What’s the Connection Between Our Mission and the Work of Racial Justice?

This week marked an important milestone in efforts at the School of Continuing Studies to address issues of systemic racial injustice in our institution and in our communities. 

A newly formed leadership committee of six full-time SCS faculty and staff announced the first public meeting of the Diversity, Equity, Belonging & Inclusion Council (DEBIC).  All SCS students, faculty, alumni, and staff, are invited to participate in DEBIC, which will have its first public meeting on September 30 from 2 to 3 p.m. EST (sign up here to RSVP for the meeting). The purpose of DEBIC is to provide direction and leadership for initiatives at SCS that work to fully integrate diversity and inclusion values into all aspects of our academic setting. 

Photo of Archbishop John Carroll in front of Healy Hall on Georgetown’s Hilltop Campus. We ask this week: what does our university mission have to do with racial justice?

The formation of  DEBIC follows a summer of active listening sessions in which, through circles for faculty and staff, student and alumni forums, and open feedback forms, members of the SCS community expressed their experiences, feelings, and perspectives about racism and social exclusion. While DEBIC will focus on projects and activities that affirm and welcome all members of the SCS community in the diversity of their identities, they will place a particular emphasis on combating racism and racial injustice. 

As we prepare for meaningful actions to ensure that SCS addresses the persisting manifestations of structural injustice and racial inequity, I think it would be helpful to reflect on why the shared work of combating racism and racial injustice is inherently a commitment rooted in our university mission. In other words, what does mission have to do with this work of racial justice?

The Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) offers a helpful starting place to explore the connections between mission integration and diversity and inclusion: 

“In these days, when the coronavirus pandemic and police violence clearly impact people of color to a disproportionate degree, we implore our campus communities not just to decry injustice and bemoan the lack of opportunity. Rather, we must all pray, listen, learn and act. We are compelled to do all that we can, to make a difference for the better, for justice and equality.

For more than 200 years, our nation’s Jesuit colleges, universities, high schools, and middle schools have taken the slow and deliberate path of educating students for thoughtful, moral citizenship. Our efforts have been well-intended, yet imperfect. The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others challenge us to act against the covert and unrecognized racism that lurks in the American community and in the recesses of our own hearts. As our Jesuit mission calls us to do, let us use our collective voices as a lever for justice and the common good. We call upon our students, alumni, faculty, and staff to take concrete steps to make a difference in our institutions and in our nation.” (from AJCU Resources on Racial Justice)

This commitment by the AJCU has been joined by statements issued across the Jesuit network, from Jesuits and the colleagues that work alongside them. Fr. Brian Paulson, for example, the Provincial for the Midwest Province of the Jesuits offered this connection with mission: 

“Because of our many privileges, we have a voice as individuals, as citizens, as a religious community and as a church, affiliated with often powerful institutions. Let us strive to be part of the solution and not part of the problem when it comes to dismantling systemic racism and promoting racial healing in our country. In the midst of these struggles, may we who have a voice, find a way, wherever we are, to give voice to the voiceless when basic human dignity and decency are violated.” (from Letter from Provincial Brian Paulson, SJ on the Tragic Events in Minneapolis and Across the U.S.)

And at Georgetown, our Campus Ministry has explicitly put into dialogue the university’s Jesuit values with its commitment to responding to racial injustice: 

“As a Catholic and Jesuit institution, we uphold the words of the 32nd General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, that ‘the promotion of justice is an absolute requirement’ of the ‘service of faith.’ As people of diverse religious and non-religious backgrounds, we affirm that these words speak to a deeper, universal call – the call to care for the wounded among us, to seek understanding, and to dismantle the causes of all forms of violence. We commend all those who have responded to this call.” (from Georgetown University Campus Ministry “Our Response to Racism and Racial Injustice”)

All of these words make clear that Jesuit mission and values are integrally related to the ongoing struggle for racial justice. But this connection is about more than words or principles. Orienting our work for racial justice in the resources of our mission reminds us that the full measure of our efforts is action. Just action must flow out of a discerned awareness about how each one of us is called to respond to the barriers to justice. 

Our mission at Georgetown inspires all of us into a “commitment to justice and the common good.” And today, as we rely upon individual and communal discernment to reflect and act upon the greatest threats to justice and the common good, we are moved to sustained action to dismantle racist structures in our communities and in our institution.  Mission is not an after-thought of this shared commitment at Georgetown, it is central to this work. 

