Contemplation in Daily Life Retreat and Wellbeing Workshops Support Students

This week we highlight two important resources for students that directly address the upheaval and distance of this semester. Together, these opportunities reflect Georgetown’s commitment to a whole person education that attends to the many dimensions of student lives. 

Contemplation in Daily Life is a week-long program that offers students opportunities to engage in contemplative practices from a variety of religious traditions with the accompaniment of a spiritual adviser. These spiritual advisers come from the multifaith team of Campus Ministry. Over the course of a single week (October 4 through October 9), participants will be guided through 30 minutes of daily practices and will meet one-on-one with a spiritual advisor for 30 minutes to reflect on their experiences. At the beginning of the week, participants will gather as a community of diverse identities to share their journeys. The retreat begins with a virtual gathering from 8 to 9:00 p.m. EST on Sunday, October 4 and ends with a virtual closing from 3 to 4:00 p.m. EST on Friday, October 9. Students need to apply by September 27 at midnight EST to be considered for the retreat. 

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Contemplation in Daily Life is a unique virtual retreat opportunity for students to experience the contemplative practices of different religious traditions. The retreat is from October 4 to 9. Learn more and apply here by Sept 27.

The beauty of this retreat, which especially affirms the university’s value of Interreligious Understanding and Contemplation in Action, is that students can choose from among a diversity of programs. From “Deepening Friendship with God: A Prayer in Daily Life Retreat” to “Muraqabah and Mindfulness in the Islamic Tradition” to “Poetic Prayer in Daily Life: Protestant Christian Edition,” many possible paths are established for students on their contemplative journeys. The depth of this offering, represented by many spiritual advisors from across diverse traditions, illustrates the strength of Georgetown’s Campus Ministry. 

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The Wellbeing Workshop Series this fall presents opportunities for students to support their wellness. Students can sign up at this site.

Another opportunity for students to consider is the Wellbeing Workshop Series, a collaborative cross-campus effort between the Engelhard Project, Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS), and Health Education Services (HES). The intention behind the series of workshops is to present skills-building resources for students to promote wellness and mental health. The workshops address a wide range of issues that impact wellbeing, including “Managing Stress and Anxiety During COVID,” “Bringing Your Authentic Self to a Virtual World,” and “Navigating Cultural Forces and COVID: Exploring Your Values.” Students can sign up for any of the workshops at this link

In a profound way, these opportunities for students make clear that physical distancing need not mean social isolation. These resources, which flow out from commitments to the university’s mission and values, offer important support for students in these times of challenge. 

SCS Staff and Faculty Retreat Goes Virtual, Explores Ignatian Spirituality Through the Faces of Zoom

The virtual reality of our study and work has inspired all kinds of innovation at Georgetown. Spiritual formation programs have also embraced digital tools and platforms to support the university’s commitment to whole person development. This year’s SCS Staff and Faculty retreat was a great example of how traditional ways of proceeding can be imagined anew in these virtual times.

This year’s retreat for staff and faculty, “An Ignatian Retreat in the Age of Zoom: Meditating on Faces & the Image of God,” was led by two Jesuits, Fr. Mark Bosco, vice president for mission and ministry, and Fr. Jerry Hayes, director of Ignatian programs, along with Jamie Kralovec, SCS associate director for mission integration. Frs. Bosco and Hayes designed the template for the retreat and have been extending invitations to offices and departments across the university to experience the virtual program.

This year’s SCS staff and faculty retreat, An Ignatian Retreat in the Age of Zoom, considered how the riches of Ignatian spirituality can help us see shared humanity and the divine in the faces that we encounter on Zoom. Photo of Zoom taken from PCMag.com. Photo of St. Ignatius taken from Loyola.org.

At the heart of this virtual Ignatian retreat, which lasts between 60 and 75 minutes, is a deeper contemplation of human faces and the way that these faces point us in the direction of the Divine. The retreat is a creative take on Zoom fatigue (which we discussed on Mission in Motion a few months ago). While virtual living, working, and studying pose significant challenges and stresses, “An Ignatian Retreat in the Age of Zoom” invites retreatants to ponder the deeper spiritual significance and potential for greater solidarity in contemplating the faces on our screens: “the face both reveals and conceals, drawing us into new ways of experiencing both our shared humanity, and our sense of the Divine shining through the face of the other.”

