Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!
As my friends and I here at Loyola University Chicago enter into a week of gruesome exams, late night study shindigs, too much caffeine drinking, too little sleeping, I thought I'd share a reflection with you about a "plunge" I took this past weekend.
Thursday night, my friend Elena brought it to my attention that there was going to be a group jump into Lake Michigan in a few days. She asked if I would be willing to make a small donation to the cause, and I said that I'd be willing to jump right in the lake with the group of plungers! (It was a "Spoerl" of the moment decision you might say). The group on campus that my icy money would go towards is called Invisible Conflicts. Elena told me they help with the education of children; it sounded like something worth a few minutes of frozen time.
On Saturday, I ventured over to meet and greet other plungers at an event hosted by Invisible Conflicts. It was 20 degrees F, blistering winds, and, well...needless to say I was cold. I was actually a little nervous...fairly nervous actually. I told some of the people at the event that I was more nervous to take this plunge than I had been before starting the 26 mile Chicago Marathon run! At least the weather was warm that day.
However, when we actually prepared to march out of the Crown Center and over to the beach a few blocks away, my adrenaline took over. Standing next to my friend Monica and a young Jesuit priest from Uganda who was going to take the plunge with me (I thought both of them were crazy; each had grown up in a climate far more comfortable than this mid-western winter mess), I walked and talked my way through any remaining anxiety. Turns out the priest from Uganda and my friend from California were far more relaxed than I was.
As I had come to learn a little bit more about Invisible Conflicts, I realized what I was jumping in freezing water for was something really worthwhile. If you go to Invisible Conflicts website, http://www.invisibleconflicts.org/ , you can browse through all the organization has done and continues to do for people struggling in areas where conflict makes it very difficult to live.
The mission of the organization puts it better than any summary I could try to provide:
We recognize that the world is full of invisible conflicts ignored by mainstream media and governments. We enable the victims of these conflicts to tell their stories, and we establish real and personal relationships between communities of power and privilege and those of poverty and oppression. Through the mutual exchange of values and knowledge, we find practical ways to help one another, and transform communities in conflict regions as well as our own. Committed to cultural relevance and positivity, we encourage everyday people to take action by giving them simple and concrete ways to make a difference. By taking action ourselves, we lead the way for our peers.
(-from Invisible Conflicts website).
S,o what are some concrete ways Invisible Conflicts has help transform communities in conflict? Well, they have, with the help of their members and in association with an organization from Uganda, provided the financial support for over 100 children in war torn northern Uganda to attend school, and tell their story through arts and learning. 21 children that Invisible Conflicts has been able to foster a personal relationship with have seen war firsthand and have experienced suffering that many of us here in the U.S. would have difficulty imagining.
An Ugandan woman now living in Chicago had nothing but praise for Invisible Conflicts (IC). She spoke in front of us plungers (and plunger supporters...my good friend Stephen, a fellow Milwaukee seminarian who grew up in Kenya, denied my several pleas that he also jump in), telling the group how very important the work of organization like IC is for people in struggling communities. It was her personal philosophy that through providing education for the children in areas in conflict, these areas can be transformed into beacons of hope. It was only when people gain knowledge, she insisted, that injustices might someday be erased.
Taking the plunge was easier than I expected. The rush of coldness hit my body hard, but it was a kind of exhilarating moment that is difficult to explain. Wading in the water for a few seconds, I looked for a friend to share the experience with. My body was numbing, but my spirit almost felt on fire. It was an amazing feeling! I spotted my friend Cory, running in the water a few feet away from me. "Cory!" I called out. We laughed...I met him only a few weeks ago while in Georgia at a vigil/protest event with campus ministry. When I asked Cory about going underwater, he said he done it last year. It was a crazy thought, but...I was already knee deep in near ice. When else was I going to realistically find myself in Lake Michigan in December in my skivvies?
"Cory, let's go under!" I called out. It didn't take any convincing for him. We both went under, and then I gave him a kind of brotherly embrace, bear hug kind of thing. A very touching moment. We ran back to dry, freezing land, surrounded by dozens of other extreme-freezers.
My entire body was numb...I think of the title of a 1960's book called "Soul on Ice." Wow, it was cold! As the wind whipped my body, I turned and laughed as Cory came towards me. Smiling, Cory said to me, "I felt like you were baptizing me in that water!" I couldn't help but smile. We had taken a plunge, had helped raise money for a worthy cause, and had had a really fun (freezing fun) time in the process. I came up to my friend Lauren, a thin freshman girl, hair in icicle form, towel wrapped around her like another layer of skin, and hugged her, smiling in the process. "Wasn't it fun? You're probably freezing!," I think I said, though I don't quite remember. My brain was about as numb as my feet, which felt like Captain Hook pegs in snowshoes. Finally, the cold was starting to get to me. I ran back to the Crown Center, still overjoyed, still freezing, but entirely warm in the Spirit of Community and hope that surrounded me. We were a group of people helping to in small and large ways helping to overcome invisible conflicts in our world–––and in entering into a struggle, we were entering into a Community of believers.
In a way, our plunge did kind of baptize us. Symbolically, we washed in the waters of hope that change can come about when people come together from all walks of life. To plunge is to not worry about what lies ahead...to simply go for it. When we plunge towards goodness, we plunge towards the Spirit of Charity.
I am honored to have been a part of the "IC Plunge" on Saturday afternoon. The people involved in that organization are people who want to bring charity to the world. These people are learning that it is in giving that we receive. I pray that I can learn alongside of them and that all of us, as we plunge towards the Holiday Season, plunge toward fellowship with family and friends, that we might come to share in the gift of receiving the fruits from that for which we had given ourselves to.
As a Christian, I anticipate December 25 as the birth of Jesus of Nazareth as a day where my tradition comes to celebrate in the hope of a person fully human and fully divine, a person that brings hope to all generations, all people.
Whatever is your tradition, I invite you to plunge into the coming days invigorated and energized, ready to bring about hope to a world that needs joy filled individuals creating the bonds that bring about joy filled communities.
with peace and with love,
your friend bob : )