I don’t know if many of you know this, but I have lived in 3 intentional communities in my life. An intentional community is a group of people who live, eat, and pray together. The idea is to create a living environment that is supportive, where each member is thoughtful about how they interact with one another and how they spend their time. We care for one another, learn from each other, and grow together.
The first intentional community I lived in was in college and was called Romero House, named for Archbishop Oscar Romero from El Salvador. (If you’re not familiar with Romero, please google him. He’s amazing!). My second foray into community living was with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps NW. I lived for a year with 5 other volunteers in Anchorage, AK. And my third experience with intentional living was in graduate school. My housemates and I lived in a house on the edge of campus, right on a lake with a beautiful view. We were very lucky!
Through all these experiences, I’ve learned a lot about living with others - how to support one another, new ways to communicate, and how to have fun together. Of the many lessons I’ve learned about living with others, there are three that may be especially helpful during this season of “staying at home”.
Sharing space does not mean a free for all. Sometimes it can feel like it, when people are in your room and it’s difficult to find a bit of peace and quiet. Establishing healthy boundaries can give everyone more ownership over their living environment. These days, with “stay at home” orders in place for at least two weeks, creating healthy living spaces will help us all make it through with a little more grace.
The first important part of setting good boundaries is creating a routine. For many of us, we are entering our second week of social distancing. Many teens are returning to virtual learning after spring break. There are dozens of suggested timetables online: how to break up your day between work, exercise, and fun. I encourage everyone to try them out, modify them, and find one that works for your family. Creating a routine can offer a structure and balance, two parts of a healthy life.
One of my favorite authors, Annie Dillard, describes the importance of a structured life:
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living.”
A second and very important part of boundaries is doing regular check-ins with those you live with. These can feel funny at first but are definitely worth trying and building in. A great time for this might be during or right after supper (followed by prayer -- more on that below). With the Peer Ministers at SJA, we begin our check-in with highs and lows. Everyone takes a turn, speaking for as long or as short as they would like without interruption. This is an opportunity to reflect on the day. Ask yourself: what went well today? What brought you joy? What inspired you, challenged you, discouraged you, lifted your spirits?
Check-ins provide an opportunity and an invitation to slow down, notice where you are, what you’re doing, who you’re with. They are also a chance to practice deep listening to ourselves and to those we live with. As we begin to pay more attention to our daily lives, let’s also begin to pay attention to the stories of those with whom we share our lives. They might surprise us.
I know, I KNOW, the person you live with just finished the last of the milk and left the empty jug in the sink, and someone else walked through the house with muddy shoes, and dang it but the neighbors keep cranking up their music at all hours of the day and night. How am I going to survive?! How can I keep my cool?!
Living together in close proximity, with few outlets, can bring out our best selves and our roughest edges. That’s what community does.
It’s important, maybe even vital, to remember: we are all doing the best we can. We are all doing the best we can in a stressful, unexpected, unprecedented time.
Remember to breathe. Really breathe. When you are tempted to be annoyed or frustrated or short-tempered, take a second and take a deep breath. Ask yourself: can I assume this person isn’t trying to drive me up the wall by skateboarding right outside my bedroom window at one in the morning on a work night? (That’s a true story - it was during the summer in Alaska so in his defense, the sun was still up). Breathe. Ask questions. Try to listen with patience to the answer. Assume goodwill: that we are all doing the best we can. Because we are.
Praying together is a key part of living intentionally. It might be uncomfortable at first, and like most things in life it takes practice. One time to do this might be right after check-in. I recommend creating a routine around this as well: do it in the same spot every day, maybe light a candle, take a minute for everyone to center themselves by taking deep breaths.
Remember: you are in the presence of God.
There are so many ways to pray: you can use Scripture (the USCCB has all the daily readings for Catholics: http://usccb.org), poetry, silence, or prayers such as the “Our Father” and “Hail Mary”. Everyone can name someone or something they are praying for. You can end your prayer time together with everyone saying aloud something they are grateful for.
Lastly, I’ll leave you with a prayer I’ve been saying on repeat for the last couple weeks: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” This was written by Julian of Norwich, who was the first woman to write a book in the English language. What I find especially notable and comforting about this prayer is that Julian survived the bubonic plague and was still able to write these words of encouragement.
All shall be well my dear St Joan of Arc community. We miss you. We are grateful for you.
We are praying for you.
Our youth at SJA have amazing things to say. Our goal is to give them a platform to share their thoughts on topics they want to talk about. Their thoughts are uniquely theirs. From politics to faith, school issues to our church, this blog shares their voices with our community.