by Natalia Luna
From March to May 2019, I lived and worked alongside Dixon, Brayton, and Suzanne as an intern at the Agape Community. Partially out of necessity and partially on a whim, I left my life as a student at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester and began a journey far removed from anything I’ve experienced before.
For anyone who is curious about living a life of Christian nonviolence, interested in environmental sustainability, or simply unsure of what they want but feel drawn to Agape, I cannot recommend this internship enough. It’s a tremendous learning experience that I don’t think I could have achieved anywhere else.
With that being said, this isn’t a normal internship by any means. You enter a partnership at a structured community that has been established for over 30 years. No matter your experience, there are bound to be some learning curves. These challenges encouraged me to deeply reflect on my hardened habits and how I was used to interacting with others. Ultimately, I noticed how small changes to be more considerate in community living improved even my relationships outside of Agape.
Here are three practices learned over the duration of my stay that I recommend to new interns in order to embrace Agape to the fullest and make the most of their time at this truly unique and spiritual place:
- Be Humble Ego has so many names and faces. For me, ego manifested in fierce and hasty independence. I would act first and ask questions later, often creating sticky situations and mixed emotions that could’ve been avoided just by pausing to ask. Life became so much easier once I began to surrender my will, listen to what others needed, and most of all, ask for forgiveness. It gradually became more and more clear that my need to act alone was unnecessary. Despite what I had internalized, we are never alone in this existence. What makes Agape a loving sanctuary is our willingness to sacrifice this harmful piece of ego in order to live in harmony with one another.
- Slow Down and Listen Much of community living is quieting yourself and intentionally listening. I didn’t realize how easy it is to be inconsiderate with the words of others. Too often I’ve been neglectful by hastily brushing them off to get my point across or letting my mind wander while others spoke. Use this retreat from a fast-paced world to practice the art of slowing down and really listening those around you. In addition to slowing down to hear people, I encourage you to open your ears the natural world. Part of the wonder of Agape is its positioning near the Quabbin Reservoir. Listen to the chorus of songbirds, listen to the babble of the stream—and when the earth is cold and barren—listen to the stark, glorious silence. There is beauty all around you, absorb as much of it as you can and treasure it in your heart. It will bring you peace like none other.
- Trust in the Process
“Are you a neophobe or a neophile?” This is a question Dixon has asked me a couple times in reference to his delicious (often adventurous) cooking but it’s a question that anyone set on coming to Agape should ask themselves. Agape is truly a place unlike any other. With its daily work structure, the geographical and technological remoteness, even in its founding on the principles of a nonviolent, unconditionally loving Jesus—it’s radical to say the least. It was a lot to process at first. I came to Agape at a time of great uncertainty. I was anxious and grieving, but I had a sense that I could make things work, so I put my trust in a community I knew little about. That trust allowed me to overcome a rocky adjustment period and ultimately find the consolation I didn’t know I needed. After years of being “stuck” in my spiritual life, I found my heart opening up to God again. Your consolation may look completely different than mine, it most likely will. But to reach that point you must stick with it.
Natalia came to Agape as an angel, hovering over the community with brooms and mops, assisting with all tasks, never complaining, always present to need. She has returned to Chicago, but we will see her again on Francis Day!