Who Our Students Become: An Alumna Reflects on Her Jesuit Education at Georgetown SCS

In his historically significant 2000 address at Santa Clara University, then Superior General of the Jesuits, Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., provocatively reflected on the service of faith and the promotion of justice in Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States. Part affirmation, part challenge to Jesuit higher education, Kolvenbach’s remarks are famous for his articulation of how Jesuit colleges and universities should be measured in terms of their effectiveness in meeting the mission of the Society of Jesus. According to Kolvenbach, Jesuit schools strive to form students not just for world success but for a deeper personal and social commitment: “The real measure of our Jesuit universities lies in who our students become. For 450 years, Jesuit education has sought to educate ‘the whole person’ intellectually and professionally, psychologically, morally, and spiritually…Tomorrow’s ‘whole person’ cannot be whole without an educated awareness of society and culture with which to contribute socially, generally, in the real world. Tomorrow’s whole person must have, in brief, a well-educated solidarity.”

In this week’s Mission in Motion, we take a closer look at how Georgetown SCS has been forming students for such a “well-educated solidarity,” an especially needed disposition in these times to address the multiple, intersecting challenges of social injustice facing our communities. We asked Karim Trueblood, an alumna of the Master of Professional Studies in Emergency & Disaster Management (EDM), about her time at Georgetown and how her Jesuit education has informed her personal and professional life since graduation. I have been blessed to know Karim both as a student in the SCS Jesuit Values in Professional Practice course described here and as an advisee for her Capstone project, “Integration of Ignatian Principles in Emergency and Disaster Management Education,” which contributed to Karim being named EDM’s Outstanding Student of the Year at the 2019 Tropaia Ceremony.

Karim Trueblood, 2019 Georgetown SCS Alumna of the Master of Professional Studies in Emergency and Disaster Management, reflects on her Jesuit education in this week’s Mission in Motion.

What are you up to since graduating from Georgetown? How has the global pandemic affected you personally and professionally?

Since graduating from Georgetown in Spring 2019, I took some time off for reflection and family time. My son graduated high school and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and is now living in California. I am very proud of his service to our country. I also completed a graduate certificate in education at the University of Central Florida. I am currently furthering my education at Creighton University, where I am pursuing a Doctor of Education in Interdisciplinary Leadership. In addition, I launched my own consulting company, guided by Jesuit values. I am very passionate about this project because I am able to incorporate my dedication to Ignatian spirituality, emergency and disaster management, and education.

As we are faced with a global pandemic, it has been a struggle, personally and professionally. I had to move on from previous projects and readjust my goals and expectations for the near future. The isolation restrictions, like for many other people around the country and the world, had a negative impact on my mental and physical health. But the pandemic has also forced me to develop new skills and learn to express gratitude for what I used to take for granted.

I also have reconnected long distance with old friends, and I was able to attend a five-day silent retreat at Ignatius House in Atlanta. This was very meaningful and beneficial because it allowed time for contemplation, reflection, and healing. Silence urged me to be still and develop a deeper, more meaningful relationship with God. It also gave me a different perspective for those affected by the pandemic and discern who I am and where I belong.

 Since graduating from Georgetown, Karim has pursued additional education and started an EDM consultancy guided by the Jesuit values she encountered at Georgetown SCS.

What are the knowledge, skills, and values that you find yourself using most from your Georgetown education? How did your time at Georgetown form who you have become? 

The academic skills that I learned from Georgetown are fundamental. Academic excellence and seeking meaning from my educational journey to better serve the community and for the greater good are why I continue to further my education. The better prepared I am, the better I will be able to serve the community.

The comprehensive approach of Georgetown’s educational programs and the concept of educating the whole person served me well because I try to continue to apply that approach to everything I do in my life. I am on a journey to become a better person, seeking internal peace and detachment. I am more aware of God’s presence, as my time at Georgetown helped me become more reflective and present. It also gave me the tools and skills to use my voice and advocate for those living in the margins.  

One of the most important lessons I learned at Georgetown is that God meets you where you are. God loves me as I am, imperfect, and a constant work in progress. The concept of community in diversity in Georgetown, an inclusive community where everyone belongs and everyone is accepted, taught me to be more mindful of every individual’s unique journey. And as I reflect on my journey, I learned that God calls us to serve in different roles, and all calls for service are all as essential, and we must be alert enough to discover what our call is.

Self-knowledge and self-acceptance are only possible once we learn to be our true selves. I am still seeking more, but my Georgetown experience helped me develop skills to recognize God’s presence where there is a need for service and education.

What do Georgetown’s Jesuit Values mean to you? How have you grown in your understanding of them and their application to your personal and professional life since graduating? 

Georgetown’s Jesuit Values mean that the university’s foundational moral compass was built on a tradition of working for the greater Glory of God and for the greater good. The Jesuit tradition of tolerance and understanding people of diverse religions and cultures embedded since inception in a tradition of service and promotion of justice sets a standard that I must follow to try to be better. As a flawed individual, I believe Jesuit values guide us to be the best version of ourselves.

Overall, Georgetown Jesuit Values are vital because they align with my core values. It is critical to go to a school or be part of an organization that models ethical values that will be part of your internal moral compass regardless of religious background.

