We are now approaching two months living into this new disrupting personal and social condition. Impacts have been various, determined by physiologies not yet known, preexistent medical conditions, economic placements, psychological dispositions and, sadly, racial and economic inequities, again, now made glaring. One halting aspect of this epidemic is its pervasiveness and invisibility which ultimately means that the way each of us moves through the world bears, even mortally, on others. If we use the image of personal actions and responsibility as reflecting a more comprehending truth, namely, we are all, for our well-being or misery, intrinsically connected biologically, intellectually, emotionally, in every human dimension. Understanding and enacting this multi-dimensional web of mutuality in our being together, opened out to include the natural world as well, will serve and secure our survivability, but also happiness, and from a faith perspective, our soul and spirit.
This World/American corona crisis has highlighted and confirmed VEC’s vision and mission to serve the common good, serve human needs and well-being, while presupposing and working toward a unity in diversity, and addressing inequities through the empowerment of participation. While I have been relegated to stay at home for physical vulnerabilities, it has been a joy and inspiration to witness the VEC team in action in response to the upheavals of the coronavirus, the courage, commitment, creativity, and collaborations, both inside and out. For us, for other institutions, communities, our country, and beyond, if there is something to be gained through losses, it will be to the extent we name and allow and choose for our transformation newly emerged or forgotten valuations. To name a few large but simple ones: the simple fact that the nature of our belonging to one another, worldwide, nationally, in the neighborhood, is total, and demands new ways of imagining life together; nature has quickly been showing signs of cleansing; and another reality folks have named is that, for many, the pace and breath of our lives has compromised simply spending time with family. We can all name the life enhancements we have recently seen come to the fore. It will be the ones we see together, and agree, and set our feet to, which will transform our lives together.
As many have recently said, the coronavirus is making manifest the best and the worst of human beings. It also makes manifest enduring human tensions and issues, social, political, and I would add as someone who thinks of these things, existential. It is our confrontation with the loss of final control, ultimately mortality, which spins out all our other stresses and is the backdrop of our ultimate anxiety. Far from being a damper, reflection on mortality can be purifying and lightening since it brings life into focus. For the last several years thefollowing words of Dag Hammarskjold, the second Secretary-General of the United Nations, have been for me something of a koan. He writes in Markings, “Do not seek death. Death will find you. But seek the road which makes death a fulfillment.” At a breakthrough turning point in his life Hammarskjold arrived at a transformative understanding of “Thanks!” and “Yes!” “For all that has been—Thanks!” “To all that shall be—Yes!” However we understand to translate the meaning of “Thanks!” and “Yes!” to our own life and history, it is an answer to the problem of death. “If I must die someday, what can I do to fulfill my desire to live?”
Let us each, and all, follow the threads of “Thanks!” where we are grateful for life’s presentations,and “Yes” where we are relaxing, surrendering, and consenting to life’s presentations. Following the threads lead to “Thanks!” and “Yes!” permeating the whole of life, even into our contradictions and failures. I suspect we will find, each of us configured within the contours of a unique life, a shared horizon of our belonging together, and where we are giving ourselves away for the life of others, we may note the bubbling up out of us and between us a life and love that is freely given and is our security and joy, and future.
Co-founder/Director of Multi-Faith Services
Village Exchange Center
Peace In The Time Of CoronaVirus
In Mid-March, only days ago, after the meaning of the CoronaVirus impact became clear, and we feared for life, and markets crashed, and people began hoarding, one of VEC’s board members shared at our virtual meeting with an abrupt and quivering voice a business associate had just committed suicide in the face of his immediate and projected personal losses. At that moment, for myself, and I’m sure for others within that following awkward silence, in the hearing of this ultimate tragedy, all the recent glimpses of peoples’ floating fear, anxiety, grief, and creeping depression and despair, converged to present the depth of this thing we are confronting.
The CoronaVirus is infecting our sense of well -being. To be sure, death and loss has always ushered utter disorientation, and this age, this culture is not immune. The communities we walk with and serve at VEC, refugees, immigrants, and the poor in our neighborhood have, in varying degrees, already dealt with death, violence, displacement, and loss. I search for how the current existential upheaval is being experienced. Anecdotally, there seems a predominance of courage and hope, something to unpack, perhaps another time.
