Surrounded by the Sacred: Sharing our Stories and Creating Communities

27 Mar

Well the topic of this blog post just changed, in the last hour. I will save my other post topic for a later date, there is always time. But right now I think there is nothing more appropriate to blog about than the experience I JUST had this very morning. (Wednesday March 21st). I am currently on an alternative spring break trip with the Ecumenical Campus Ministries at the University of Kansas. We are at a place called Narrow Ridge Earth Literacy Center in the Appalachian Mountains of east Tennessee. This is the middle of our week long trip here, and I am sneaking away for a few moments to write this post. I feel as if I am writing with the rawest and most honest of emotions right now because I am right here in the heart of this trip, in the heart of this moment. Each morning of our trip we have breakfast, and then we do something called “Grounding and Heart to Heart”. During Grounding and Heart to Heart we start with a reading, and then we pass a stone around the circle two different times for people to talk. The first time we share about where we are, spiritually, mentally, emotionally, physically, etc at that moment. The second time we pass the stone around and respond to other people. The first few mornings were more surface level, and you could tell people were feelings things out, processing the experience we were having. As we spent the week together (gardening, working on trails, sharing meals, having discussions, going on day and night hikes, start gazing and becoming a little community) we began to share more and more with each other. This morning, at the apex of our trip (we leave Friday afternoon), the Grounding and Heart to Heart was extremely powerful. The way people opened up and shared their feelings, their internal processes, their appreciation of one another and their experiences with this trip were incredible. There were tears of both joy and sorrow, complete openness, inspiring words and a palpable human connectedness in the room. I am still reeling from the experience of connecting with ten other human beings on such an intimate level.

The reason I changed my blog post to writing about this is because it was such a special time, and the people in that room would not have had that experience with this place, with each other and with their own spirits without the community of the ECM being the vehicle through which experiences like this are possible. During the circle I felt so overwhelmed with my gratitude for the existence of the ECM and other progressive, open and affirming campus ministries that provide people these experiences that I was moved to tears. One of the themes of our circle that reoccurred was the uncertainly, the pain, the fear and the anxiety that comes with growing up, especially for people in their twenties, just about the average age of most people on the trip and that come to the ECM. This particularly struck a chord with me, because I am in the midst of all of that, as were many others in the room. The rawness of the emotions we expressed about this reality of our young lives was so genuine that it hurt, in the best way possible. I have always heard that the times we are hurting the most we are growing the most, and it was clear there were many growing pains in that room this morning. Our trip is not just young people, however, and we are blessed to have a couple from one of our supporting congregations in our group. Margaret and Tad have been voices of reassurance for all of us that there is no time in life that we have to know exactly who we are or where we are going, and in fact, we might always live with the uncertainty, but it is never too late to embrace it and live our lives. Margaret continually tells us this, in one form or another, and her confidence and the wisdom of her life has been something in which I others have found much fortitude. We are also blessed to have in our group two exchange students from Japan that have opened up and shared so much about their lives, their challenges here and their experiences with the natural disasters that shook their country just about a year ago this time. There are so many perspectives and experiences in this diverse group of people, I could go on and on about each one of them. But the point is that we came together as group because we were offered that opportunity through the ECM. The individual coordinators and people that made it possible (including myself as an employee of the ECM at the time) made it possible because we were a part of the ECM. The ECM empowered Jon, our coordinator, to see an opportunity and offer it to others. The community of the ECM enabled us to reach out and find Yuka, Fumiko, Margaret and Tad, who we might not have known otherwise. The power of a place like the ECM to bring so many different voices together and offer people experiences that powerfully affect their lives is something that is truly a gift. We were given the gift of being together on this trip, and we were given the gift of being at this place, Narrow Ridge, and learning from it and the wonderful, open, loving, committed and just amazing people that live and work here.

The role of campus ministries in providing people these opportunities to connect on a spiritual and emotional level is invaluable.  I feel as if there is so much more I want to articulate about the power and importance of these experiences but being so in the midst of it and feeling so many emotions myself I am somewhat at a loss for my usual ability to put these things into words. But I think that is a testament to the experience itself. I know that among the people on this trip there are people that have found something they had been looking for, been changed in some way, connected with someone they might now have expected to connect with, challenged themselves and others in many ways, or experienced any combination or all of these things.

In many ways, in where we are right now, we are surrounded by the sacred. We are in the beauty of the mountains, surrounded by the sanctity of the natural world and we are taking time to connect with it. We are surrounded by the beautiful and unique spirits of the people that we are with, and that is sacred. We are creating a group that is bonded by this shared experience as well as what we have shared with one another about our pasts, our feelings, our fears, our passions and our journeys, and that is sacred. We are surrounded by the sacred in a physical, emotional, spiritual and mental sense. We are both experiencing and creating that sacredness here, and we are empowered to take this back with us, and continue to cultivate this in our lives and our communities.

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Teresa Zaffiro is the Director of Religious Education at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship  (UUFT) in Topeka, KS. She is the former development coordinator at the Ecumenical Campus Ministries at the University of Kansas and continues to serve on the “Envision ECM” committee for long-term campus ministry vision and planning as well as has continued involvement in ECM programming and Leadership Team work.

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2 Responses to “Surrounded by the Sacred: Sharing our Stories and Creating Communities”

  1. lisa March 27, 2012 at 10:36 pm #

    This is beautiful, Teresa.

  2. Diana April 3, 2012 at 9:41 am #

    How very important it is that you created this space and experience in which these young adults COULD explore their inner lives more fully, and have the opportunity to go deeper. This is campus ministry at its best!

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