The retreat then deepens exploration of faces and the image of God through readings of the poem “As Kingfishers Catch Fire” by Jesuit Poet Gerard Manley Hopkins and an Examen meditation (described here on Mission in Motion) about the faces that we encounter each day. The point of these exercises is to invite retreatants to consider what is happening in their interior experience as they go about each day processing an overwhelming amount of visual data (and faces) on screens. Some questions to consider from a virtual day of life, work, and study:

What faces do I encounter in my day that bring me joy and remind me of the goodness and joys of life?

What faces in my day challenge, irritate, or annoy me?

What faces do I intentionally choose to ignore and exclude from my vision?

How can I enter into my next Zoom meeting with a reverence for the innate sacredness and human dignity of each face I contemplate? How do I recall that every face I meet, even the ones that challenge me, is an opportunity to gaze upon a glimpse of the Divine?

At Georgetown, living out the value of being Contemplatives in Action means taking needed time for pause, reflection, and spiritual grounding. Last year’s staff and faculty retreat was a time of community and inspired reflection, providing participants with some helpful rest and rejuvenation for the coming academic year. Attendees of last year’s student retreat had similar feelings about the retreat experience (read more in Mission in Motion about last year’s student retreat).  And this year’s staff and faculty retreat made clear that we can acknowledge and accept the many limitations and constraints of this virtual environment while finding in it some unexpected graces and the potential for greater shared humanity. 

This year’s retreat produced some helpful lessons about how best to design spiritual experiences in the age of Zoom. In the coming weeks, we will share additional ways that students and alumni can directly experience the transformative benefits of a virtual Georgetown retreat.

A Jesuit Tradition Marks the Beginning of the Academic Year, Invites Community to Reflect on Hospitality, Hope

The Mass of the Holy Spirit is a tradition as old as the first schools begun by Jesuits almost five centuries ago. Every year, Jesuit educational institutions around the world like Georgetown usher in a new academic year with this celebratory religious service. Typically, university students, staff, faculty, multi-faith chaplains, and Jesuits at Georgetown mark the occasion by joyously gathering on the lawn in front of Healey or in Gaston Hall. This year, due to the ongoing global pandemic, the celebration was broadcast virtually from Dahlgren Chapel (you can watch a recording of the entire mass on Georgetown’s Facebook page here)

There are many important reasons why Jesuit schools begin the academic year in this way. In past years, I have received much consolation from this annual ritual because it provided a needed pause for reflection and gratitude as I prepared to enter more fully into a busy year at Georgetown. Taking some time for reflection, in the company of the entire university community, helped remind me of my “why” for being at Georgetown.

Fr. Peter Folan, Georgetown Jesuit and faculty member in Theology, offered a homily at this year’s Mass of the Holy Spirit. You can watch it on Georgetown’s Facebook page linked here.

The symbolic significance of this opening year mass cannot be overstated. At Georgetown, we share in a conviction that our work of education transcends the knowledge and skills that we learn in books and in classroom. The vision at the heart of Georgetown’s mission is that an education in the Jesuit tradition calls all of us, regardless of our profession of a faith tradition or none at all, to the deeper, more transformative purpose of schooling. We are each called to find meaning, purpose, and belonging in our work and study and to share this transformative learning generously with and for others. We are each invited to #SeekSomethingGreater (as we like to say at SCS).

Calling upon the help of the Holy Spirit to aid us on our individual and collective journeys felt different this year, but even more important. Fr. Peter Folan, a Jesuit at Georgetown and member of the Theology faculty, noted the extraordinary challenges facing our world and our university. The temptation for despair is ever-present, remarked Fr. Folan in his homily: “Hope is in short supply these days. That is why it bears repeating. The Spirit’s fire burns brightest when it looks like the flame of hope is about to be extinguished.” Fr. Folan issued a challenging invitation to the community to listen attentively to how the Spirit may be moving in us this year: “What is the fire burning in this collective community’s heart that must be spoken aloud?” He concluded with a reminder, especially in challenging times like these with the realities of global pandemic and persisting racial injustices, that we are all summoned to service: “Will the fire of the Spirit bring hope back into our world by reminding each of us that our lives are to be lived for others. Our educations are to be given away, so to speak, in service of others.”

