Summer 2023 Ecuador students returned to the capital city of Quito this past weekend from their six-week service placements in smaller cities and towns across five Ecuadorian provinces. Their final weekend retreat was held at a beautiful rural location in the transitional zone between the high Andean valley where Quito is located and the cloud forest on the western slopes of the Andes. The ending retreat is a time of re-gathering and reflecting on the three months students have just concluded in Ecuador.
Students had the opportunity to push themselves outside their comfort zone one last time during SST on the high-ropes course at the retreat center. The experience on the ropes course was a microcosm of their experience where they experienced a range of emotions from excitement to uncertainty, fear to despair, to a confirmation that they can indeed do hard things.
Students spent time reflecting on what they have learned about themselves and the world. They decided what they want to carry with them into the future and what elements of the experience they would rather leave behind. At our bonfire on Sunday night, they symbolically tossed the elements they would like to leave behind into the fire.
In our final group activity, students used personal and emotional stories to illustrate how they might answer the difficult question, “How was SST?”. They also read reflections of past SST’ers on the challenges of re-entering US culture. Finally, I (Andrew) shared with them some thoughts in which I encouraged them to always be on the lookout for the divine source of kindness, compassion, and love that is present in our world. It’s a spirit of love that binds us together as human beings across language, culture, and geography.
I’ll leave you with a few excerpts of what I shared with them about that love:
Connective Tissue – Spirit of Love
What is this connective tissue that binds us together? It is fleeting, intangible, and yet when we see it we know…
When we witness this unique human connection, something stirs inside us. We want to soak in it, to bathe in its warmth.
Its antithesis is equally recognizable, a darkness that we recoil from. A pain that we lament, humans hurting humans.
How does this interconnectedness persist? Is it necessary for survival?
What happens inside human beings when they choose light or darkness? In the subconscious mind, what is tugging at us, drawing us towards one or the other?
As we work through this struggle, may we open ourselves to the possibility that we were designed for beauty, designed for love.
We have a spirit inside us that is awakened by love. Our existence is greater than sole survival, we are drawn by this connective thread.
The absence of love is a counter-proof. We are wounded and damaged by the lack of love in our lives. The pain we experience in the absence of love is disconnected from a mere lack of physical sustenance.
So as we try to grab ahold of this fleeting, intangible centerpiece of our humanity, what do we name it?
How can we best describe this centering element that binds us together with other humans, this spirit of beauty, this spirit of love?
When I see it, feel it, experience it, there is no better name for it than Holy. It is a recognizable Holiness that even if for only a moment, washes away the emotional pain, the inner discomfort, and the sense that things are out of alignment.
When we become fully aware of this Holy Spirit, peace and joy rush in, colors become more vibrant, the wildly spinning world slows, and our spirits are at rest…
Ruth and Andrew signing off from Ecuador, hasta la proxima…..