Eric Immel, Jesuit Novice from the Wisconsin Province of the Society of Jesus, appears as our guest blogger this week to tell of his adventures of on the road.
I found my way to the JVC Northwest office last Monday morning after a 9-hour bus ride from Boise, Idaho.
As a Jesuit Novice, I am asked to engage in six different formation “experiments,” rooted in Ignatius’s own conversion and the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus. One such experiment, known simply as “the pilgrimage” is the cause of my trip to Portland.
On April 23rd, I was given $35 and a one-way bus ticket from St. Paul, MN (home of the Wisconsin and Chicago/Detroit Provinces’ novitiate), and told to spend a month on the road, engaging in spiritual dialogue, seeking “discomfort” in food and lodging, and relying solely on the kindness of strangers and Christian charity. At the end of the month, I am to return to St. Paul.
As I’m sure you can imagine, it’s quite an adventure, and so far, the happenings of my trip are truly astonishing. From sleeping on the streets of Boise and sitting in day shelters to learning how to pole vault and sing bass parts in a German liturgical choir, nothing can quite sum up what I’m going through. Coming to JVC Northwest is yet another part of the great unknown that is pilgrimage.
I first arrived at the office around 9:30a.m., after being denied a little help other places. From Old Town, I braved the public transportation system all the way to the corner of Fremont and Williams, knocked on the door at 3928, and was welcomed in with open arms. In five minutes, I had a fresh cup of coffee and a couch to sleep on that night. Within 30 minutes, I had heard about the quality of life for JVs in the Mac House community, I learned of the growth and vision of JVC Northwest, and I learned the names of many tremendous people dedicated to providing direct service through volunteerism and intentional living. Within two hours, I was weeding the community garden. The afternoon and evening rolled around, and I had a delicious meal, a walk through NE Portland, and deep, vulnerable dialogue about spiritual struggles, social justice, and community life. After all that, I slept like a rock.
Such has been the pace of life here for the last two days—I’ve helped people find a new style in the clothing closet at St. Andre Bessette Catholic Church, learned some strategies when considering jumping a freight train, listened to people discuss their struggles with addiction, helped serve food at a justice-focused café, moved piles of dirt and wood dust, prayed in solidarity with women religious, had a good Portland microbrew, and been inspired by young people who are doing everything they can to live well, find their vocation, and contribute positively to a world that desperately needs hope.
Such is the power of this pilgrimage—I am privileged to find community of my own in random places, and, as Greg Boyle, SJ, says, experience “kinship so quickly” with a host of people who need to be listened to, and who need compassion. Such is also the power of JVC Northwest, which has taught me more explicitly than ever before that living intentionally and giving oneself to others will change lives.
I’ve done volunteer work in the past, and I’m a member of the Jesuits now, but something deep down reveals a bit of regret for waiting this long to gain a sense of how wonderful JVC Northwest really is. So, to the members of the Boise, Mac, Morris, and JVC Northwest staff communities, thank you for your generosity, your welcome to me, and your enthusiasm for work rooted in the Ignatian experience. Thank you for showing me that simple living, spirituality, community, and social justice can provide a framework that makes people better.
As I waited for a ride this morning, the car parked in front of the office bore a bumper sticker that read, “Live the life you love.” It struck me quickly that while the message is challenging to honor, everyone involved with JVC Northwest strives to do it—to honor life, to live with passion, and to love hard every day. That is a beautiful thing.