President DeGioia concluded the service with reflections about how to proceed in the work of racial justice in the coming year.

As custom, President DeGioia concluded the mass with reflections about the year to come. He called attention this year to two critical ideas. First, President DeGioia affirmed the Jesuit character of Georgetown and celebrated the uniquely manifested gift of Jesuit hospitality that shows up in various ways at the university. He remarked:

“All of the members of the Jesuit community embody a characteristic virtue in practice. Hospitality. It’s another Jesuit, James Keenan, who describes Jesuit hospitality this way: ‘Our hospitality is a mobile one. Mobile because those who we serve are found throughout the whole earth.’

Tonight our Georgetown community is certainly found throughout the whole earth. You have, you will experience this welcoming, this hospitality when you are next here in this place. The distinctive aspect of Jesuit hospitality is that you can experience it wherever you are. I know you have experienced this in our special celebration tonight, in the celebration of this mass and in Fr. Folan’s beautiful homily. We are all witnesses to Jesuit hospitality.”

President DeGioia went on to offer that we as a university community can come together this year despite the physical distances that seem to separate us. He noted that the Spirit is always present, always available to meet us in our weakness and need for strength. According to President DeGioia, calling upon the Spirit for guidance is essential if we are to meet the major challenges facing the world: “What we believe, what our presence here together is witness to, is our conviction that the Spirit helps us in our weakness, that very Spirit intercedes for us. We can trust in the presence of the Spirit to guide us, in responding to these challenges.” He then named some of these pressing issues: a global pandemic, a financial crisis, an eroding civic culture, and an enduring legacy of slavery and segregation in our country.

President DeGioia concluded by making an explicit connection between the support provided by the Holy Spirit and the shared task of realizing racial justice at Georgetown:

“We have seen again this past week how urgent it is that we accept our responsibilities to address the original sin of this nation. So let me close by sharing these words by Austin Channing Brown from her book I’m Still Here. And I quote: ‘Our only chance at dismantling racial injustice is being more curious about its origins than we are worried about our comfort. It is not a comfortable conversation for any of us. It is risky and messy. It is haunting work to recall the sins of the past. But is this not the work we have been called to anyway? Is this not the work of the Holy Spirit? To illuminate truth and inspire transformation. When we talk about race today and all the pain packed into that conversation the Holy Spirit remains in the room.’

The Spirit is here with us. The Spirit that will illuminate truth and inspire transformation. The Spirit that remains in the room. As we continue our journeys. As we engage in the challenging work ahead. This is what we celebrate tonight.”

Our journeys at SCS have already begun this fall. I invite all of us in this community to reflect on these themes of hospitality and hope. How are you finding hope these days? How are you growing more hospitable, more generous in your service of others? What and who do you call upon in times of need?

May the Holy Spirit, however you understand it in your own life, experience, and vision of a transcendent reality, bless you this year.

The Value of Inner Silence: Participants Reflect on the Benefits of SCS Daily Digital Meditations

In March, COVID-19 forced an abrupt transition to working and learning virtually. There was an early recognition that lives of quarantine and physical distancing could lead to social isolation and disconnection. The SCS community worked quickly to address these potential harms by outlining a series of digital activities that could bring together students, staff, faculty, and alumni. Among the menu of options presented, daily digital meditations over Zoom during the work week quickly became a nourishing resource for the community to engage. This week we turn our attentions to the SCS daily meditations and ask: What good has come from these digital meditations that have been offered continuously since March 13, 2020? Why might you consider joining this growing community of meditators? As we continue to journey an indeterminate period of pandemic, how can meditation meet some of our personal and communal needs?

