Living in the Xaverian Brothers community means only a limited number of available vehicles exist. As a result, the ability to leave campus is dependent on the availability of the rest of the community. So while I’ve taken the wheel several times to relieve the work on the other drivers, my freedom is still shackled to the keys of the community and a licensed passenger. For someone like myself, who is fiercely independent, these limitations on my movement have caused anxiety-inducing frustration.
Prior to Kenya, every moment of my day was dictated by my own will – I could drive for ice cream, a beer, the grocery store, a meal, or nowhere in particular, and nobody would give notice. Now, a trip to the grocery store takes orchestrating the schedules, availability, and wills of others. A task that would typically take less than an hour to finish after its inception can take multiple hours to even begin. As I grin through the frustration and recognize that my schedule is not everyone’s schedule, there are great lessons to learn in bowing to the will of a broader community.
I would be lying if I didn’t confess desires I’ve had to live as a vowed brother. I almost joined the Jesuits in 2016, but my dad’s health turned that year, and the writing was on the wall for his death. At that time, it didn’t seem prudent to make such a decision, and in the years since, I’ve continued to flirt with the idea. The Xaverians have an obvious attraction, but the lack of vocations in the US and the imminent fact that I’d likely be the last remaining American brother presents fearful obstacles. Now, living in Bungoma, I practically live as a brother. With the postulate formation house only feet from my door, their companionship is easy, and I join them for nearly all of their activities. This “taste” of religious life is pleasant, but entering into this life hasn’t always been easy.
In a community, there are rigid schedules and expectations to be present to one another. While I am not required nor expected to attend their scheduled prayers, meals, and events, my absence is always noticed and frequently commented upon. There is great humility in knowing that you are accountable to others. If I cannot show up for something notifying them if I might be out or unavailable for a particular event is prudent.
Showing up is often a key component of living in a community.
Here the Xaverian Brothers show up in countless ways.
In the school, the Brothers show up for the boys supporting them in every aspect of their life. Before the rising sun and its setting, the Brothers work and live beside the boys, helping with tasks as simple as learning to wash their laundry and learning to wash after a chemistry experiment. In the in-between, the Brothers show up to counsel the boys in their moments of stress, homesickness, and joy. They accompany them to hospital visits and appointments. Every boy is accounted for. No boy is ever alone.
On the streets, the Brothers show up in the lives of countless people. Recently a former street boy who had completed the Brothers program at the Ryken Center was given the opportunity to enroll in a technical trade school. The boy wasn’t sure if he would be able to fund the tuition, so the Brothers worked with the school to make it possible. On the way to the market, Brothers are frequently accosted by people greeting them with praise, thanks, and requests. Each person is given a level of dignity often reserved exclusively for kings. To witness how the Brothers show up in the lives of the Bungoma community is to witness an embodiment of loving-kindness.
In this community, the postulants are present and vigilant to each other as they share each meal, regular prayers, and support one another with daily chores. The laughter during games is birthed from jokes made while working in the garden. The reassuring prayer stems from a difficult moment at their ministry site. Each one is present in the life of the other. For the professed Brothers living down the hill, their lives are independently woven with their specific responsibilities.
Living here in this community has afforded me the opportunity to practice a new way of living and being. Routine prayer and regularly scheduled meals are nice, but I think the lessons are more profound. In relinquishing some rugged individualism, I’ve gained an understanding of communal living.
While I have not made any vows to a religious community, I wonder what values of communal living I can commit to after Kenya?
In learning to live together, there is a constant reminder of the other. A sense of commitment to how your life impacts the lives of those around you. In showing up for others, you invite intimate personal connections for people to show up for you. One cannot hide in a community. Your faults and your strengths are exposed for everyone to see. The truth, our truth, is made known.
How often do we hide our truth in the shadows?
How easy is it to simply lie about our faults?
As I prepare for the final month of my summer in Kenya, I hope to commit more fully to this community. To bare my frustrations honestly, to share my joys frequently, and to welcome freely, the relationships of others.
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