We are all afraid, and anxious within the tensions of our knowing and unknowing, and where we experience loss, we grieve. These are all-natural responses, designed, if you will, to spur us, to help us to look, to re-examine, to re-evaluate, and to re-engage. To the extent any of us shut down in depression and despair, and are not moving toward re-engagement, we are at risk for our well-being and life.
This is a time to look for and help our neighbors who are showing signs of being at emotional risk. Our collective focus right now, necessarily so, is physical survival; there is no helping someone who is dead. Now, after the initial shock, it bears on us, in addition to the critical address of bodily survival, to simultaneously look for neighbors and ways to serve our total human well-being in the face of ultimate threats and loss.
Peace is the overflow of well-being. In the first Christian centuries, peace was not understood as a subjective, individual or private experience, as we understand today. Rather, it was understood as a condition of communion, of connectivity, of being in relationship, resting, being healed, in the safety and fulfillment of whatever it is we are, but is only discovered and secured in being together. Here, the “Rest in Peace” of ancient memorials means the enjoyment of a communion of being and persons. From a faith perspective, relationality is the ground that opens to, is buoyed by, a relational transcendence, where a Life of life sustains, is for us, and is guiding us all together. But whether one believes in a transcendent God or not, the engagement of being in relationship, in mutuality, and a sense of belonging, is life-encompassing, and life-giving in itself. A sense of belonging is universally, before any attributions, an experience of safety, general purpose and joy.
The help and solicitation of our friends and associates who are at emotional risk, who are emotionally removed and isolated, will involve strategies to connect them to bring them into relationships. This is more than merely a fix to get by, to survive, although that, for the moment, however strategic and tentative, is legitimate, but moving into relationship is the future, is humanizing, is an increase of what we are, and our well-being. The first exposure and anchor of the strategy to help another is yourself, a person of care, who presents an orientation. The realm of possible directions will be selected from the world of your friend, your world, and the world shared. It will require allowing the following of what presents. But the essential link leading to other orienting relationships is your relationship with your friend in need.
Once we know the essential “what,” the human good of relationality, and helping to bring folks into a sense belonging, however difficult the process and discovery of the “how,” the specific paths into relationship, we are already stumbling together toward reality and life.
Our concern and efforts continue to be for the most vulnerable among us, physically, and emotionally. Our solution, for the well-being of all of us, is staying connected, serving, being in relationship, being for the other, and within that witness, lifting into community our brothers and sisters who find themselves slipping into depression and despair.
Times of crisis force us to re-examine, re-evaluate, and re-engage. Let us walk there together in confidence and hope, given to us, to discover the new ways and commitments of our future together.
Peace to all of us.
Rev. Marcel Narucki
Director of Multi-Faith Services and Co-Founder
Village Exchange Center’s 3rd Anniversary Celebration
The following content was originally given as the opening speech at our Anniversary event.
January 22, 2020
We are living in critical, insecure times, environmentally, socially, and politically, and one of our larger frustrations is not having adequate narratives to comprehend the whole of this historical moment. Narratives provide directions forward for the future, hence our anxiety.
But while we may not have the narratives today there are solid reasons for hope.
There is a Russian saying that “Beauty will save the world.” Far from Romantic fluff, this is a profound, useful idea for us today.
Beauty is the coming together of forms, across all human experience, that are deeply satisfying to the human spirit, to our well-being. Aesthetic experience is the meeting of my most profound longing answered in the abundant relationships of the world. This is critical to name, because where we do not have adequate stories to orient us, we nevertheless have the main characters who will shape the story. What we find beautiful is beyond our willing, beyond our intellect, politics, beyond our determinations. And it touches the whole of us, emotional, intellectual, and relational. So, we can trust what we find beautiful; it is trustworthy for our well-being and our future. Where we gaze on beauty, we are always on the right track because beauty is always attended in some way by truth and goodness.