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Slide taken from Fr. David McCallum, S.J. presentation “Adult Psychological Development and Spiritual Maturity,” which demonstrates the physiological and emotional health benefits of regular meditation.

Research clearly indicates that regular meditation leads to significant health benefits, including improvements in mental, physical, and social well-being. Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor of medicine and founder of the Center for Mindfulness, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, has demonstrated that mindfulness meditation leads to reductions in stress, anxiety, and pain. Kabat-Zinn was worked for years to integrate mindfulness meditation into mainstream medicine and healthcare, arguing that mindfulness helps us to accept that while suffering is an essential part of lived experience it does not have to control us. The practice of mindfulness, rooted in silence and non-doing, allows us to be fully awake to the present moment. According to Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness actually leads to biological changes in our bodies that enable us to better deal with stress:

Now, ironically, biologically, just that has huge consequences in the body and in the mind, and probably for health. So, the non-doing, in the apparent non-doing of meditative practice, actually every atom and molecule and neuron in your body is listening to this, and your genes. And there’s evidence that our biology is actually changing in relationship to how we hold the present moment.”

In addition to physical and mental health benefits, regular meditation practice contributes to spiritual growth and development. Many spiritual traditions have made meditation central to their practices. At Georgetown, where we affirm a diversity of religious experience and a commitment to being contemplatives in action, regular meditation practice brings us closer to our truest selves, encourages interior freedom, and, ultimately, cultivates us to act more generously in the world. For Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar and spiritual mystic grounded in the Christian tradition, the silence at root of meditation is actually a great teacher. Rohr writes that: “We must find a way to return to this place, live in this place, abide in this place of inner silence. Outer silence means very little if there is not a deeper inner silence. Everything else appears much clearer when it appears or emerges out of silence.” Various Eastern and Western traditions have made silence an essential part of the spiritual journey toward greater union with God, transcendent mystery, and our truest selves.

 SCS has offered a digital daily meditation over Zoom every workday at 12 pm EST since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The SCS community is invited to come together in silence and stillness during these challenging times

Regardless of the motivation or intention one brings to the type of silent mindfulness offered in the SCS daily digital meditations, there is a rich resource to be explored in this practice and the community that has formed over the last five months. In order to fully appreciate the meaning and value of these meditations, I’ve asked some active participants to share their perspectives on the experience.

Melanie Goerke, a student in the Master’s in Urban & Regional Planning program addresses how she overcame some initial doubts and committed to the regular practice:

One of my goals for 2020 was to spend more time listening to my mind and body and to challenge myself to do something different. I’m one of those exuberant extroverts, and I often do not appreciate my surroundings enough because I’m racing through my tasks. Whether that be my full-time position, my full-time grad school schedule, or my additional volunteer and social events.

When I started daily meditations, I wasn’t sure it was for me. I felt that I couldn’t “quiet” my mind enough. The more I continued to do it, the more I realized how beneficial it was for me in my daily routine. I’m able to allow my mind ten minutes of time alone, time to reflect, and time to prepare for the remainder of my day. The value to me, is that I’m able to gain a wider perspective, to detox from my busy schedule, and to let my body rest in a way that’s different than sitting on the couch or going for a walk outside. Meditation leads me to a deeper inner strength and lowers my stress levels in a way that feels healthier to the mind, allowing me to fully relax.

Alexis Fox, who works in Georgetown’s Office of Advancement and is also a student in the Master’s in Artificial Intelligence program discusses the mental health benefits:

For me, meditation is a way to help center and relieve frustrations. It’s so easy to get annoyed by inconsequential things, which can then affect your whole day. The experience that the meditation leader provides daily is invaluable; the format, at less than 20 minutes, is a very doable amount of time to take a step back for mental health and the guided meditation is soothing. Meditation in general is so highly correlated with brain and mental health. I see this great opportunity as a way to help learning and memory long-term in addition to staying sane during all this craziness.

