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Getting Over ‘Otherness’


Program associate John Quense tells how he ended up teaching yoga every Wednesday at Miriam’s Studio, an art therapy program in Washington, DC. 

I find that God often draws me to Himself using very personal and uncomfortable methods. This particular encounter began in my bed (pretty comfortable) while I read about the conversion of St. Francis. While many of us may know the story of St. Francis and his encounter with the leper, have we really allowed God to draw us to Himself in a similar way? Do we really “know” what it is like to embrace the people that cause our very stomachs to turn at their mere sight or smell?

St. Francis and the Leper. By Eugenio Hansen, OFS. Creative Commons.

Reading this story, I certainly felt a tug on my heart to experience this sweet joy Francis describes from following Christ’s call to embrace that which he abhorred. I am learning that I need to be a little more cautious with my prayers because the God I am only beginning to encounter does not wait long nor miss the mark when I open up even a little.

The following morning I was offered the chance to go to a food kitchen for the homeless with a co-worker. Although I was a little nervous on the way over, it was not until I walked through the door that the “otherness” of the people smacked me in the face. The young woman I came with was full of smiles and must have talked to ten people before she turned to me and asked why I was just standing there. In my head I had not even picked myself up off the floor, let alone was comfortable enough to talk to any of “them.”

In the world I was accustomed to, people had all their teeth, smelled clean but more importantly they allowed you your personal space and, never asked you for anything. I am not sure what was worse: them, or myself judging myself for feeling such a strong repulsion. How could I call myself a Catholic, a Christian, or even a good person and feel such discomfort at the obvious sufferings of other humans?

God truly works in amazing ways, and I think that is more apparent when we see how he takes even the little we offer and turns it into something beautiful. I was there because I wanted to help. Despite my aversion to those around me, I started walking around the room and tried to have some conversations.

After utterly failing, I made my way to the corner of the room where I saw something familiar: yoga mats being laid out. Now this was something I could do. I asked if I could participate, and while doing deep breathing exercises next to three homeless men and women, our oneness hit me.

I was overwhelmed with the revelation that had I not had the family and friends I had in my life, it would have been me here being served meals, suffering from chronic mental illness, paranoid, homeless and experiencing my only break from that traumatic life during that hour of simple stretches or when drinking.

These were truly my brothers and sisters.

And yet again Christ hit His mark.

Originally from New Jersey, John Quense graduated from Rutgers University in 2011, where he double-majored in Spanish and political science. In addition to his time at the program associate in 2014, John served as a long-term Catholic volunteer for three months in Costa Rica in high school and six months in Mexico during college.