Where the perception of Beauty is happening, bricks are being laid toward an emerging path for future. A small personal example: my mother emigrated to the U.S. from Mexico when she was sixteen. Out of a desire to succeed, and out of shame, my mom basically disowned her Hispanic heritage and sought to shake her accent, totally adopt American dress. We didn’t even have Mexican food in the home. I think my chile addiction is a compensation for repressions. In conversations with our refugee and immigrant friends and partners today, I don’t hear the same disaffection with their cultures. Just the
opposite. The Kachin traditional cultural dance we just enjoyed happened because Pr. Naw Bawk asked us if his community could dance for us. There is a desire to keep cultural values and expressions, cultural identity, throughout the work of social integration. That’s a good thing, a historical shift, that I think is part of a growing sense of global citizenship which will, no doubt, inform our decisions of living together into the future. That’s a beautiful thing to behold.
So while we may become discouraged as we follow trends, let us remind ourselves that there are many other perhaps less immediately evident trends that are at work poising us for new, responsive ways of doing things. We may not have the large narrative, but we can name the good things happening in our midst, we can take comfort where we see beauty coming together.
When Amanda and I first conceived the Village Exchange Center we committed ourselves to nurture a culture of belonging. Wherever any of us experience well-being and happiness there is some backdrop experience of belonging. This culture of belonging is multi-faceted and is made up of what we’ve identified as continuum of relationship experiences. Especially important are the relationships between older, hosting Americans, and newer, recently arrived Americans. These are: Exposure, Encounter, Exchange, and Celebration. Exposure is being in the same room with the other. Encounter looks into the face of another. Exchange is the happening of mutuality and reciprocity. Celebration is the affirmation of the other, as other, an other to whom I belong. Each of these aspects of relationship are happening every day at the Village Exchange Center in sometimes messy and surprising ways, but happening they are. We are grateful for this beautiful thing. And we are grateful for our beautiful friends and partners. Tonight, at the culmination of the relationship spectrum, we celebrate. Let’s enjoy and have fun.
Rev. Marcel Narucki
Village Exchange Center
Director of Multi-Faith Services and Co-Founder
January 22, 2020
“Beauty will save the world,” is an intriguing phrase out of a Dostoyevsky novel which has been notably repeated and explicated within the Christian Russian Orthodox tradition. Beauty understood as a fold of ultimate reality is not new to human experience. In the 4th century we hear, “Late have I loved you, O Beauty, ever old, ever new, late have I loved you.” The human experience of beauty universally gives voice to the fact we are existentially and emotionally attracted, in ways not immediately evident at first, to the meaning of our life and its unfolding. Whatever it is human nature is, beauty serves as an attractant toward our actualization. Because it is a human being who sees, beauty carries within itself the qualities of goodness and truth, so that, for example, part of what makes a sunset beautiful is its sheer gratuity.
Beauty as the lure of our ground and future addresses the whole person, senses, awareness, intelligence, emotion, all of it engaging the part of us that says “yes,” our agreement and participation with the given. Beauty is a thread within our lives which gives primacy to experience over thought. Beauty links us to reality, to be responsive and alive to it. At a time when so many seem allergic to propositions of truth and behavior, and with some seemingly to work to annihilate truth, “Beauty will save the world,” still holds promise. The human experience of beauty, in myriad forms, arises from, and returns us to, our belongingness, to the world and one another. A simple instance, at one of our recent food pantry events which also featured a barbecue, I was given pause to see a young Muslim woman who had just come off the fast of Ramadan jump in to serve pork hot dogs. She did so with gusto, in freedom and pleasure. The image was beautiful, and I told her so the following week. It spoke of a person simultaneously saying “yes” to her faith tradition and to the human family.
Beauty satisfies desire within us, shaping desire, and giving pleasure. Pleasure is not something which is just sort of fooling around, it attends creating things, struggling for justice, whatever one desires and does well. When a person finds his or her greatest, deepest pleasure, it is their vocation they are discovering, in full, deep breaths.
