Friday, September 16, 2016

Dear Charles... One Year Later

Leaving New York for Rome!
September 15, 2015
After a roughly six-week hiatus for a bit of late-summer vacation and readjustment, this blog, Cornelius the Roman proudly continues! At the beginning of August I quietly returned to the United States to spend a few weeks of rest with my dear friends and loved ones in Maryland. Toward the end of the month, I joyfully returned to Cincinnati where I expect to live year-round, at least for the next few years. Upon returning, I proudly accepted a new position as the Brendan’s Crossing Fellow at Christ Church Cathedral for a term of one year. In this role I will coordinate and serve many of the Cathedral’s outreach efforts among diverse constituencies including downtown corporate employees, homeless persons, Latino/Hispanic immigrants and other communities.

On the day of this writing I also celebrate another very special occasion – the one year anniversary of my arrival as a missionary in Rome! What follows are my reflections from that day, including my response to the letter I wrote to my future self at the beginning of that great  adventure.

September 15, 2016

One year ago today, at 4:10pm I boarded a plane bound for another life. Standing with my fellow missionary and traveling partner Paola Sanchez by my side, not to mention a probably obscene amount of luggage and our tickets & passports in hand, off we decamped for an adventure like no other.

Very early the next morning, we landed in Rome, carrying boundless excitement, healthy amount of anxiety and probably just the right amount of abject terror for whatever might lay ahead. I had only a vague idea what might happen in the day ahead. There we met the inimitable Rev. Austin Rios, who would be our boss, advisor and friend over the coming year. Having shared our first official Italian coffee in the airport together, we happily rode with Fr. Austin to St. Paul’s Within the Walls – our new home, workplace and the center of our universe for the next small chapter of our lives.

Soon after arriving to be greeted joyfully by our new co-workers and housemates, I sat down at my new desk with a lovely scenic view of the Irish Pub across the street and penned this letter to myself. As you might know, it stems from a personal tradition of mine at every major transition point in life (which seems to be almost every year now) that is also commonplace at several schools and institutions I’ve taken part in along the way. This is, I think, my fourth letter to myself, following up those I scribbled at the beginnings of high school, undergrad and seminary.

Dear Charles,
When you read this letter around this time next year, you will have experienced things you could not have imagined when you wrote it today. God Willing, you will have learned a new language (or two or three!!) and will be comfortably walking the streets & making conversation in Italian, and maybe Spanish too! Even more important, I pray that the people you have known here will have inspired you deeply. May those experiences and relationships, joys and pains challenge you to be a stronger and more loving minister of the Gospel. You will return, God Willing, with new stories more than you can count. May they make you a wiser, more humble, and more mature servant of God & God’s People. May you look back and remember the day you wrote this letter and may it cause you to smile from ear to ear. This year that now seems so long, will have flown by in your memory like a thief in the night. I pray that you have treasured every moment. May every single memory be more valuable than gold to you. And may you never forget all that you have learned here, nor neglect all that others have learned –and are learning – from you.

Our very first photo after arriving in Rome & meeting Fr. Austin!
September 16th, 2016!
Remember, Charles, what it was like when you first arrived in this beautiful City. Recall the heady mix – equal parts steely confidence and abject trepidation in anticipation of the road ahead. Recall that constantly vacillating sensation, drifting minute-for-minute between “yeah, I can totally do this” and “what the heck am I doing here!?!?”. Remember what it was like when everything – every single thing – was new and alive with mystery. Hold onto those sensations day by day. Tie them to yourself like a string around your finger or a belt around your waist. Keep it before you or it will vanish like a vapor from your sight. Be open, as you were then, and hopefully even more so, to whatever God has in store.

And finally, fair self, hopefully feeling as poetic and self –satisfied as you were when you wrote this letter, pray without ceasing. Be always, ALWAYS, a person of devoted and constant prayer. Pray for everyone and everything as if the whole world depends on it. It does. Honor those whose sacrifices sent you here. They are like the angels of heaven. Honor God in all that you do, and let your every act be prayer.

By the way, When you read this, the nominees for president & vice president will be **___/__ ** and ** ___/__ **. When it happens, feel free to say “I told you so” 

With love from your not too distant past
Charles Cornelius Graves IV

P.s. (For those reading this letter other than yours truly, the presidential nominee thing is a running joke. I wrote a letter to myself when I started high school in 2004 that I read in 2008, where I said I hoped that the older me would be ready to “re-elect President John Kerry”. If you really want to know my predictions, ask me!)

September 16, 2016
Dear Charles of September 2015,

You were more right than you could have known (and well, half-right about the political predictions!)

On your last day at St. Paul’s, the parish administrator said of you to an Italian-speaking member of the congregation Lui ha cresciuto molto – “he has grown a lot”. It really got me thinking – somehow it can be so easy to forget how much you really have been changed, in altogether positive ways, by the experiences of this marvelous year. There are uthe things you have learned and the ways in which yoi have changed, some external and others internal, making something of a whole patchwork that lies sometimes under the surface.

Some of the best co-workers a guy could ask for!
There are the more obvious matters of course – although certainly not insignificant. You have learned a thing or two about living abroad, absorbing new cultures while holding onto intersecting cultures of your own. Yet your American ex-pat privilege could never compare to the stateless and often oppressed refugees whom you met each day. They taught you most about what it means to be an American, and an ex-pat, and a citizen of the world. Likewise living in community, inside the church building among several young adults growing in our varied ministries in the Church, your introverted tendencies were challenged by the broadness of the community. As you depart, increased is your attention to the needs of others, but to the importance of community and interdependence for all of us inside and outside the Christian world. God calls us not to be an inward-looking society, but to always look outwards, beyond the isolating boundaries we may sometimes desire.

And your language skills improved by far, in both Spanish and Italian (perhaps English as well)! But it was not merely the languages you learned, but what you learned about language that matters. You saw God’s love working across, between, through, and beyond languages of all kinds. You were – and remain – moved by the spirit of Pentecost in the living world, not only in the pages of Scripture. You are changed, not merely in the words and languages with which you can now listen and communicate, but in being better able to listen to all the ways in which God speaks to and through us. You have become conversant, and you are working my way toward fluency in the varied structures of society, not simply grammatical or syntactical structures that make up the cultures of our world.

You learned scores about a congregation that you have come to know and love. And you have learned about this title of “missionary”, that it doesn’t always mean what one might expect. Far from just the liturgy or history, the membership or various eccentricities of the congregation, you got to know the soul of this church. In one of the greatest cities in Christendom and around the continent, you came to understand far more deeply the identity of the “one, holy catholic and apostolic church” and as Bishop Curry says, our “Anglican/Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement”. While last year you tepidly accepted the title of “missionary”, always apologizing for the colonial history so often tied to that term, you now claim the missionary calling – to spread the love of God near and far, accomplishing that which God calls all of us to do. And you continue forward with even greater missionary zeal, so to speak, to go out confidently as a leader, working together to be the church, serving the “loving, liberating and life-giving God” whom we love.

These broad lessons and life-changing moments have naturally taught you about your sense of calling as a servant of God in the Church more specifically. While you would have had a difficult time considering serving the church outside of very specific and English-only contexts, you are now much more open to hearing the Lord’s call in many different ways. You are now much more open, and much more prepared, to serve in a range of ministerial contexts that you could not have dreamed just twelve months ago. This past year has made you a larger and more open vessel, which I trust God to fill with whatever is needed to serve the Gospel mission on which you are just beginning to embark.

Faithfully yours,

Charles Graves IV

No comments:

Post a Comment