Georgetown’s commitment to social justice and to work for the community impacted me immensely since it paved the way for me to develop into further research and application of Ignatian spirituality into the education of emergency and disaster management and public service.

Georgetown’s promotion of justice led me into my current project working on the application of Ignatian spirituality to guide better decision-making for the greater good in emergency and disaster management. Also, to focus on fostering better relationships between vulnerable populations and stakeholders, to bridge gaps respectfully and sensitively, and by promoting reflection.

The inequalities our country is living regarding social, racial, and law enforcement controversies motivated me to seek implementation of Ignatian spirituality to serve the communities and serve public service by practicing discernment and reflection as tools for self-care. Embracing our emotions and feelings to act more compassionately towards others and ourselves generates a more positive work environment and, consequently, a stronger community.

If you could share one message with SCS students during this challenging period? 

Embrace the trying times as an opportunity for service. Write in a journal and allow time for reflection. Be open-minded and compassionate with others and with yourself.

Engaging with Difficult Feelings at a Time of Challenge

This week’s announcement by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Student and Visitor Program (SEVP) unsettles our learning community and contributes to feelings of uncertainty for our international students at Georgetown. Both President DeGioia and Dean Otter issued statements this week decrying the SEVP guidance and expressing solidarity with our international community. This news compounds other distressing news–in addition to intersecting pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racial injustice, we find ourselves confronting another profound challenge. Feelings of confusion, disappointment, and concern are pervasive, which might give rise to hopelessness. 

The newly designed SCS home page reflects Georgetown’s commitment to meeting students, faculty, and staff where they are in these challenging days by providing care, comfort, and fellowship.

We are again in a position to ask how our university mission, values, and heritage might provide resources for hope in this time. Last week, I reflected upon the legacy of Jesuit higher education in the United States and invited you to more deeply consider what being a student, staff, or faculty member at a Jesuit institution means to you. This week, I’d like to share a framework for helping engage constructively with your emotions. Here is my invitation: How best to move from feelings of disappointment to discerned action about how to proceed in these times of challenge? Whether the difficult feelings rising up for you are about the SEVP guidance, racial injustice, fall operating plans, COVID-19, and/or other inter-related challenges facing our Georgetown community and the broader world, this framework for meaning-making may be helpful to you. 

Anchored in both Jesuit spirituality and experiential learning theory, this approach is intended to help you reflect and learn from your experiences. Utilized in community-based learning courses, including the SCS Jesuit Values in Professional Practice course described here, the framework assumes that all experiences, including the raw data of our feelings, provide an opportunity for deeper learning, self-growth, and social transformation. Even the most difficult emotions can be formative to your growth and development. The model moves through this pattern: Awareness (What?) > Understanding (So What?) > Action (Now What?). Let me briefly explain each stage in this theory of reflection. 

Awareness (What?):  There is power in naming the feelings of disappointment. Feelings are temporary and go away. Being explicit about naming feelings is the first step toward finding balance because your feelings may be indicating other concerns in your life that need to be addressed. In this first stage of growing in awareness of your feelings, I invite you to breathe, identify, observe, name, and withhold judgment. If possible, write out all of the feelings that you are noticing in yourself. You might consult a feelings vocabulary list to help you explicitly articulate your interior emotions. There is power in naming feelings. 

Understanding (So What?): The next stage invites you to make meaning of your feelings and subjective, personal experience. This step in reflection critically considers, analyzes, and understands your feelings. The goal is to obtain a deeper form of knowing about your experience and the implications for your life. In this second stage of reflection, I invite you to connect your feelings in this moment with other experiences you’ve had and learned from in the past. For example, do you have memories of dealing with similar feelings? Are there resources in your education, including books, theories, projects, mentors, or other meaning-making structures like your faith community, family, etc. that might help you make sense of your emotions and reactions? How can you engage these feelings at a deeper level? 

Action (Now What?): The final stage is one of transformation, a movement from feelings of frustration into discerned action for the future. This is not possible until you have named and accepted your feelings. Having done that, you can grow in greater interior freedom. Such detachment frees you to practice compassion for others. Herein lies the truly transformative potential of confronting difficult feelings. How do you make difficult feelings a learning experience that deepens your commitment to social transformation, to acting for justice? 

Here are some additional suggestions: 

  • Consider signing up for SCS Daily Digital Meditations offered over Zoom each day of the work week at 12 pm EST.  Georgetown’s Office of Campus Ministry also offers spiritual and religious programs that you can learn more about here
  • Reach out to your peers to inquire about how they are doing. Consider forming a small support group to create open space for sharing and reflecting on your feelings. 
  • Develop your own interior practice of naming your feelings. You might consider practicing the Ignatian examen, a structured form of regular reflection as a way to get in touch with your emotions. 