And a regularly participating faculty member describes the joys of being in a community of meditators:

I joined the SCS daily meditation group in the early days of the COVID-19 shut-downs to deal with feelings of anxiety and isolation. Because meditation has always felt like a deeply personal experience to me, I wasn’t sure how I would feel practicing meditation with a group. As it turns out, over the past several months, I have found a community of individuals who share a common goal of sitting in silence to contemplate whatever they are dealing with on any particular day. Perhaps it is the sense that none of us are alone in our fears, anxieties, or frustrations, but I gather strength and perspective from regular participation in this practice. I do not use the word ‘gratitude’ lightly, but I am extremely grateful for this opportunity.”

Interested? Want to learn more? Consider signing up for SCS Daily Digital Meditations offered over Zoom each day of the work week at 12 pm EST. 

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.

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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.

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 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.

A Resource for Doing the Interior Work of Racial Justice

Last week’s reflection focused on the ways that Georgetown’s religious traditions have responded to the cries for racial justice in our institution, our local communities, and our larger society. The task of building a racially just and equitable community is long-haul work and, as noted last week, begins in the interior. Recognizing that education is one component of racial justice work and that interior practices are at the root of the struggle to dismantle unjust structures, I would like to highlight this week a particularly helpful resource for cultivating an inner life that this struggle for justice requires.

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 Rhonda Magee, a law professor at the University of San Francisco, offers mindfulness practice as a way of doing the inner work of racial justice.

The “Inner Work of Racial Justice” by Professor Rhonda Magee offers an inspiring yet challenging framework for how embodied mindfulness can address the patterns of conflict and division that enable racial injustice. Recognizing a diverse tradition of mindfulness practice, Magee defines mindfulness as “paying attention to life as it unfolds, grounded in the body and breath, and allowing that awareness to settle the mind, increase presence and consciousness of interconnectedness with others.” In her book, Professor Magee, a law professor at the University of San Francisco, a peer Jesuit institution, invites her readers, regardless of how they identify or choose not to, to deeply engage with how race and racism shapes all of us. Magee speaks both to white allies and persons of color about the transformative potential of mindfulness practices. The book flows in five parts: Grounding, Seeing, Being, Doing, and Liberating, a pattern that closely resembles a Jesuit spirituality framework of moving from experience to reflection and from reflection to action for justice.

For white allies, mindfulness is especially needed to grow in deeper inner recognition of the unconscious bias towards people of color that manifests in thoughts, feelings, and inner sensations. For people of color, who have suffered from explicit racism and the pernicious effects of unconscious bias permeating our social structures, mindfulness can become a form of healing, showing “how to slow down and reflect on microaggressions – to hold them with some objectivity and distance – rather than bury unpleasant experiences so they have a cumulative effect over time.” Magee’s perspective is ultimately hopeful, noting that mindfulness meditation can both “tame and clarify” a troubled mind while also opening the possibility that we can “transform the world.”

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Professor Magee presented on her book at Georgetown in February 2020, inviting deeper reflection on the interior and exterior work necessary for realizing racial justice.

In February 2020, Georgetown invited Professor Magee to offer a Race and Higher Education presentation as part of Social Justice Week and the MLK: Let Freedom Ring! Initiative of the Office of the President. The presentation, “Doing the Inner Work of Racial Justice: Principles, Practices (and Prayers!) for Healing Ourselves and Transforming the World,” offered many insights about the unique challenges of doing racial justice in a predominantly white institution of higher learning. As I noted last week, waking up to racism is especially uncomfortable when white privilege remains a barrier to meaningful social change for racial justice. But Professor Magee notes that this transformation for justice ultimately depends on a self-compassion that leads to greater joy:

As by now you have no doubt come to see, this work is not for the faint of heart. We are working to heal ourselves, yes. At the same time we are working to disrupt, deconstruct, and break open patterns that make normal and “okay” the suffering of people at the margins of our lives. And we are working to build a new world –one that actually inclines toward the liberation of all, rather than toward our greater but more subtle enslavement. Because all that we do is subject to change and is impermanent, we are seeking to develop the capacity to do what we can with a lightness and joy that keep us from taking ourselves too seriously and, at the same time, illuminate the dire necessity of continuing to do our loving best even in the face of some defeat. Let’s get to work.

