A friend of mine asked for my new address the other day. I have typed my new address into numerous forms over the course of the past few weeks, I saved it in my GPS system as home, but it was not until she made a comment (Grace Street, Nice!), that I realized that I would be living on Grace Street for the next year. What a coincidence and a blessing, a reminder maybe. My new home has been a place of prayer for the city since the 1860’s. The Sisters of Visitation moved here from Baltimore, MD to pray for a city ravaged by war and fire. I imagine that grace has always been at the forefront of their lives, of their vocation. It made me think of all the ways I might live on, in, through and by grace this year.
Last week, I was in search of a new laptop. You should know I hate shopping, it paralyzes my brain. All of the features, brands and options simply overwhelms me. In the mist of my search, I drifted to the L’abri website to get some information for a friend. L’abri is a place people go to ask questions about life and God within a Christian community. As I browsed the site, I came across their rules about technology. They urged people to leave their laptops at home, stressing that they were there to explore questions about the meaning and significance of their lives. They stated that a laptop would not assist in that. I thought that was both wise and ironic seeming that I was searching for one. It did however, make me think about what exactly I was doing at a monastery/ecumenical retreat center for a year. What am I really searching for? Myself maybe, clarity on my vocation, newness, freshness of life, to join others in things I love and want to grow in…prayer, community, humility, inner healing and restorative healing of the city in regards to race and urban issues. I am sure I will need a lot of grace (more than my new laptop) in figuring these things out, in walking and working them out.
The reading of God’s word and praying for the healing of Metropolitan Richmond will shape my days, it’s at the heart of our purpose here. I think it will be beautiful at times and a challenge at others, especially 7 am prayers (we pray for the city at 7 am, 12 p.m. and 6 p.m. daily). I think it will be a good experience though, to have prayer shape, form and provide rhythm to my life and days, constraints even. The community members sit in the first 2 rows of the chapel, the choir it’s called, in solidarity as we pray. We invite others, retreatants and community members to join us in our prayers. I think I will need a lot of grace to continue to listen and be open to the prayers and readings, even as they become dry and repetitive. I hope my soul ingests these prayers, Gods word, this community and that they will take root and bear fruit. I lead prayer for the first time the other day, it felt weighty, not burdensome, but with a sense of delight.
We eat after we pray in the refectory with retreatants. I will need grace to be present to these people and enter into authentic conversation. This will be tough at times. To emerge from my introverted self, to talk when I want to be quiet, to answer get to know you questions 100 times. One evening, I was tired and didn’t feel like chatting, but it happened that we got into a lovely conversation about our experiences with Christianity and the Church abroad. I have to remember that when I enter into conversations and move past my reluctance, I like it.
I ran that canal walk the other day, the route went along the James River from Church Hill to Belle Isle. The Canal walk consists of a few miles of history, beauty and art, peppered with markers, restaurants, parks and monuments along the river. I ran wide eyed and delighted. Once I arrived to Belle Isle, which is across the river, I sat with hundreds of other people along the large boulders that line the banks. I dipped my feat in the water, watched people splash around in their bathing suits and took in the view of the city across the river. I pray I have eyes to see this city, to get to know its complex history, culture, neighborhoods and politics. I’ll be helping to galvanize support for rapid transit, hoping to help Metropolitan Richmond both thrive and cross divides. I am new to transportation planning, to advocacy and organizing. There are all new players and names that I do not know, streets, relationships and organizations I have no knowledge of or context for. It’s humbling. I will need grace in the slow learning process. I’ll need wisdom to I navigate and explore issues of transportation, jobs, housing and race as we try to move toward cooperation. I am excited!
My first night here, I was invited to a birthday party for one of the residents who was turning 31. I said yes happily. I chatted and mingled, drank red wine, eat brownies and chips and generally enjoyed myself in this new environment. The next day, I went to his church and saw some of those same familiar faces. I even ran into some friends from Charlottesville. It was a sunday of testimony’s. I listened to the testimony of a woman who was married to a Mexican man going through the immigration process, a young black man talking about his struggle with anger and fatherlessness, an Asian man who works in Haiti promoting collaborative leadership, a black woman speak about the trials of seeking racial reconciliation and anger about what is going on in Ferguson. It was intense, but good to hear about the City and what God was doing from various perspectives. I will need grace to navigate race and relationships in a new city. I will also need grace in making new friends. I have not had to try to make friends in years. Now, I will have to reach out intentionally, to say yes and be vulnerable in moving into friendship. It will be good though, to have to reach out. I think my heart will expand as I take risks, extend invitations, accept invitations, to explore new terrain and community. Yes, grace will be what I need…lots of it. I hope my new address becomes both a reminder and encouragement to lean into God and live on grace.