“Jesuit Values in Professional Practice” Course Embraces a Community in Dispersion

Since 2016, the School of Continuing Studies has annually offered degree-seeking students in the Master of Professional Studies and Liberal Studies programs a unique course opportunity to deeply engage with both their own personal values and the values that animate the mission of Georgetown University. The course, “Jesuit Values in Professional Practice,” has become a popular offering among SCS students and satisfies degree plans as a free elective. 

MPS-Human Resources alum Rashada Jenkins speaking in past offering of the “Jesuit Values in Professional Practice” course. The course will be offered for the fifth this fall semester in a remote format.

With the help of Georgetown’s Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching & Service, the class is designed as Community-Based Learning (CBL) so that students take on direct work with a community-based organization addressing identified needs of marginalized persons and communities in the DC area. This community service outside of the classroom provides students with data for ongoing individual and group reflections that sustain the 15-week course.

Diverse learning activities in the class include presentations by officials responsible for advancing Jesuit mission and values in their work at Georgetown and beyond, regular individual and group reflection, and learning materials that make the Jesuits’ 500-year old tradition come alive for contemporary professionals. The class is open to and welcomes students of all faith traditions or no faith tradition at all, utilizing a “whole person” approach to education that considers the intellectual, professional, moral, and spiritual aspects of human development. 

As “Jesuit Values in Professional Practice” enters its fifth fall semester, the course will be delivered this year in a remote format. The CBL requirement will also become virtual for students, who can serve in community-based organizations with opportunities for such virtual service coordinated by the Center for Social Justice (an example of how the CSJ has already promoted these remote service possibilities for students can be found here and here). We can embrace and adapt to virtual forms of teaching and learning consistent with the spirit of a “community in dispersion,” a concept that arises out of the early Jesuits’ history of “remaining intimately connected through the technology” of the day in spite of their own disruptions and separations. 

Fr. Matthew Carnes S.J., associate professor in Georgetown’s Department of Government and Walsh School of Foreign Service and past presenter in the SCS course, describes more fully the uniquely Jesuit contribution to the motif of a “community in dispersion” here

Photograph of Bishop Mark Seitz of the Diocese of El Paso participating in a Black Lives Matter protest. The SCS Jesuit Values course explores pressing issues of social justice and invites students to develop a plan of action to serve justice and the common good in their professional lives.  

Given the social challenges facing our communities at the intersection of the  COVID-19 pandemic and systemic racial injustice, the course’s objective to help students “identify ways to serve justice and the common good in both a professional and personal context” is particularly relevant today. I have found that students tend to enjoy the class because of the extended opportunity it provides for guided and structured discernment about developing one’s personal mission and values as a professional. I have also found that students at SCS enjoy the interdisciplinary nature of the learning and the occasion for engaging with students outside of their professional disciplines and degree programs. 

More than any advertisement, perspectives from course alumni testify to the curricular value. Here is a sampling of what past students have had to say about the class: 

  • “I finally understand what makes Jesuit spirituality unique. It is a spirituality that is externalized, that actively shapes one’s choices and actions, it is contemplation in action, being people for others and aspiring for the Magis (the more).” 
  • “The speakers who moved me the most had journeyed deeply inside their humanity and touched mine.” 
  • “CBL truly opened my eyes to the ways people dedicate their time to fight for justice everyday. I enjoyed serving those in need and getting to know them and their stories. It was an experience that I will carry on into my own work and life.” 
  • “I learned the foundational aspects of Jesuit values and caring for the whole person. In working to develop a right relationship with all, I learned much about Jesuit spirituality in practice and about the process of accompanying, serving, reflecting on data, researching, communicating and raising awareness in order to transform the life of another, one person at a time.” 

Degree-seeking students with questions about “LSHV 480: CBL Jesuit Values in Professional Practice” (CRN: 31553, meets Thursdays at 5:20 pm in the fall) should reach out to course instructor and Associate Director for Mission Integration, Jamie Kralovec (pjk34@georgetown.edu)

Exploring Nature: A Healthy (and Holy) Response to Zoom Fatigue

Two seemingly unrelated pieces caught my attention this week. The first was an article by Steven Hickman, a psychologist and teacher of mindfulness, about an increasingly acknowledged phenomenon of fatigue with our virtual tools: “Zoom Exhaustion is Real. Here are Six Ways to Find Balance and Stay Connected.” The second was Georgetown’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, which included a set of helpful online information and reflections about the implications for stewardship of the environment in the middle of a global pandemic.

As I pondered the recommendations of the article about Zoom exhaustion, I realized in a deeper way just how much the natural environment offers some important resources for overcoming the challenges of our virtual lifestyles in the era of COVID-19. Enjoying our natural environment, and protecting it from harm, is not only a way to stay healthy during these difficult times but it is also a way of honoring our university’s commitment, as a Jesuit and Catholic institution, to care for God’s created world.