How Our Religious Traditions at Georgetown are Responding to Cries for Racial Justice and Solidarity

George Floyd cried out for breath as his innocent life was extinguished. His death by the knee of a white police officer shines a light on the persisting evil of racism in America. A global movement spurred by Floyd’s murder, and the murders of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, among many others, has raised greater consciousness about systemic racism in the United States and the potential for sustaining meaningful social and political action to dismantle unjust racist structures. Countless other Black lives have also been lost in recent years to police violence but have not led to a national movement rising up like the one we are witnessing today. 

The energy for social change on display in this moment is a reason for hope but I must also acknowledge that racial violence, and the conscious and the unconscious ways that racism and anti-Blackness manifest in daily life, is a reality that white people like me have the privilege to ignore or choose not to see. And as a white Catholic, I also have to acknowledge the ways that my church has too often been silent when issues of racial justice demanded action, not only in our sacred spaces but also in our society. 

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Georgetown chaplains, like Imam Yahya Hendi, Reverend Ebony Grisom, and Rabbi Rachel Gartner, have reflected on racial injustice in recent messages. What do our religious traditions offer us in this time of mourning and unrest?

After a week of listening to my colleagues, I can affirm that feelings of loss, anger, and vulnerability are pervasive in our community. In the midst of such acute hopelessness, fragility, and despair, what do our mission and ministry resources offer us as we attempt to honor the cries for justice following the brutal murders of Floyd, Abery, and Taylor? How do we move forward in a shared struggle toward reconciliation of our racist divisions? And for white persons like me, who desire to be in solidarity with my Black sisters and brothers, what is necessary to understand about the white privilege that makes it possible for these tragic manifestations of racist violence to continue? 

Our religious traditions, a pluralism that we honor and celebrate at Georgetown, have attempted to fill the temptation to overwhelming despair with their prophetic wisdom. Imam Yahya Hendi, Director for Muslim Life at Georgetown, in a reflection entitled “Demanding Justice for George Floyd and Taking a Stand Against Racism,” offers this: “All forms of racism must be rejected. Racism is a sin against God. Racism is a sin against humanity. Racism is a pandemic and disease that we all have to fight.” Reverend Ebony Grisom, Protestant Chaplain at Georgetown, reflects that “our collective conscious knows that the witnesses are too numerous to name, even as we hold their names and stories in our hearts … We cannot look away, nor can we ‘un-see’ what we saw this week.” And Rabbi Rachel Gardner, Director for Jewish Life at Georgetown, offers that “social justice is an inherently Jewish value and the recent murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd at the hands of police, as well as many other Black folx who have lost their lives to police brutality, necessitate us to act on our Jewish values.”

The Chaplains and Staff of Campus Ministry issued a statement on “Our Response to Racism and Racial Justice: “We lament that all of our traditions have at one time or another throughout history been complicit in raising up some at the expense of others. We who bear the privileges of these systems must reflect on our participation and root out the seeds of racism from our communities. Otherwise, these tragic patterns will persist.”

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The Catholic and Jesuit community has responded to this moment for justice and solidarity. Fr. Bryan Massingale offers a reflection on white privilege,  Jesuit Patrick Saint-Jean speaks to the loss of breath, and Fr. Mark Bosco examines how the Holy Spirit is calling us today. 

Prayerful reflections and statements of solidarity also flowed this week from our Catholic and Jesuit communities. In his Pentecost Sunday homily, Fr. Mark Bosco, Vice President for Mission and Ministry at Georgetown, links the breath of the Holy Spirit giving life to the apostles with the breath denied to George Floyd: “What about the Spirit speaks to us today? . . . The terrible sin of racism that literally took George Floyd’s breath away…We long for a Spirit that advocates, counsels, and comforts.” 

