At the St. Francis Inn, there is a sign on the inside of the door that says “Smile–Jesus is at the door!”, reminding team members and volunteers that no matter how late they are after the meal, no matter what their request is, whoever is at the door holds God within them.
What a gift that year was to me. However, instead of always wishing I could go back to that year and feeling like no experience after that could measure up, I can remember that what I learned during my FVM year and the relationships I formed are within me forever.
A quote I’ve fallen in love with recently that makes the same beautiful point as that sign at the Inn is this:
Our country feels more divided than ever, and the idea of communicating tenderly–of seeing God in each person–is harder for me these days than I would like to admit. Communicating tenderly with people who agree with me, who share my worldview, now that’s easy–but slowing down to gently and mindfully communicate with someone who has a different perspective from me is difficult. Learning how to be grounded in my own perspective and still be open to the sacredness of another human being is a lesson taught by FVM that I continue to practice daily. What I loved about FVM was the diversity of people who were drawn to its program–people of different ages, cultural backgrounds, religious perspectives, sexual orientations, life goals, and more. People with vastly different life experiences drawn together by their common love for other people. People practicing patience with one another and finding delight in one another. These are the qualities that I look for when forming relationships, as well as the qualities I seek to bring.
Healing requires a deep investment in each other. St. Francis Inn and FVM model deep spiritual and emotional investment in other human beings, other creations of God. To live in community, as one does during their FVM year, is to practice generosity of heart, forgiveness, and compromise. To be gentle, because we never know what kind of day our community member has had. To communicate kindly, because perhaps the driver that cut us off is rushing to the hospital. Perhaps our child who is acting out was picked on that day at school. During my year at the Inn, I can vividly recall times during a busy, understaffed meal when a guest wanted to talk or had a simple request. The times that I was able to slow down and focus on that person, to focus on God within that person, are times I never regretted. I am constantly reminding myself to do this–to be gentle and open to the Divine presence in each person, and to recognize that presence within myself.
Hannah McGrath, FVM Philadelphia 2015-2016