Georgetown celebrated the 50th anniversary of Earth Day with some helpful resources offered by the Environment Initiative and the Office of Sustainability, available at https://sustainability.georgetown.edu/earthday2020/

Hickman diagnoses the major drawbacks of an excessive reliance on Zoom technology to conduct our work and our study in these days of maintaining continuity. Acknowledging that tools like Zoom do present some incredible benefits, including the opportunity to foster increased inter-dependence and new ways of learning, Hickman argues that online meetings can actually lead us to feel more distant and absent from each other. Our bodies and our minds, consciously and sub-consciously, are grappling with more information in a Zoom session than is typical for a face-to-face interaction: “And when we start to be over-stimulated by extraneous data that we haven’t had to process in the physical world, each new data point pushes us just a little bit farther way from the human-to-human connection that we all crave and appreciate.”

The author’s six suggestions for coping with Zoom fatigue feature some important insights about maintaining balance and perspective. For me, Hickman’s most helpful suggestions are to give the Zoom session and its participants one’s full attention, fighting against the tendency to multitask, and to take breaks between sessions. I have tried to observe these remedies for Zoom fatigue in the last few weeks with varying success. Taking breaks by walking in nature (at a responsible social distance, of course) and gazing at the natural world has been my go-to source for nourishing my attention and energy necessary for a day filled with Zoom meetings.

In 2015, Pope Francis published a landmark encyclical, Laudato Si, which reflects on care for the environment as a religious and spiritual obligation. Laudato Si has inspired many actions at Georgetown and across the globe to support environmental sustainability.

Walking in nature, admiring trees, creeks, flowers, animals, etc., has helped ground my perspective in this difficult period. The awe and majesty of the environment remind me to reflect on the source of all created things (it makes more sense to me why the natural world has inspired spiritual movements of all kinds, sometimes branded as Eco-Spirituality). As I enter into these reflections, take a deep breath, and soak up the gifts of the natural environment, my horizon and vision expand beyond more narrow daily concerns.

Pope Francis, in his teaching document Laudato Si, describes how important it is to simply gaze at the wonders of nature, just like St. Francis, patron saint of the environment and animals: “Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever he would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise.” The peace of a nature walk can translate not only into greater mindfulness and attention but also a deeper love for nature and a desire to protect it against harm. In my nature walks, I am often moved from awareness to gratitude and love for the peace that I feel in the natural environment.  This is where Georgetown’s 50th anniversary celebration of Earth Day connects and offers some suggestions for how to make environmental protection a part of our lifestyle even in the midst of this global pandemic.

Georgetown presents many ways to grow into greater appreciation for the gift of the natural environment. Some of these creative ideas including taking a virtual sustainability tour of the campus, exploring 50 actions for 50 years that universities in the D.C. area can take to increase their sustainable practices, and reading reflections from university students, faculty, and staff about how they approach environmental sustainability. Always anchored in the university’s commitments to our Catholic and Jesuit values and the common good, as demonstrated by Pope Francis in Laudato Si, Georgetown is a leader in the local and global efforts to protect the natural environment. Flowing from Georgetown’s commitment and inspired by the personal benefits of walking in nature, here is my invitation for this week:

  • Spend some time reflecting on the possibility that you are experiencing Zoom fatigue. Are you finding yourself drained after a day of online interactions? If so, name the feelings associated with your experiences.
  • Take some time to review Georgetown’s Earth Day resources. Do any of the suggested actions resonate with you and move you to take action on behalf of the environment?
  • Try to take some breaks from Zoom meetings with a socially distant walk in nature. After your walk, find a little time to reflect on your experience. Did being surrounded by nature give you greater perspective on your day? Do you feel more recharged?

Expressing Love in Action

Talking about love can make people uncomfortable. For many, love is too sentimental, too romantic, too intimate for public discussion. Love might even elicit overly strong feelings and memories, some painful and others glorious. But love, and expressing love, is at the heart of all spiritual, religious, and humanistic traditions, and it carries special significance in the spirituality of the Jesuits and their founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola. The message that our world needs practical expressions of love now more than ever was delivered by me in a video recording as part of Georgetown’s “Spiritual Continuity” series. I describe expressing “love in action” as a core tenet of the Spiritual Exercises, a lengthy retreat in daily life authored by St. Ignatius that has successfully helped people for the last five centuries to grow in greater interior freedom and more generous service of others. Ignatius ends the Exercises in a “Contemplation to Attain Love” with a profound statement: love ought to show itself more in deeds than in words. This core truth has profound implications for how we should live and gives special insight to our shared responsibility in a time of global pandemic.

Jamie Kralovec, Associate Director for Mission Integration at SCS, delivered a message on expressing love in action. Check out Jamie’s video reflection, as part of Georgetown’s ongoing “Spiritual Continuity” series, by clicking the image.

