Notes from New Orleans

I spent the last several days in New Orleans at a meeting for Loyola’s adjunct faculty in their ministry extension program.  I began this role in the fall so this was my first time at their campus, even though I used to do some group facilitation for them while living in the Sacramento Diocese.  It was a great trip in many ways.  There were four new faculty members this year and we were warmly welcomed by returning faculty.

So much has been stirred in me from this trip.  Some of it has to do with witnessing the slow work of rebuilding this city and seeing the deep racial disparities that continue to persist.  Some of it has to do with being among a group of colleagues and having this wonderful sense of the wider context of my work.

New Orleans is still rebuilding.  Every conversation about the city there includes “pre-” and “post-Katrina” just as naturally as we might refer to BC and AD in a history class.  It is clear that the trauma of that event continues to ripple deeply through the community.  One of the faculty members lost his home in the devastation and he spoke movingly to me about what that was like to lose one’s home of 30 years.  He is a pastoral counselor and offers services to survivors through a Red Cross-funded program, however those funds run out in coming months and there are still many suffering greatly from their losses.

The racial disparity between black and white was also much more evident than I had expected.  I was so uncomfortable that almost every person in the service industry I encountered — taxi driver, housekeeper, food server — was black and every member of the faculty is white.  In public contexts as well there seemed to be little integration.

In addition to all of the heart-stirring sadness of this awareness, there was also a great sense of joy and community around the important work of providing quality theological education to people across the country and in England, Scotland, and Belize.  I was moved more deeply than I expected by my sense of connection to the larger church and was prompted to reflect more on what my role in that really means.  I had an empowering sense of my own competence and gifts.

Our last night, the whole faculty was taken out to a wonderful dinner in the French Quarter. We were treated so well the whole time, but the last meal was a four-course feast.  Some of us walked down Bourbon Street afterwards to take it all in.  The energy there is alive and well, as raucous as I would have expected from the reputation of the place.  I was told that at last year’s meeting there was hardly anyone out, so at least the city’s pulse is returning.  We also went out to hear some zydeco music and it was gratifying to see the range of ages out dancing together, from teenagers to senior citizens.

The whole experience felt very much like a Lenten pilgrimage.  There were many desert moments when the sadness in me expanded, but there were also many hints of the new life to come when I felt the hope in me expand as well.  We gathered together for liturgy Saturday night before dinner, the gospel reading was the woman at the well.  As the story begins she does not know what to make of this stranger she has encountered in Jesus.  In re-entering that story I was reminded of an image of hospitality.  In monastic tradition, hospitality has much to do with welcoming the stranger as Christ.  But someone once offered to me what feels like an even deeper meditation — have I created within my very heart a welcoming space for the Holy One?  Do I truly invite God into the deepest parts of myself and allow Spirit to dwell freely there? And what happens when I am able to dwell in that intimate space together with the sacred?  What power could be unleashed?

-Christine Valters Paintner @ Abbey of the Arts

(top 3 photos from on campus of the school sign and statues of Jesus and Ignatius of Loyola, bottom photo at the conference center nearby where we stayed — more images this Friday and next)

** Make sure to visit this week’s Poetry Party **

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