Alumni

God’s Inescapable Love: A Center Alumna’s Reflection

By: Mackenzie Buss, '15

June 7, 2017

Carving out time to be alone with God in silence is easier this year than in the past. Nevertheless, I’ve always treasured my alone time as a backdrop for fresh soul discovery and rejuvenation. Having a space that invites me into prayerful solitude is important to me. I seize the opportunity when it arises.

About a month after we all moved into the Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry house in Baltimore, I decided to give our meditation room a benevolent face-lift. I cozied up the room with soft blankets and pillows. I swapped the fluorescent overhead light bulbs for warm twinkling Christmas lights. I also recruited the energetic Elizabeth Modde [fellow BSVM volunteer and housemate] to drag the plush green chair upstairs with me and plop it down beside the window. I was ready to tackle a year of spiritual growth.

Every morning, clad in my cherry covered flannel pajamas and sporting my delightfully reliable bedhead I shuffle down the hall to our little slice of meditative heaven to have a chat with God. That half hour really is a ‘Mackenzie Oasis.’ Armed with my moleskin, 0.38mm muji pen, Bible, and blue mug of coffee, I am in my introverted element and ready to ponder whatever nugget of wisdom pops out of God’s word that day. I’m a contemplative at heart, so I always have a hodgepodge of philosophical musings sloshing around in my brain. I’m much more comfortable solitarily journaling and reading than I am socializing or sharing, but I knew this year of living and serving in West Baltimore would push me outside my introspective comfort zone and into a vast, relatively unfamiliar realm of new people, places, and conversations. I thought my spiritual growth this year would come from pure, solitary Mackenzie prayer time, but God surprised me (as He always does!) with something entirely different: I learned to experience God in daily moments of relationship.

Of course, many of our lives are quite obviously full of important relationships—this is nothing revolutionary. This year, however, with the distractions, and accessories, and luxuries of my life stripped away, I have come to understand the meaning and value of relationships on a much deeper, more spiritual level. Two authors, Brother Lawrence and Thomas Merton, taught me how to take my contemplative spiritual life, all curled up in the meditation room, and build onto it a life of spiritual action through noticing love and relationships.

My first true encounter with the idea of noticing love came from a book by a 17th century monk named Brother Lawrence. It’s titled Practicing the Presence of God, and I happened to read it right before I came to Baltimore.  Brother Lawrence was a French Carmelite with a knack for oozing contagious inner-peace and for noticing the holiness in everyday things. It could not have been a more well-timed reading accident, because what Brother Lawrence taught me was this: “We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.” Those words were exactly what I needed to arm myself with coming into a year that was about practicing being present with patients, not the most grandiose or glamorous job-description. And yet, when I spend my few quiet moments alone each morning, it focuses my soul and helps me move through my day noticing the love around me and savoring it.

In this sense, Brother Lawrence has taught me to be aware of God’s inescapable love and to be thankful for the gift of relationship it presents. If I truly believe that God is always near me and around me, both “in my business and my diversions,” as Brother Lawrence says, then every moment of my life is an opportunity to be in relationship with God and creation. Every experience is a spiritual and relational experience if I open myself up to it. God’s love is inherently relational and is shining through each crevice of life.

This year I discovered that what makes any moment spiritual is not the mention of Jesus, a prayer said, or a scripture quoted. All that is needed is my own spirit’s awareness that God’s love is available all the time. The more I notice that miracle of profound, discoverable love, the more spiritually connected I feel to creation and the better I am able to live and serve humbly within it. On my most centered days, I feel close to God even in the quiet, mundane, or sad scenarios. I find God when I am drinking in the sound of rain on my window, when I’m scrubbing the scrambled egg frying pan before work, and when I am holding a patient’s shivering hands during her dialysis. My mornings ensconced in the meditation room are not my only point of contact with God. Rather, those moments in solitude are what reorient my wandering spirit toward relational love and send me off on a daily mission to notice it in every corner of creation.

Of course, some days my morning time doesn’t feel reorienting. Sometimes, I don’t feel close to God because fears, insecurities, and selfishness cloud my heart. Sometimes I stew in my own feelings of discouragement and worthlessness when things don’t go how I plan, or when I fail to ‘succeed.’ But in those moments, the wisdom of Thomas Merton reorients me, “Do not depend on the hope of results. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.”

Before this year of learning through service, I depended on the hope of results. I relied upon academic success and external affirmation for my self-worth. I felt confident when I was achieving and was afraid to fail. I was fully aware of this pathology in myself, but I didn’t know how to escape it.  Then, I came to Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry and it was recommended I read Thomas Merton! Now I have come to actually feel in my heart the ways in which relationships—not good test scores, pretty clothes, or charming personalities—can save. I experienced this reality for myself, which is much more than understanding it theologically. 

On my worst days, when I don’t get the results I want from a project at work, a graduate school application, or even from my morning prayer time, it’s the little moments of relationship that save me.  It’s when I see one of our renal patients slowly and steadily pushing another patient in their wheel chair from the lobby up to the second floor clinic. It’s when Alex notices I have the hiccups and quietly gets me a glass of water from the kitchen. It’s when my community is all snuggled up on the couch writing letters to our loved ones. It’s when one renal patient helps me memorize his favorite Shakespeare line, when another says she and I are in the cozy sweater club, and when a third, with a wise yet mischievous twinkle in his eye, shares with me his two secrets to happiness: humility and pancakes.

I am so thankful for that meditation room, pumpkin-colored walls and all. Over this year, that space has seen me giggly and weepy, curious and indifferent, connected and distant. I have learned from both the ups and downs that my workplace, my community, and my home are absolutely brimming with love. Certainly there is injustice, fear, anger, and heart-brokenness too. But in the midst of the hurt, there is so much potential for love and relationship. When I take the time to let God open my spirit each morning, I notice His love during my day so much more. Even on the darker days, when I don’t feel God close to me, I can still find hope in relationships. After all, love cannot exist without relationship. Each day living and serving in community proves to me that where love is, God is also there.

Mackenzie Buss did an Summer Service Learning Program at The Upper Room in Kansas City, Missouri in 2013 and worked at the Center for Social Concerns for three years. Following graduation she worked at Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry for a year as a Renal Department Volunteer, Bon Secours Baltimore Hospital.

To learn more about Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry, visit BonSecoursVolunteerMinistry.org or email volunteer@bshsi.org.