For Ignatius, we are each called to love others with the same generosity with which we are loved by God. Despite our failings, limitations, and shortcomings, we are invited to give to others of what we have: our special talents, gifts, callings in life, in the same generous way that God gives to each of us. But this is not some invitation to saccharine, abstract love of romance novels. Instead, Ignatius is inviting us to love others concretely, practically, generously in the context of our relationships. Our relationships and the love that we share in them, both the relationships that give us great joy (you might think of your children, parents, siblings, spouses) and the ones that challenge us (you might think of difficult colleagues, neighbors, friends), are being seriously tested today. On the one hand, this pandemic is revealing many of the weaknesses in us as individuals and in us as a society. On the other hand, a crisis like the one we’re living through invites even greater possibilities for hope, healing, and service. I recall in the video some of the inspiring ways in which I have observed how SCS staff and faculty colleagues are expressing love in action through ongoing discernments about how to care for our students during this difficult time. I also call to mind students who are patiently and creatively arising to the educational challenge in the midst of these new circumstances.

I invite you this week to ponder how you are seeing love expressed in actions. Are there people in your life who have inspired you with greater generosity, patience, and care? Are you finding ways in your relationships to express love in new and creative ways?  If you’d like to continue this reflection on love in action in the form of an examen, join our Daily Digital Meditation at 12 pm each day of the work week (sign up here). Each Friday will be dedicated to a guided examen that reflects on our experiences of the past week.

Gratitude: A Needed Disposition for These Times

Even in the most difficult and challenging times, an attitude of gratitude can make all the difference between living a life of hope and satisfaction or one of anxiety and envy. This was the main message delivered in an inspiring contribution to Georgetown’s “Spiritual Continuity” series this week by Mary Novak, Associate Director for Ignatian Formation at SCS and the Law Center. In her video reflection, Mary makes the case that we are called to even greater gratitude in these circumstances because gratitude is a disposition especially necessary when it is harder to see potential. Grounding gratitude in the Jesuit practice of the examen (which we described in this post last week) and the life of the Jesuit founder St. Ignatius, Mary describes how a disposition of gratitude helps us see more clearly that God is at work always and everywhere. This outlook is foundational to the spiritual life and explains why the examen and all of Ignatian spirituality is rooted in gratitude because “gratitude was the totality of the way Ignatius related to God.”

More than simply an idea, however, Mary uses her video reflection to describe how gratitude can be practiced. Mary models the practical application by naming the persons for whom she is especially grateful these days:  healthcare workers, social service providers assisting persons experiencing poverty, staff at Georgetown who have been sorting mail and keeping essential services going, and the university’s leadership for thoughtfully addressing difficult decisions. The ultimate outcome of a gratitude practice is that one becomes more generous and more disposed to serve others, or as a student put it to Mary, gratitude “makes me more self-less.” We encourage you to practice this week by making a list of people and actions for whom you are most grateful. Try making a list every day. If you’d like to experience gratitude in the form of an examen, join our Daily Digital Meditation at 12 pm each day of the work week (sign up here). Each Friday will be dedicated to a guided examen that reflects on our experiences of the past week.

Mary Novak, Associate Director for Ignatian Formation at SCS and the Law School and an Adjunct Professor of Law, delivered a “Spiritual Continuity” message on gratitude this week. Check out Mary’s video reflection, as part of Georgetown’s ongoing “Spiritual Continuity” series, by clicking the image.

The Examen: A Resource for Understanding Your Feelings

As we head into another week of adjusting to this new normal, more and more commentary is focused on how to make sense of the dramatic changes we are living through each day. I was struck in the last few days by two different articles addressing the same topic: grief. These pieces gave me needed language to describe what I have been feeling in my own experience, both unconsciously and consciously, in the early days of adjusting to the reality of a global pandemic.

In an article entitled, “That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief,” the Harvard Business Review interviewed David Kessler, a grief and trauma expert who has worked in hospital systems for a decade. Building on the stages of grief constructed by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, Kessler provides several important insights for managing our individual and collective grief about COVID-19: 1) name the feeling so you can start controlling it; 2) find balance in the things you’re thinking; 3) come into the present in order to calm yourself; and 4) show compassion because everyone expresses their grief in different ways.  A similar article in the New York Times by Lori Gottlieb captured many of these same insights in the article, “Grieving the Losses of Coronavirus.” A critical point of Kessler’s is that naming emotions helps us move through the ones that hold us back: “When you name it, you feel it, and it moves through you. Emotions need motion. It’s important we acknowledge what we go through.”  The naming of temporary feelings as a way to grow into greater freedom from our feelings has a clear connection to the spiritual tradition of the Jesuits, known as Ignatian spirituality, and the practice of the examen. This dynamic and flexible form of reflection is a helpful resource for staying in the present and finding balance.

Image of Georgetown’s Calcagnini Contemplative Retreat Center in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia during the 2019 SCS Staff and Faculty Retreat. SCS is helping our community reflect during these times through offering a daily digital meditation.