In our culture, the truth and depth of beauty is lost to entertainment and commerce. An absolute requirement for beauty to work its power for our human transformation and maturing is an inner life. Spiritual writer and psychologist, Henri Nouwen, once said to a friend in a conversation about Dag Hammarskjold’s Markings, “Most people don’t have a rich inner life.” An inner life begins with beauty and it sets us off on a spiritual adventure. Life of the spirit is a life of knowing and loving, of hope and peace, and friends and intelligence. It can be described as attention to the life within beauty, the life of life, the core of my own identity and of others, and because I am looking at a reality beyond what can be objectified and named, it is a simple unconditioned gaze, a ‘yes,’ a loving, trusting, receiving gaze, in other words, it is resting in the presence of God. An inner life, traditionally called ‘contemplation,’ is the silence within which we hear discoveries of new modes of being, or, of an inner life. It covers a spectrum of expression including dedicated periods of time, spiritual reading, and simple human engagements. Older cultures, such as represented by Village Exchange partners who worship here weekly, the Nepali, Congolese, and Kachin congregations, are all familiar with inner lives. Inner lives are evidenced for me by the faces of our Nepali congregation as they prepare for common worship individually and in small groups with rhythmic liminality-inducing prayer. Our Pentecostal Congolese Congregation prays in the tradition of tongues which is a non-conceptual praise which leads naturally to contemplation. Here too, faces give evidence of an interiority.
Religion without an inner life is mere ideology, in competition with other ideologies. Spirited with an inner life, faith becomes communicable, beyond argument and intention, a presence comprehending the whole person, body, mind, and heart, lit, as it were, by grace. It is in this manner the way of beauty communicates life to others, gifting possibilities to be invigorated with the ability to love life, acquire an unshakable self-confidence, stand on one’s own feet, in the divine beauty that is the belongingness of the spirit.
Rev. Marcel Narucki
Director of Multi-Faith Services
Village Exchange Center
Many of our refugee and immigrant partners at the Village Exchange Center find themselves in a diaspora condition, lifted out of land and culture, seeking to keep critical values and mores in a new social context. For these communities, values are often rediscovered and clarified in the sometimes-painful play of social tensions. For the established hosting community, a genuine welcome of the foreigner means leaving some of what is familiar and is therefore also a movement into diaspora. Today, globally, historical forces are thrusting our stabilities and securities into unknown arenas.
Just hours before his untimely death, the Christian monk and writer, Thomas Merton, declared, “from now on folks, everyone stands on their own feet.” More than a casual statement, Merton was addressing our post-modern condition of loosened trust and dependence on traditional institutions and centers of meaning, “the centre doesn’t hold.” His insight was no doubt significantly gleaned from his personal experience of solitude as a monk which enabled him to read an emerging experience of solitude in our culture, of an individualism which necessarily follows the collapse of the security of institutions.
Individualism left to itself is prone to curl in on itself, thereby smothering the possibilities of relationality and the openness of the Spirit. But when an individual follows the thread of experience toward a unity of life and people, the person enters the paradox of our time, the individuated person creating and manifesting unity. The individual is appropriating the universal truth of unity. And when this is happening across a diversity of cultures, something new is emerging within history. The autonomous person, for all the endured vulnerability, feels their agency and freedom, and their capacity for ownership of things chosen. The experience of freedom, in the context of our movement toward unity, is also surrender, because we are discovering something already given, intrinsic, already belonging.
Standing on our own feet, turned toward our meaning, we discern something most basic, universal, inescapable, having to do with our total, intrinsic belonging to the world and one another. In the space cleared between our personal freedom turned toward the world we discover in a new way an old truth. Faith traditions have long voiced this truth, but perhaps our time reveals its fullness and necessity.
Belonging presupposes a given unity, and diversity is the intended splendor of life. As Rabbi Sacks points out, “Look at the world God created. He didn’t create one kind of tree. He created 20,000 kinds of tree. He didn’t create one language but 6,000 kinds of languages. The miracle of monotheism is that unity up there creates diversity down here.”
The Quran says that God made “peoples and tribes that you may come to know one another.” Diversity offers human beings a deeper appreciation of the God-given world and ultimately of Godself. Buddhism clearly highlights diversity with our identity. Dogen gives the wonderful summary, “To study the way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things. To be enlightened by all things is to remove the barriers between one’s self and others.”
