When I hear reflection, I think silence. I picture a peaceful place, quiet and secluded, away from the busyness that that occupies so much time and takes up so much mental space. Most of all, though, I think of solitude. I grew up learning that reflection, like the faith that it informs, is a personal path, something that individuals have to engage in and pursue on their own. The ultimate expression of faith, I had been taught, was an inner strength of understanding.
And so, I was nervous when I first plopped myself down on an oversized cushion on the floor of the Calcagnini Contemplative Center farmhouse. I glanced around the loose circle of retreat-goers, all talking, laughing, and snacking on goldfish and chocolate chip cookies. How was I supposed to talk about my personal faith—something that I’d never felt comfortable discussing aloud, and something that I was far from certain about—with so many other people?
Our first activity was to create a web in the circle space by passing around a ball of yarn and asking each other questions about our time at Georgetown, our experiences with faith, and our “favorites.” As the activity progressed and I listened to stories that were serious and funny and moving, I felt some of my apprehension ebb away to be replaced by a sense of integration. Being a part of the group felt familiar, natural. The feeling persisted as we ended the activity and broke into small groups for our first retreat discussion. It was both surprising and reassuring to observe how many of us were facing the same struggles—from embracing the notion of “good enough,” to taking the time to look after our own mental health, to finding the time we wanted to devote to friends and family—when it came to our academic and personal lives. When it was my turn to contribute, I was able to speak almost effortlessly and without my usual fear of judgment—a new experience for me in a group discussion setting.
As the evening went on, we thought, laughed, and shared our way through activities ranging from “Guess Who?” to S’more making to post-midnight rounds of “Mafia.” One of the most memorable moments was being serenaded with “Happy Birthday” by the entire group as we all sat by the dining hall fire, eating chocolate and marshmallows. I had wanted to go on the retreat partly because I’d known it would overlap with my birthday. I’d figured there was no better way to start off a new year than to spend it reflecting on where I was and where I wanted to be with my faith and the direction of my life so far. By the time I headed to bed around 4:00 am, I was starting to think differently about the whole idea of reflection. Maybe it was always a conversation, whether among our own thoughts or with other individuals who shared the same hopes and fears. Maybe dialogue served as a path to that state of inner understanding.
Our small group discussions on faith the next day only reinforced the impression. As others in my group shared their personal doubts, challenges and realizations regarding religion and belief, I found, again, that I wasn’t only one who had doubted my faith or wondered whether it was worthwhile. Faith was a common journey, one sprinkled with moments of questioning and discovery for all of its seekers. That was why it was reinforced and made stronger by a community, a group of individuals who could support and challenge one another in their personal reflections. Listening to the experiences of my fellow community members, I realized that I didn’t have to do or discover everything on my own. The beauty of faith, I’d come to understand, rested in its power to unite.
Written by Arista Jhanjee, F’18