The examen, or the examen of consciousness, is a structured form of prayerful reflection on daily experiences introduced five centuries ago by St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits and author of Ignatian spirituality (for more on the examen, see here). Ignatius included the examen in the text of his Spiritual Exercises, a lengthy retreat intended to guide participants to greater depths of spiritual growth and understanding so as to more generously serve others and God. For persons of faith, the examen is a regular opportunity (Ignatius encouraged practice of it twice per day) to reflect on how the experience of daily thoughts and feelings either bring us closer to God (consolation) or farther way from God (desolation). It is through noticing and becoming more aware of these movements of consolation and desolation in our interior lives that we notice patterns and develop the capacity to change our behaviors by doubling down on what brings consolation and working against patterns of desolation.  The examen is not just for Christians or for persons of faith, however, and it can be adapted to secular audiences. For a secular listener, the language of God in the examen might be substituted with “true self” or “transcendent mystery” and the language of consolation/desolation might be understood as “flow,” those experiences that bring us deeper joy and greater energy and vitality. Regardless of how one enters into the examen, the fundamental gift of this 10-15 minute reflective practice is that it helps us become more aware of gratitude in our daily experience, both moments of joy and moments of challenge that can stretch us and make us stronger.

The multiple emotions we are experiencing these days, including grief, might lead to a conclusion that it is better to ignore our many feelings than confront each of them as we experience them. The examen gives us a resource for naming our emotions and realizing that feelings are only temporary and do not last forever. What is especially helpful about the examen is that it can be tailored to particular circumstances or situations of life, like a pandemic. Susan Haarman has demonstrated that flexibility by crafting an examen for the Ignatian Solidarity Network that meets this moment in time: “Examen for Life During COVID-19.” I will present below a modified form of Haarman’s examen:

Enter into the examen by first settling into your space. Become comfortable in your surroundings and remove any distractions if you are able to. Start by noticing your breathing, allowing your minds and bodies to settle into the experience. Take a few minutes to relax and enter into these six steps.

  • 1) Acknowledge how you are feeling at this very moment. Name both the good and the challenging feelings (take 2 minutes).
  • 2) Ask for light and insight as you prepare to review the last 24 hours of your life. Take some time to settle in the presence of God, or of your true self (take 2 minutes).
  • 3) Gently review all of the major experiences of your last 24 hours. In particular, review the most significant experiences when COVID-19 had an impact on your life in the last day (take 2 minutes).
  • 4) Take a few moments to call attention to the most significant experiences of the last day that made you feel more connected to yourself and to others. Take a few moments to call attention to the experiences that made you feel less connected to yourself and others (take 3 minutes).
  • 5) Now go back to the experiences of connection and dis-connection that you reviewed in the prior step and name the emotions that surface for you when you acknowledge the most significant feeling of connection and the most significant feeling of dis-connection (take 3 minutes).
  • 6) Conclude this short examen by reflecting on how this quiet time has prepared you to face the challenges of the next day. How might you maintain more connection with yourself and others? (take 2 minutes).

If the resources of the examen appeal to you, please consider participating in the SCS Daily Digital Meditation offered Monday through Friday at 12 pm EST over Zoom (click here to participate). The final meditation of each week, on Friday, will be a guided examen for 10-15 minutes inviting participants to review their experiences of the past week. Please join us!

Georgetown Embraces Spiritual Continuity

This week, with the help of many, courses at Georgetown moved entirely remote so as to provide instructional continuity during this time of transition. In a similar way, the mission and ministry resources of Georgetown are beginning to be shared digitally in the interest of spiritual continuity. SCS, as we shared in last week’s post, has moved to care digitally for the whole person by offering Daily Digital Meditations each day of the work week at 12 pm EST (click here to join the Zoom sessions) along with providing online space for members of our community to express their prayer intentions (click here to submit your intentions). The first week of group meditation online has been a success, demonstrating in a profound way that spiritual communion is very much possible in the absence of physical proximity. We are grateful to everyone who has joined and who has promoted this important resource.

Fr. Mark Bosco, S.J., vice president for mission and ministry, and Rabbi Rachel Gartner, director for Jewish Life, reflect on spirituality during this time of challenges. Georgetown’s multi-faith chaplains will continue to offer spiritual continuity.

The Office of Campus Ministry has added to the spiritual continuity effort by offering a daily video reflection from one of the university’s many chaplains, which are now available at Campus Ministry’s Youtube page. These short testimonials reinforce the university’s demonstrated commitment to inter-faith dialogue and multi-faith chaplaincy and offer needed spiritual guidance as we proceed through this uncertain period of time. One major takeaway from this week’s reflections is that the work of paying greater attention to our interior lives, through prayer, meditation, worship, silent reflection, nature walks, sacred reading, etc., can prepare us to manage the clamor and uncertainty that may surround us on the outside.  

