Vulnerability, Conflict, and Love: One Year Living in Saint Hilda's House
During mass on Sunday, we celebrated Pentecost. The Gospel passage that was read during the service helped me realize what it is that I have experienced here at Saint Hilda's House. In the reading, Jesus describes the Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of truth” (John 15:26) and says that, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). Living in community has, in various ways, helped me more fully live into truth.
The summer between my college graduation and the beginning of Saint Hilda's House, I completed an internship in Chicago. I had gone from living with some of the best friends I've ever had and being surrounded by community to living in a city I had never been to before where I knew absolutely no one. It was a drastic change—and a rough one. I have since remarked more than once that I didn't fully feel like myself in Chicago. By the time my internship was over, I was emotionally drained. A part of me wished that I would get to be at home for a bit longer instead of going to New Haven. The prospect of going to another new city and meeting yet another new sea of faces was overwhelming.
It was a pleasant surprise, then, when adjusting to life in New Haven was not the daunting task I had imagined, almost entirely due to the community that was awaiting me here. What a tremendous feeling it was to arrive to a group of people who were eager to get to know me and who were committed to experiencing life together!
It didn't take long for me to start feeling comfortable around my housemates. Anyone who knows me well can tell you that I'm an emotional person and that crying is one of the ways I sometimes express these emotions. Foolishly, I thought that I would be able to keep this side of myself under control while at Saint Hilda's House. At the very least, I thought I could delay revealing these traits to my housemates for as long as possible. As is inevitable when we make such haughty plans, I ended up being much more vulnerable early in the year than I had anticipated when I became upset about a situation involving people outside of the house. Though it was embarrassing to find myself crying in front of housemates I barely knew, this was what made me realize just how valuable this community was! Despite not knowing me well yet, they showed such care for me. If they were scared off by emotions, they showed no sign of it! I realized then that it would've been futile to try to hide essential aspects of myself (even if I might feel like they're too much); I also realized my housemates' willingness to embrace me as I am.
During the course of the program, my housemates have gotten to know more of my true self (the good and the bad!). Likewise, I've gotten to know them more deeply The selves that we get to know are not the refined images you can project to those you only see on a professional basis or in limited social settings. These are the unpolished selves that become obvious when six young adults live together—selves with jagged edges, pet peeves, biases, and quirks, selves that can be thoughtless, offensive, or selfish (though they can also be thoughtful, sensitive, and compassionate).
In college, I first developed the sense that community was important to the Christian life. This appreciation has deepened during my time at Saint Hilda's House. Being known, even for some less-than-awesome attributes, and being loved anyway is one of the surest ways I've felt God's presence in my life. This communal love, expressed in our friendships, helps me to understand what God's love for me is like.
This love is all the more meaningful when you consider how it outweighs all the strains that naturally occur when asking a diverse group of people to live together. This love doesn't mean, however, that all such strains should necessarily be swept under the rug. Within community, I've come to know the importance of truth in our relationships. Back when I started college, I was someone who desperately wanted to avoid conflict. When I did end up in conflict, I handled it poorly because I didn't want to address them head-on. Throughout college, I became more adept at handling conflict (and relationships in general!) because I became more skilled in speaking the truth, including truths about my opinions and feelings. This trajectory of learning is one that I've continued during my time at Saint Hilda's House. Of course, handling conflict or telling the truth is far from something that I do perfectly. Plus, there are still things that are better to let go or keep to ourselves. Still, I am pleased at the thought that I might be leaving Saint Hilda's House a more brave and open person than who I was when I entered.
In addition to allowing me be known as my true self, my time at Saint Hilda's House has helped me uncover more of that self. Being immersed in a new setting with new people (who are also interested in discernment) while accumulating new experiences has helped open me to fresh perspectives. I feel less limited by the roles and reputation I perceived myself as having in college. For instance, in college I usually did not think of myself as a leader (because I was caught up in certain notions of what “leadership” meant), while now the word is less intimidating. I can see ways in which God might, in fact, be shaping me for leadership.
One of the main reasons I came to Saint Hilda's House was to get a better idea of whether or not I wanted to go to divinity school and to figure out whether I was called into ministry or academia. While here, I decided to apply to divinity school as an M.Div student, accepted a place at Yale Divinity School, and have become more confident about a future in ministry. More specifically, I've begun to feel a call towards campus ministry or university chaplaincy. Some of this discernment was aided by the opportunities here, such as the chances I've had to preach at Christ Church. Many of the things I learned about myself, though, came simply through interactions with my housemates. Though there is much to learn from our friends who have known us for longer stretches of time, there is also a lot to learn when we see ourselves through the eyes of people who only know us as we currently are—who experience us without the baggage of who we were when we had completely different life plans or values. Conversations with my housemates about our passions, about calling, and about God were formative as I thought about where my deep concerns connect to what I might have to offer the church and the world.
Of course, there are also wider truths to learn beyond those about myself or those that must be shared among members of a community. My internship with Community Soup Kitchen has impressed on me some of the truths about poverty in America. Throughout the year, I have been educating myself about hunger and have realized just how pressing a problem it is in every conceivable setting across the country, rural, urban, and suburban alike. Each day I'm at work, I see for myself the amount of people in New Haven alone who rely on Community Soup Kitchen (and places like it) for daily meals. I also see firsthand the ways in which mental illness, addiction, lack of education, and difficulties after incarceration contribute to poverty and food insecurity. A sharper awareness of the injustices in our society is as important as the self-knowledge I've gained throughout Saint Hilda's House.
I am thankful for all these things I've written about: living in a place where I can be authentic, learning more about who I am, getting better at speaking truth, and learning truths about the world. I am thankful for growth and change and all the things that will carry over from this time in my life into the next chapter. Looking at this time, I am well aware that it may have set me on a path I wouldn't have found otherwise. If I hadn't come to New Haven this year, I very much doubt Yale Divinity School would be my destination in the fall, for instance.
Ultimately, I'd be remiss if I didn't end my reflection with gratitude for the people who have made this year what it was. I am thankful for my fellow Hildans. I am thankful for Shancia, Kalekye, John, Ed, and Will. They were a great group to learn with...and, just as significantly, have fun with! I am thankful for conversations, for small chat and deep talks, for words that have affirmed me, that have questioned me, and that have disagreed with me. I am thankful for all the laughter. I am thankful for support. For lots of television watching. For free wings on Friday nights and stops at Tomatillo for burritos. For dinners together and lazy weekends and countless ice pops. Even for trips to the grocery store. I will miss this community very much. These five people—they have been, I believe, some of the primary ways God has been working in my life this year. I look forward to seeing where God takes all of us as we leave Saint Hilda's House and hope that our paths (though they're spreading us across the country) will continue to have many points of intersection going into the future.
This is a selfish hope, to be truthful. And to be honest, I'm okay with that.