I recently have come to know Pastor Luke, from Camaroon, who is in the U.S. seeking asylum for his family. The stories he tells of violence in his homeland are wrenching. Our first days together focused on the horrific situation and urgent personal needs, but then we found moments to talk about less critical and more mundane aspects of life. Luke shared with me how over twenty years ago he, from the east coast of Camaroon, married his wife, from the west coast. There were strict taboos against inter-tribal marriage. It cost them both a decade of total rejection from their families. However, because of their insight and confidence in what is true, in recent years there have followed a number of inter-tribal marriages, enough for the communities to have taken a turn against the divisive taboos. Where people have the courage to enact our simple belonging to one another there is released and made available to others the possibilities of their own recognition. Because we already know. That’s the power of it; the center holds.
Rev. Marcel Narucki
Village Exchange Center
As we follow the increasing frequency of violent events, of white supremacists, of hatred toward immigrants, and aggression toward the other, people of good will are searching to find avenues of healing and wholeness. At the Village Exchange Center, in all our areas of service and empowerment, we are engaged with many folks who are working for justice within the presupposition of the ultimate value of all people. I feel compelled to say a few words about the inside of these commitments, from the perspective of faith, because once we find ourselves aligned in the fullness of our humanity with the purpose of God, all actions requiring discernment toward others and ways of being in general will follow more easily and securely.
A spirituality of belonging usefully frames the progression of the journey of faith. The reality of God, however expressed in the varied traditions and ways of faith, intends us toward an integrated union with the created world, the human family, and Godself. One way to express the path to belonging is to see the unfolding of faith follows a pattern, a trajectory from loneliness to longing to prayer to love, a love which gathers us and unites us in every human connection.
The greatest human suffering is isolation, aloneness, alienation. Despair and violence are the inevitable outcomes when there is insufficient light breaking into experience of the isolated individual and the shared reinforcing isolation of certain groups. When there is sufficient light—a light which always in some way issues from some kind of relationship leading to more relationship—loneliness gives rise to longing, at first perhaps a mute longing, but one which because it drives our search and is already grounded in latent possibilities, begins to discover purpose, areas of meaning which are always an expression of belonging is some form. It bears on us daily when we encounter and engage those who are caught up in despair and violence to counter with whatever possibilities of light the situation presents.
Longing gathers the human experience to anticipate and move toward its destiny. It is the already groping, bubbling-up presence of the end point of our journey. When longing begins to discover its voice, it is discovering prayer. Prayer is our response to an understanding that we belong to something bigger, who is the source and creator of all that is. We learn all our relationships with creation and other human beings, although necessary and comprising our humanity, do not plumb the depth of our yearning. All genuine relationships, the beauty of creation, life with our pet-mates, the mutuality of friendship, although in a sense complete in themselves, spur and increase our longing. We are made for God, and through our union with God, seeing and loving through God, we are joined with everything and everybody. Deeper dimensions of prayer involve listening and surrender and are therefore about transformation. And because it is a love that comprehends and precedes us, it is disarming to the core; it is a true transformation. Prayer simultaneously increases and satisfies our longing because it voices the exchange of love happening at the heart of the world.
I hope those who are involved with the care of people and who come from some faith perspective will find some resonance here with the trajectory of faith and belonging. Belonging ultimately has to do with the unity of all held in God.
Given our awareness today, we think and act locally and globally. We can feel overwhelmed by our concerns. While there is no turning back in our commitments to our fellow human beings, we can take comfort and draw strength from the fact that each of us is engaged in a work much larger than we are capable and the success of our work does not reside in our power. There is peace, and joy in the awareness of our participation in life, and its source, the Life of life. If we are inherently connected to the whole human body, in a myriad of physical, emotional, and psychic relations, but most significantly connected at the source, God, we can take solace that we are channels of grace, and that where we touch one person, we touch the whole body, the whole world.
Rev. Marcel Narucki
Director of Multi-Faith Services
Village Exchange Center