In a written reflection, the Jesuit Patrick Saint-Jean shares out of his experience as a Black person in this country: “Blacks are constantly begging for oxygen, a gift that God granted everyone. Centuries of systemic racism, such as redlining and gerrymandering, have rendered a long litany of resources unavailable to the Black community. Air should be added to the list. It is hard for Black people to have to ask for their humanity to be recognized while also asking for breath.” And the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities issued a statement on racial violence: 

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. Today, the killings of George Floyd and so many others challenge us to act against the overt 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 own institutions and in our nation.

All of these statements and reflections caught my attention this week, but perhaps none challenged my conscience, my self-understanding, and my desire to act justly more strongly than this article, “The Assumptions of White Privilege and What We Can Do About It,” by Fr. Bryan Massingale, a priest and theologian at Fordham University. Fr. Massingale, an outspoken advocate for racial justice in the Catholic Church, explores the uncomfortable truths about white privilege from his experience as a Black man in a religious tradition in the U.S. that has too often oppressed marginalized persons instead of lifting them up. Massingale offers this definition of white privilege, or white supremacy, in this way: 

“White supremacy fundamentally is the assumption that this country, its political institutions, its cultural heritage, its social policies and its public spaces belong to white people in a way that they do not belong to others. It is the basic assumption that some naturally belong in our public and cultural space and others have to justify being there. Further, it is the suspicion that those ‘others’ are in ‘our’ space only because someone has made special allowances for them.”

Massingale goes on to identify five things that white people need to know and need to do if they desire to be in true solidarity with people of color: 

  • First, understand the difference between being uncomfortable and being threatened;
  • Second, sit in the discomfort that this hard truth brings: systemic racism benefits white people;
  • Third, admit your ignorance and do something about it; 
  • Fourth, have the courage to confront your family and friends; and 
  • Fifth, have an unconditional commitment to life that includes challenging unjust social policies and working against attitudes that cloak support for racism. 

Fr. Massingale’s recommendations challenged me and made me uncomfortable in a way that I did not expect—understanding and exploring my own privilege and complicity is not easy work. And while I am tempted to forego any meaningful action for racial justice because the work seems too difficult, I know that real solidarity depends on taking the risk of growing in greater awareness about how people of color experience the world and moving from an awareness to loving action born of my own interior freedom. As President DeGioia mentioned in his statement from last week, we must remember that the process of dismantling injustice and inequality begins in the interior: 

“Individually, in each of our own interiority, we must determine how we contribute to perpetuating injustice and sustaining structures that cannot continue and that now must be reimagined.  And, for us in our shared membership in this Georgetown University community, it remains for us in the Academy to contribute to this work of reimagining the social, political, economic and moral structures to ensure justice for all—and especially for those for whom it has been too long denied.”

For resources from Georgetown’s Center for Social Justice organized by racial identities and groups for responding now, please see here

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This Summer: Read Slowly, Spiritually

Ever since I was a kid, I have looked forward to the summer as a time to catch up on reading books for fun. But in recent years, necessary reading for work and study have made it more difficult for me to make the time for a growing pile of books recommended to me by friends and family. This summer, I hope to reverse this trend and enjoy some fiction, both classic texts that I have never tried and some contemporary favorites on popular year-end Top 10 lists.

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This summer I hope to enjoy some fun reading that has piled up in recent years. Are you looking forward to spending time with any texts this summer?

But reading does not have to be exclusively a professional obligation or a relaxing outlet. Reading can actually be a way to grow in spiritual knowledge, self-discovery, and action for justice, all of which are especially needed these days as we continue to confront the uncertainty of the pandemic.

In his book Discernment, the trusted spiritual writer and teacher Henri Nouwen describes the multiple ways that we can read the texts of the world, ourselves, and the Transcendent. According to Nouwen, the books that we need to read to grow in spiritual discernment include the books of nature, sacred texts, events, persons (both living and historical), and social injustices. By reading these “books” not for intellectual comprehension but for personal transformation, we can more easily allow ourselves to be moved by God within the signs of our daily lives. This type of spiritual reading requires that we read slowly and patiently, not as consumers of information but as people on a long journey of interior and communal growth.

