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At the Table

By Taiga Guterres, Julian Cho House, Punta Gorda, Belize 15, Loyola Marymount University. Originally from his blog.

Imagine this scenario:
You are sitting one night with your family. You feel irritated, overtired, and under-appreciated. Something happens to push you beyond your patience and you suddenly lose your temper.  

You yell at everyone, tell them that they are selfish and stupid, throw your coffee cup across the room, and stamp out, violently slamming the door as a final statement. Then you sit in your room, alienated. Slowly sanity and contrition overcome self-pity, but wounded pride and the rawness of what has just happened prevent you from reentering the room and apologizing. Eventually, you fall asleep, leaving things in that unreconciled state. 

The next morning, now doubly contrite and somewhat sheepish, but still wounded in pride, you come to the table. Everyone is sitting there having breakfast. You pick up your coffee cup (which didn’t break and which someone has washed and returned to its hook!), pour yourself some coffee, and without saying a word, sit down at the table – your contrition and your wounded pride showing in your every move. Your family is not stupid and neither are you. Everyone knows what this means. 

What is essential is being said, without words. You are touching the hem of the garment, you are making the basic move toward reconciliation, your body and your actions are saying something more important than any words: “I want to be part of you again.”
– Ronald Roheiser, OMI (
The Holy Longing)

I first read The Holy Longing while living in this experience as a Jesuit Volunteer. It was a time where I was having a lot of issues with my community, and reading Rolheiser’s words for the first time, I felt like he was speaking directly to me. These people that I live with, as a JV, aren’t my relatives, I haven’t known them all my life (or for any of my life before this), and we don’t have to see each other ever again after this experience if we don’t want to. But what binds us, what makes it an intentional community, what makes it the crux of this experience, is the continual commitment and recommitment to each other.

Communal life allows for mutual support and encouragement of each other in our work and in living out the four values [of social justice, community, spirituality, and simple living] . It challenges us to be open, compassionate, and willing to grow. We learn that our lives are interconnected and that we have responsibility toward all members as they do to us.  – JVC International Program Handbook

It is often in the everyday-ness of living— the small, ordinary ways— that we continually come back to the essence of community. It’s boiling a little more water in the morning so you can have coffee. It’s leaving out mushrooms in the meal because you dislike them even though I love them. It’s asking how your day was and listening, really listening. It’s learning what issues you are sensitive to and why. It’s sitting in silence together after a long day of work. It’s celebrating our similarities. It’s celebrating our differences. It’s asking the question, what do you think?  It’s washing your feet. It’s letting you wash mine.

In a place where I’m constantly making mistakes, trying to figure out how to do my job well, learning about the culture and its people, I find myself in community with those I live with; a community that often gets referred to as “the family I always and never wanted.” Yes, this journey is about understanding my place in this world, being in solidarity with the poor, and figuring out what a lived life of justice looks like, but fundamentally, it is about becoming a better lover – to receive love, to give love, and to be love. It is sitting at the table waiting for the other. It is touching the hem of the garment, saying, “I want to be a part of you again.”