7 year old to leukemia that year. “We want to know the God that made them strong enough to bear that burden with such grace!” Fr. Joe truly does animate us to live the joy of the gospel even in tough times.
We eat lunch together, sandwiches, salad, fruit, chips, but most of all a heaping serving of good conversation and loads of listening!
Then we break into groups of 4 or 5 to discuss the article “A Big Heart Open to God”. We are guided by a set of IVC discussion questions, including: “Pope Francis answers ‘Who is Jorge Bergoglio?’ (a beloved sinner) How would you answer that question if it were posed to you? Who are you before God?”
Animated, vulnerable conversations rise from each group and there is a sense that we have found the Hub and gather round it! We end with gratitude, “May the Glory be to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen!” Compassionate service, caring community and contemplation are the hallmarks of IVC each time we gather.
Linda Wihl is the Greater Cincinnati IVC Regional Director (or as some of the volunteers call her, “the matchmaker”). As the Executive Director of Making Sense of Language Arts, she is also a service site partner and sponsor. Her favorite title is “grandma!”