My first time crying during a spirituality night in my intentional Jesuit Volunteer community was over a vegan chocolate cake.
The actual prompt is fuzzy now, but I know my JV community was reflecting on what in our city of service made us feel grateful. I cried just remembering that Jerry McMahon had come to visit us on his birthday with his wife Judith. Jerry had met us just once before and I was floored that he spent his birthday with us. They brought along with them an incredible chocolate cake. Jerry and Judith, along with Lisa Reiter, are part of our local formation team in the area, or our support people, as we call them. They are former volunteers who welcomed us to Raleigh, made us baked goods and taught us new board games.
The ways adults in my life structure their lives around family and careers had limited my own model for community after college. Our formation team offers hope that even in a new city, shared values are influential enough to let others into your life and to make sustaining bonds.
After arriving in Raleigh, our community of Jesuit Volunteers internalized those ideas. The three of us that remained in JVC make up a smaller than average house, but one no less full of the joys and challenges of intentional community. I have never experienced care and frustration and love so simultaneously.
I remember that upon hearing that I was accepted into the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, a former JV friend told me that it would be a “messy year.” Her words were prophetic, but still couldn’t capture all that community life is. We are present for one another through hurricanes, tears, long car rides, visits to the ER, laughing fits and shared birthdays. Often we show our love in unsexy ways like refilling the soap dispenser, cooking the beans left soaking on the stove, or picking someone up from work in the rain.
We are vulnerable with one another, laying bare the embarrassing ordinariness of our grievances and our hopes for the future. We ask questions together like what God looks like to each one of us: a question I have not asked some of my closest friends and family before. My community has taught me how to pray and play guitar; how to slow down and be present with people; how to sit in silence; how to make things just for the joy of making them; and how to refuse both perfectionism and the easy way. They crack me open. They force me to let down any façade of complete competence, strength, and intelligence—letting real internal growth happen.
While serving in a place that is different both geographically and socially from anywhere I’ve lived before, my community brings me endless joy and sustains me when the weight of injustice gets to be too much. In JVC, both my community mates and our local formation team demonstrate how necessary intentional relationships are. Intentional community and relationships fortify us against burnout and cynicism. They show us a new path for a more authentic, rich life.
When we are sharing home cooked beans and rice and laughing ourselves into stitches over something silly, I am sure that I am experiencing something profound. Community life is a choice, a challenging choice, but also a gift. Even now, when I think too hard about the incredible volunteers that make up my community here, I want to cry grateful tears all over again.
Cassidy Jensen is from Palo Alto, California. She recently graduated from Georgetown University where she was a American Studies major and a Journalism minor. She spent most of her time there organizing around labor justice and writing news articles for campus press. She loves running, listening to podcasts, hiking and trying to learn to cook good vegetarian food. This year she is serving as a Volunteer Paralegal with the Farmworker Unit of North Carolina Legal Aid in Raleigh, North Carolina.