In the case of spiritual reading, Nouwen defines this practice in contrast to the standard approach of digesting a text:

Reading often means gathering information, acquiring new insight and knowledge, and mastering a new field. It can lead to degrees, diplomas, and certificates. Spiritual reading, however, is different. It means not simply reading about spiritual things but also reading about spiritual things in a spiritual way. That requires a willingness not just to read but to be read, not just to master but to be mastered by words.

Acquiring this spiritual knowledge invites us to read more with our hearts than with our heads. It means allowing ourselves to read words slowly, becoming attentive to how the words on a page make us feel and potentially move us to make meaning of the world. This approach requires frequent pauses and suspension of the natural instinct to rush along, thinking about what might come next. It is ultimately a sacred process in which we listen for the movement of the Spirit within us as we go along.

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 A view of nature just outside of our front door. Henri Nouwen invites us to read nature spiritually. As you spend time in the natural environment, do you reflect more deeply on the grandeur of trees, plants, and natural life?

So, this summer I invite you, as you are able, to read spiritually. You might select a favorite poem, a passage from a sacred text in your religious tradition, daily reflection offered by a spiritual writer, or even a news article or commentary about some of the social injustices that this pandemic has brought more clearly to the surface. Whatever you choose, I suggest the following simple steps:

  • Read the entire passage at once. Take a pause.
  • Slowly read each word of the passage until you reach the end. Take a pause.
  • Slowly read each word or short phrase of the passage. Take a pause. And then allow yourself to sink deeper and deeper into the words. What are you hearing? What are you feeling as you savor the words? Are there any new insights about yourself, yourself in relationship to others, yourself in relationship to God? Are you feeling moved to act in some way?  
  • After you’ve spiritually read through the entire passage, take some time for silence to allow yourself to listen to whatever it is that you hear interiorly.

As a taste of this way of proceeding, I offer below one of my favorite poems, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire,” by the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins:

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;

As tumbled over rim in roundy wells

Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s

Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:

Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;

Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,

Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

I say móre: the just man justices;

Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;

Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —

Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,

Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his

To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

Contemplative Practices Invite Us into Deeper Unity, Community

“The future is so unclear in almost every aspect. But what is clear is that the future will not be business as usual. So what do we do know?”

This was the question posed by Mary Novak, associate director for Ignatian Formation at SCS and the Law Center, as part of her video reflection this week in Georgetown’s “Spiritual Continuity” series. Mary’s answer, drawing upon the universal richness of spiritual and religious traditions, is that only love grounded in inner resources can move us beyond the “destructive tendencies” of this perilous moment in history. The way we do this inner work, according to Mary, is to become “more fully human and to become more fully a human community” through an increase in spiritual practices, including fasting, praying, and engaging in some form of contemplation.  

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Mary Novak, associate director for Ignatian Formation at SCS and the Law School, delivered a “Spiritual Continuity” message on contemplation this week. Check out Mary’s video reflection by clicking on the image.

Mary then outlines an invitation to go deeper into contemplative practices by pointing to the particular resources within and across our spiritual traditions, reflected in the number of virtual programs for deep silence offered through Georgetown’s Office of Campus Ministry. It is important to point out, as Mary does, that growing contemplatively does not mean disengaging from the world or indulging in fantasy. Rather, contemplation, as explained by the Jesuit theologian Walter Burghardt, is a “long, loving look at the real.”

Contemplation invites us to encounter reality, engaging with both the sorrows (“I hate this pandemic”) and the potential possibilities (“I am called by this pandemic to ….”), in order to discover how we are being invited to greater love and greater community. In addition to the contemplative resources on the Campus Ministry website, we invite you to join our SCS Daily Digital Meditation at 12 pm each day of the work week (sign up here).  Mary’s reflection inspires some important questions that I would invite us to consider this week:

  • Do you engage in contemplation in some way? If you do not, but you would like to consider contemplative practices, what factors hold you back from engaging?
  • Mary describes contemplation’s commitment to “deep listening.” What does it mean for you to engage in this kind of listening?
  • Has this pandemic invited you to consider a new calling? Are you feeling motivated to do something for others – in your local community or the world beyond – because of this situation?

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.