ring the Day of Reflection I recently facilitated, I introduced the volunteers to an adaptation of the Johari Window—four panes of a window designed to increase self-awareness.I suggested that their year of service is a wonderful opportunity for them to come to deeper self-knowledge because of the spiritual framework of their community and their service to marginalized people—two invitations to touch their own vulnerabilities.
Preparing for this day, I remembered a break-through in my own self-awareness journey. It happened a few years after college, when I was the caretaker for my university’s guest house.
Fr. Shawn Tracy was the director of Campus Ministry, and he was also a leader in the Handicapped Encounter Christ (HEC) retreat movement.
HEC is a weekend retreat where people who have physical disabilities come together with able-bodied people to pray, ponder and celebrate their lives. HEC creates a prayerful atmosphere for people to reflect on their lives, to learn from one another and to support one another in a lively celebration of community.
The planning meetings were held at the guest house where I lived, and I got to know those involved with HEC—and they got to know me.
By the time I went on my first HEC retreat, the planning team knew me quite well, and Fr. Shawn asked me if I would give one of the weekend’s talks. I agreed.
I don’t remember the topic of my talk or even what I said; what I do remember was Fr. Shawn’s introduction of me to the group.
It was a fall day and dark clouds skidded across the sky. Occasionally, the sun would break though, filling the meeting room with bright light. In his introduction of me, Fr. Shawn compared me to the sky that day. He talked about how I could be like the dark clouds gathering and casting a gray pall over everything, and then, suddenly, like the sun, break out in brightness. He talked about the mystery of me, the complexity of me and my passion for life.
Hearing myself described in those terms was like a thunder bolt. How could he see all that in me when I saw none of it?
Was I really that tumultuous? Was I a complicated mystery, a passionate person?
Rather than give my talk, I wanted to go outside, stand under that tempestuous sky and contemplate the words and images he used to describe me.
I knew that I could be moody, and I knew I kept secrets—two things I saw as negative. But Fr. Shawn made them sound appealing. It was as though my moodiness and secretiveness invited him want to get to know me and understand me. I remember thinking, “He cares.”
After that introduction, I had a difficult time pulling myself together and giving my talk. As soon as I was finished, I went outside and stood under that dark sky and anticipated the breaks of sunlight. This is me, I thought, mysterious, complex and passionate.