Serving others as a Spiritual Practice

Obviously, because of the pandemic, volunteering with the Pittsburgh Chapter of DfG has changed and I have had time to reflect on what is important for volunteers to experience when they can work with us again. I am hoping that in the next year, I can help people to connect their service work with spiritual self or soul or the part of you that is the you-iest (if that is even a word). Or maybe a better way to say that is to connect with the part of you that isn’t based on productivity but is valued for just being you. And even though I come to this service activity with my Christianity (and specifically Presbyterian) I know that others do not but others do experience something in service that is hard to name. I’ve had conversations with people that go something like this: “Me: I’m glad you came. Beloved: Me too. It feels good to be here. I felt like I meditated”. I think about those interactions a lot, especially lately because they are the part of this project that I have missed during the pandemic.

The Pittsburgh Chapter of Days for Girls attracts volunteers from our surrounding community. Some are people of faith some are not, others are spiritual but not religious, still others are humanists, and others believe in a higher power but not necessarily any specific one and others would claim a specific faith tradition. I imagine there are as many different faith/spiritual perspectives as there are people in the room. Many people come because they want to do a service project or because they have required service hours to fulfill.

Part of what we do is to help volunteers connect with what they are doing and why they are doing it. We are making reusable menstrual pads because they are a sustainable and smart solution for menstruators everywhere. Our kits are donated specifically to people who would otherwise not have access to menstrual products. This donation allows them to continue their education or work without interruption, which can help them achieve a quality of life they might not otherwise attain. It feels good to know that our work can make a difference. I usually begin each of our work session with that information and other information about DfG and end our session by repeating that information. At the end, I also include something specific about they work that was done. For example, today we packed 100 kits and that means that 100 girls will get to continue their education. I also try to specifically thank them for doing something we could not have done without them especially if it didn’t feel directly connected to making kits. For example, thank you for helping us move those heavy bins to a better location, we appreciate you making our work easier for us later. I also ask questions about how they experienced the work and how they feel about the impact being made. Students often will connect what they did with something they are studying like medicine or sustainability. Other volunteers will say it felt good to help someone. Some will want to dig more deeply into other ways they can make similar impacts for women and girls. But it is rare that someone will talk about how service connects with their spiritual self in a direct way. I wonder if there are ways in which I can facilitate that conversation as well. So, the rest of this post is sort of musings and questions and ideas that might be connected or not at all to connecting service work with spirituality but even spirituality feels like too defined of a term to call it that.

I believe that we are embodied souls. That there is something that is me that isn’t my body or my intellect. I think most people can agree with that to some extent… but I could be wrong. I could be wrong about all of this…

I want to talk about that part of us (even if I don’t call it a soul, but maybe soul is the best word) and how our souls respond to helping others/service work. And I want to be able to articulate this conversation in a way that someone of any faith (or someone who is agnostic or atheist) can communicate what is happening in their most inner self in a way that honors their own sense of self/soul and allows them to hear (and maybe even appreciate) how others also express that. How do we talk about how the most inner part or the most you-iest part feels or connects or responds to serving others?

I want to be something other than productive. Maybe a better way to say it is that my value is not in the amount of kits I pack but is in the way I interact with others and with the divine while I’m doing this work. That is just as important as the work I am doing.

Relationships matter. With other people doing the work with me, who did the work before me, and those who will do the work after I’m gone. Sort of a connection of the human spirit or the holy spirit or simply to something bigger that I can’t understand or name. I think this connection is love or loving or filled with love or…. kindness or hope. It’s a mystery that I experience more than something I can understand. And I want to think about the kit in my hands and the person who will receive it. Am I connect to them somehow? One volunteer said, “think of all the little girls who will hug you when you get to heaven”. I hadn’t thought of it that way before but it hit me right in the feelings. Then again, I’m not doing this work for a heavenly reward. I just want the world to be a better place for everyone, now.

I think all people have dignity and value. Menstruators should have access to products that they need. But I think it’s more than that. Menstruators should have access to the products of their own choosing what they want for their bodies what is the most comfy for them. Better than just meeting the need. This is a weird aside (isn’t that the very definition of a blog) but I feel the same way about peanut butter. Seriously, everyone should get to choose the brand they want. Why would anyone donate generic peanut butter to a food bank? No one really wants it. Pay the extra buck and get the good stuff. Your neighbor is worth it. You are worth it. People don’t deserve just any food, they deserve the most delicious and nutritious food. People don’t deserve just any menstrual product, they deserve the best product of their own choosing. Do I believe this because I believe that God lives within each of us or that we have a divine spark or that our human dignity is tied to simply being human and not our productivity or net worth? Probably yes to all of those “or”s. Maybe this is also tied to why I think people should be able to choose their own expression of faith (or express that they don’t believe in anything) and it is not my job to convert (colonize) them with my system, but to simply love them and help them be the best version of themselves as they choose their own way. People have dignity and value and should get to make their own choices about their bodies and souls.

I wrote a while ago that quality control is love for neighbor when referring to the kits and the DfG quality standards. But lately, I think it’s more to do with the individual making the kit. The quality of the kit reflects the type of person I am. I don’t do this work because someone else has earned my love, respect, time, whatever fill-in your own words, I make high quality kits that are sewn well and have some sort of aesthetically pleasing quality. Granted its my own color choices but I’m not just putting anything together, I’m trying to make it beautiful because I believe reusable pads should work well, be comfortable, and beautiful. These menstrual pads are a reflection of my work ethic, values, and beliefs; really they are reflections of all the factors that make me me. And I think other people can come to the same or similar conclusion about service work because of all of the factors that make them them.

If service to others is important to a variety of people with a variety of different faith, life, work, etc. experiences then those experiences that led us all to service should also be celebrated. Our differences are celebrated for the beautiful and complex ways they have brought us to the same service project. Relationships matter. Perhaps we will inspire one another. Perhaps we will simply enjoy one another.

If you’ve read this far, I’m sure you realize this isn’t the most articulate way to talk about connecting service and spirituality or whatever it was that I just tried to do. This is not a finished thesis but an invitation to ponder the connection between soul and service. Faith and works. Spirituality and practices.

My hope is to be inclusive without being so generic its meaningless and to be able to celebrate all of the variety of beautiful souls I encounter.

Cake: celebrating all of the beautiful souls that make the Pittsburgh Chapter of Days for Girls possible.

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