In this week’s Spiritual Continuity series from Campus Ministry, you will hear:

  • Fr. Mark Bosco, S.J. on the importance of finding moments of divine grace in the midst of being unsettled;
  • Fr. Greg Schenden, S.J. on finding God in all things, especially in relationships; and
  • Fr. Matthew Carnes, S.J. on how the early Jesuits offer us lessons today about unity through their example of growing a united community while being dispersed across the globe.

We encourage you to subscribe to Campus Ministry’s YouTube page in order to follow along as university chaplains continue to offer their wisdom from deep within the many religious and spiritual traditions that call Georgetown home. Please visit the Campus Ministry homepage for updates from our chaplaincies and we will continue to use this blog to highlight spiritual resources that may be of interest to you during this time.

SCS Day of Service Puts Spotlight on Homelessness in the Downtown

Over the last few years, the Fall “Day of Service” at the School of Continuing Studies has become a tradition. The entire school community of faculty, staff, and students is invited to commit to a day of direct service for those in need in Washington, D.C. as a way of putting into practice our Jesuit values of being People for Others and living a Faith that Does Justice. In addition to the good that results for vulnerable persons from these service activities, the occasion of coming together as a school community in the midst of the holidays tends to be festive and enjoyable for participants. One senses a shared gratitude in the room about being together in service for others, alongside friends and family who are all awaiting the much anticipated holiday break. The hours-long convening on a Saturday is also an important moment to pause and acknowledge that the season’s joys and celebrations are not shared by everyone, particularly persons marginalized and excluded in our society who long to be included and dignified.

SCS Day of Service in December 2019 brought together faculty, staff, and students to learn about homelessness and engage in direct service

This year’s Day of Service was especially memorable because it built on the foundation of prior years and also deepened the meaning of the experience. For the first time, the event was co-sponsored by both a student group and a campus partner organization. The Red Cross Group, an association of SCS students committed to providing compassionate care for those in need, promoted the event to fellow students and helped collect materials, like handwarmers and gloves, for preparedness kits for individuals experiencing homelessness to prevent hypothermia. Campus partner, the Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching, and Service (CSJ) co-sponsored the event and provided crucial administrative and educational support. CSJ’s Jesuit Volunteer, Brianna Ledsome, who coordinates Homelessness, Outreach, Meals, and Education programs, prepared information for participants about the reality of homelessness in D.C. and led a training on street outreach during the event. CSJ’s presentation also invited the street outreach teams to reflect on the experience through a series of questions aimed at bringing the deeper personal meaning of the experience and its implications for action to the surface.  

Day of Service participants distribute preparedness kits for persons experiencing homelessness in the neighborhood surrounding SCS

More than 50 faculty, staff, and students gathered on December 14 at the SCS campus. The day consisted of multiple activities: assembling preparedness kits from donated materials, preparing sandwiches, writing personalized letters to veterans experiencing homelessness, and distributing kits directly to persons experiencing homelessness in the neighborhood. Despite the cold and rain, most participants ventured out into the neighborhood in groups for the street outreach component of the event. In preparation for distribution, CSJ’s street outreach training provided necessary context for the distribution of kits. Participants learned, based on data from the Community Partnership for Prevention of Homelessness, about the 6,521 homeless persons in the District of Columbia on any given night who are either unsheltered, in emergency shelters, or in transitional housing facilities. Participants also learned how to engage with persons experiencing homelessness in a spirit of mutuality, reverence, and respect. The training was a sobering reminder that homelessness is a social injustice rooted in intersecting social structures like housing, health services, and the economy.

The Day of Service included several activities, like preparing supplies for persons experiencing homelessness on the streets

Humanizing the complex issue of homelessness through direct engagement with persons experiencing homelessness while also learning about homelessness as a structural issue of social injustice honors the Jesuit tradition of education. The Jesuit values invite us not only to commit to the work of charity, addressing the immediate needs of vulnerable persons, but also to the work of justice, which requires that we bring to bear intellectual methods of social analysis to better understand how to systematically address realities of poverty and injustice. As former Jesuit Superior General Peter-Hans Kolvenbach made clear in 2000, the commitment to justice that we strive for in Jesuit institutions links personal and social, reflection and action:

Since Saint Ignatius wanted love to be expressed not only in words but also in deeds, the Congregation committed the Society to the promotion of justice as a concrete, radical but proportionate response to an unjustly suffering world. Fostering the virtue of justice in people was not enough. Only a substantive justice can bring about the kinds of structural and attitudinal changes that are needed to uproot those sinful oppressive injustices that are a scandal against humanity and God.

Kolvenbach’s challenging invitation will continue to inspire our learning community. The Day of Service will hopefully have lasting impact at SCS about how to live out, rooted in our Jesuit heritage, a dual commitment to charity and justice in our neighborhood.