Editor’s Note: Our new class of DC Service Corps volunteers will each be reflecting on a way that they resonate with Franciscan Mission Service’s mission and spirituality. Erin Frances Reinhart shares the Franciscan practice of contemplative beholding as a counterpoint to living life on autopilot.
I spent the last seven years earning my doctoral degree in Chemistry at Dartmouth College. During this time, I became ultra-focused on obtaining the next data point, designing the next experiment, testing the next hypothesis, and writing the next paper. Often, this required replication of the experiment, and soon I was going about my days on autopilot. I would clock in, perform the same eight-hour experiment, record the data, clock out, and repeat again and again and again. I did experience surface-level satisfaction as I checked experiments off of my to-do list; however, I became unappreciative of all the positive moments I experienced throughout the day. As a result, I lost my love of Chemistry.
As I thought about my future, I realized I needed a break from the frantic monotony and could not continue like this for another five years as a post-doctoral fellow. I desired a radical change but did not know what that change was. So, I turned to God with complete openness and humbly asked for His guidance. He led me to Franciscan Mission Service and the DC Service Corps.
One aspect of the Franciscan spirituality that drew me to Franciscan Mission Service was contemplation, more specifically, the concept of beholding. To behold is to be wholly enchanted by something outside and beyond ourselves. One way I like to describe this is being entirely “zoned in” on something. You are completely fascinated by that thing and are unable to do anything else.
During my orientation to DC Service Corps, I had the opportunity to visit the gardens at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America near the Casa San Salvador. There, I became enthralled by a large tree in the garden. I began exploring all the ways that this tree was interacting with me. The tree was producing oxygen through photosynthesis, which allowed me to breathe. The tree was providing me with shade as I sat on the bench under its canopy. A swarm of insects was residing in the tree, producing a cacophony entertaining my ears. Finally, the tree was producing nuts, which the ravenous squirrels were eating and dropping near my feet. In this moment, I experienced the ingenuity of God’s creation.
As a result of this experience, I challenged myself to behold something each day. Recently, I have found myself being held by conversations with others. During these conversations, I become completely focused on the other person. I have the opportunity to appreciate the gifts, talents, and experiences that make that individual unique. Moreover, I find pure joy in the thought that God has brought us together to share that moment.
I invite you to behold something today. Try to be captivated by an object, a place, or an encounter. Allow yourself to grow from the experience and discover God in it.