“We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.” ― Dorothy Day
As humans, we will inevitably experience suffering. However, our purpose in life is not to suffer alone, but to love together, in loving and authentic community. But what do I mean by a “loving and authentic” community”?
When I arrived on campus in August of 2010, I found community almost instantly in Brockman Hall, as I lived with two amazing women who are still two of my best friends. Through them and Manresa, I met a network of new friends and by November, fifteen or so of us were inseparable and calling each other family. I found the people I would spend the next four years of my existence with and it felt so wonderful. I felt loved and supported and that I could really be myself with them, without judgment. I had found an authentic, loving community.
When my junior year started, however, I very suddenly and unexpectedly felt isolated from this community when a romantic relationship I was in ended. I felt alone for the first time at Xavier and didn’t know what to do without the relationships I had nurtured for two years. I began losing who I was and I felt more and more alone and unaccepted. I wasn’t sure where to turn, but I eventually found myself relying on my relationship with God and on my Summer Service community for support.
Being a Summer Service intern was a blessing in so many ways. It allowed me to explore my major and do service working at United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Cincinnati. It educated me about structural injustice and frustrated me about the way our society oppresses its own people. It also allowed me to spend two months of my life living with 20 of my peers in a very intentional way. We weren’t living like a bunch of first year students hanging out in Brockman – we were sharing almost every part of our lives together, asking each other big questions and supporting each other as we tried to process answers. I had such a good summer, but didn’t realize the seeds that were planted in those two months. I didn’t expect to rely on my community when we weren’t living together – I didn’t see the depth and radical love in the relationships I had formed in two short months.
Many of the interns knew that I had experienced a break up and divide with my friends – that I was hurt and struggling. Only a few of them knew the extent to how much I was struggling, that it was making me question myself and if I was deserving of any community. I certainly wasn’t the best version of myself during this time of my life, but that, along with all the whys and hows, didn’t matter to them. They loved me in such a radical way — they didn’t judge me and they invested their time and love in me, even though we were no longer living together and even though I couldn’t emotionally give back to them.
Recently, I have heard this type of community building and love, a love that gives even if there is nothing to receive in turn, being termed as “radical hospitality”. It is the selfless, sacrificial love that Jesus showed in the way that He lived and through His death and resurrection. It is also the love that I believe my faith calls me to give to others. Radical hospitality is not, however, the way we are taught to love by a society that teaches us that materials and people are disposable — that we should get rid of things when they are broken or could harm us and that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be vulnerable. This is precisely why such love is radical.
The concept of radical hospitality and what I am calling “radical community” is one that is especially important to now as I am blessed to be serving as the Summer Service Student Coordinator. Being in this role reminds me that sticking 21 people in the basement of Brockman isn’t what forms real community. That building this selfless, loving and radical community that we are called to is very difficult, almost exhausting. The 2013 Summer Service interns may not look like the most diverse group on paper, but they certainly all bring different gifts and challenges to our community. They have already been such a blessing in my life in their own way and have shown so much love for each other. Many of them feel exhausted after running around with children at camp or grappling with heavy topics all day, such as homelessness or depression. After their work days, it can be hard to give all of themselves in a loving way to their community, and to expect nothing in return. However, they are doing just that in so many ways and can grow into doing it in so many more.
I believe many of them have discovered that building true community is difficult, just as I have. I believe many of them have found the reason we are all living together in Brockman isn’t just to have fun, but to love each other in the face of loneliness and struggle. I hope that the way they are called to radical hospitality in our community becomes a way of life– that forming authentic relationships and selfless love doesn’t stop after July 26, 2013. I also hope they apply the concept in their personal lives and on a larger scale, as they work to make the world a better and more just place. We must all strive to make the human community a radically loving community because the justice and good of one person is intrinsically, although not always explicitly, tied up in the justice and good of another. It is only with radical community and radical love that we can overcome the loneliness and evils that exist in the world — “the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”
Thanks to the 2012 and 2013 interns and two wonderful mentors, Angela Gray-Girton and Greg Carpinello for inspiring this piece!
Rachel Snodgrass is the 2013 Summer Service Student Coordinator–which means she is the student who has to put up with being in the office with the CFJ staff ALL summer! Rachel has been all over the CFJ, most recently serving on the Encounter Retreat Team. She will be giving a monologue at Manresa this year, and next summer will be studying how occupational therapy can impact rehabilitation in prisons as a Brueggeman Fellow. We are so lucky to have her!