BY BEN FEITEN | November 18, 2016
The last time I held a baby was a few weeks before my JV year started. I felt so lucky to be able to hold my cousin’s new baby in my arms for the first time. Anyone who has ever held a baby can likely understand. Whether he or she is asleep and silently laying in your arms or is awake and smiling, it is a wonderful experience of consolation and joy. I would imagine that this is what it is like for God to hold us. My service at L’Arche Tahoma Hope in Tacoma, Washington and my experience praying the Spiritual Exercises in Everyday Life (SEEL) are helping me to learn that God holds me like this in so many different ways.
During my October SEEL retreat day, I heard the line “Behold God, beholding you and smiling.” This line resonated with me immediately. I began to ask myself, “How does God hold me and how does God smile upon me?” Instantly, I thought of L’Arche and the core members there who experience developmental disabilities .
I thought of Shann, a core member who enjoys lightly bumping heads and saying, “bomp” as it happens. After a “bomp,” Shann will let out a smile, a laugh, and occasionally a few claps. With each “bomp,” I find myself silently saying “thank you.” I find a thank you for my time with Shann, a thank you for how she lifts my mood, a thank you to L’Arche for teaching me so much, a thank you to my community for how they have supported me, and many more thank yous. Through this, Shann helps me to live in gratitude—a lifestyle that allows me to feel held by God.
I thought of Ricky, a core member who desires to help others in any way he can. Ricky is someone who always wants to open and close the doors of the house or car for people, help raise and lower ramps for loading core members into cars, and much more. But even more, Ricky holds people in the way I imagine God wants to hold us and how I hope to hold others. Ricky gives hugs to people in a very gentle and loving way and often combines it with a light kiss on the shoulder. When I see this action, I feel as if it says “you matter to me” just as God says when He holds us.
I thought of a core member named Nancy, who enjoys joking around with assistants and core members. When I think of Nancy with regard to the line “Behold God, beholding you and smiling,” I associate her with smiling. Nancy has one of the best smiles that I have ever seen—a smile that can brighten my day no matter what mood I might be in. Like Ricky’s hugs, this smile says, “you matter to me.”
Of course, serving at L’Arche isn’t always easy, but it is in these moments I learn how God holds me in my struggles. Whether it is a difficult transition with a core member, a difficult time feeding someone, or something else altogether, I find that God is teaching me to be patient. In learning to be patient, I once again feel myself being held by God.
L’Arche offers me so many gifts while also allowing me to give freely of my own gifts. But I have to say that the opportunity to “Behold God, beholding me and smiling” on a daily basis is a gift I am so incredibly grateful for. In teaching me how I am held by God, L’Arche is also teaching me how I want to hold others and this is incredibly important, especially when it comes to social justice issues. In holding others the way God holds us, we can better learn to empathize with the oppressed and work together for a more just world. So I ask you, how are you held and smiled upon by God? How do you wish to hold and smile upon others?
#JVReflects explores the intersection of faith and justice from the perspective of JESUIT VOLUNTEERS serving as long-term volunteers both domestically and internationally with Jesuit Volunteer Corps and Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest. Reflections specifically focus on the cornerstone values of the Jesuit volunteer experience: spirituality, simple living, community, and social justice.
Ben Feinten serves as a Jesuit Volunteer in Tacoma, Washington with L’Arche Tahoma Hope, a community of people with and without developmental disabilities, sharing life together.