Remember when someone stepped-up to give you a hand — a family member, neighbor, co-worker or perhaps a stranger who walked beside you at a critical time?
TREKKING TOGETHER is for Catholic Charities’ staff and volunteers to reflect on The Art of Accompaniment — how we walk with the people we help, support, serve and champion. Trekking Together, you are invited to share your story and comments with me at email@example.com.
WELCOME TO “TREKKING TOGETHER”
"I AM BECAUSE WE ARE"
UBUNTU, UBUNTU, UBUNTU!
The Art of Accompaniment is natural to who we are and what we do. Because human beings are fragile at birth, struggle in more ways than one during life and usually decline in our abilities as we enter our senior years, we are hard-wired in the art of accompaniment.
The 1624 poem, “No Man is An Island” written by John Donne, expresses the idea that human beings do poorly when isolated from others and must be part of an interdependent community to survive and thrive.
Yet, some cultures do not hesitate to shout out their self-autonomy. Do your own thing! Paddle your own canoe! Stand on your own two feet! But in other cultures, there is a strong awareness about the inability to survive alone. One beautiful example is South African culture and is illustrated by this true story, told in a number of versions, about the awareness of being and working together for the benefit of all.
There was an American sociologist that went to a village in South Africa. One day he noticed a group of children playing outside in the village square. They were no different than the kids in other parts of the world. Happy children, having a wonderful time. The sociologist went up to the group and said, “I want to play a game with you. I have a bag full of American toys and candy. I am going to set it down next to this tree. In a moment, I will say, ‘ready, set, go,’ and then you can rush to this bag of candy and grab as many toys and as much candy as you want.” Now, these kids had never seen anything like this before. The sociologist set the toys and candy next to tree and said, “Ready, set, go.”
It was in this moment that something magical happened. Not one of the South African children moved a muscle. Not one of them. They stood still for about 20 seconds and then one of the kids stood in front of his friends, looked at them and said, "UBUNTU, UBUNTU, UBUNTU!" Then he returned to the group and placed his hands on his hips. Each of the children interlocked their hands with his and they slowly and calmly walked to the candy and toys together. The treasures were shared among the kids, without neglecting the elderly folks who passed their time talking in the village square. They even included their pet dogs, cats and small wild animals who were brave enough to join in.
The word “Ubuntu” (pronounced oo-boon-too) is a South African word used in the Zulu and Xhosa languages. The word is best translated, “I Am Because We Are.” While the word is spoken differently in the many South African dialects, it is a natural and shared philosophy among the South African people. Humans need each other for survival and well-being. We are interconnected to one another in the web of life. We are in this world and life together and we need one another.
In addition to the philosophical-social meaning of interconnectedness, the word Ubuntu has a spiritual meaning. It is about how we are with one another, without conscious thought. By honoring the sacred in one another, we honor the sacred within ourselves. It is a generosity of spirit, sharing, living in harmony, because we cannot function spiritually without the gifts of everyone. It is knowing that our world, and we ourselves, are diminished whenever injustice, oppression or humiliation takes place. It is about being open and available to others, knowing that we have a place in God’s world, and so does everyone else, so we have no need to think too highly or lowly of ourselves or others.
Ubuntu is a deeply theological and spiritual perspective that empowers us to know we and others are loved by God, and that we are all in this together, no matter where we come from. When we can begin to understand and live Ubuntu, we can learn how to truly forgive ourselves and others, returning to the goodness God made us for.
Closer to home, the goodness we are made for is brought to reality daily in Catholic Charities’ Mission Statement, Leadership Model and everyday ministry which are all rooted in Catholic Social Teaching and applied through the Art of Accompaniment. This suggests that the story of Ubuntu, no matter what version is told, is our story of trekking together for the benefit of the people we serve and our own.
Looking for more meaning about “Ubuntu” on the internet is itself an experience of this collective African philosophy. Authoritative definitions, academic papers, blog posts like this one, personal stories and videos of all sorts attempt to explain the miracle. I recommend watching “What I Learned from Nelson Mandela” a TED talk by Boyd Varty: https://www.ted.com/talks/boyd_varty_what_i_learned_from_nelson_mandela?utm_source=tedcomshare&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=tedspread
THE ART OF ACCOMPANIMENT
A SACRED CALLING
The Art of Accompaniment is a sacred calling from God to actively care for one another using the best of our knowledge, abilities, and skills, with the generous grace of God guiding and encouraging us. Accompaniment is the art of building relationships through active listening, easy availability, sympathetic understanding, ready flexibility, keen sensitivity, unrelenting patience and reliable trust. The purpose of accompaniment is an initial and deeper transformation into the people God calls each of us to be.
WHEN IT STARTED
In the biblical story of creation, God inaugurates accompaniment by creating human beings in his own image and likeness. He calls them to actively care for creation and for each other (Genesis 1:27-30). God emphasizes his concern for humans during his conversation with Abraham, “I will maintain my covenant with you and your descendants after you throughout the ages as an everlasting pact, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” (Genesis 17:7). We are created to be in relationship.
HOW IT’S DONE
In the Jewish scriptures, God’s calling is answered by Ruth, the daughter-in-law of Naomi, who accompanied her widowed mother-in-law to Bethlehem. “Do not press me to go back and abandon you! Wherever you go I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people and your God, my God.” (Ruth 1:6).
As a mentor, the priest Eli accompanied the young Samuel who was brought to the Temple at Shiloh by his mother Hannah. “Then Eli realized that it was the Lord who was calling the boy, so he said to him, “Go back to bed; and if he calls you again, say, ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’” So, Samuel went back to bed. The Lord came and stood there, and called as he had before, “Samuel! Samuel!” Samuel answered, “Speak Lord; your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:8-10).
In the Christian scriptures, Jesus skillfully practiced the art of accompaniment in his direct and dynamic care for people: when he speaks with a Samaritan woman at a well in Sychar (John 4:4-29) and when he first called and then taught his disciples (Mark 1:16-20; Matthew 5:18-7:28). Also, when he encountered the sick (Mark 1:29-2:12), raised the dead and after his resurrection by appearing to disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). Before his death Jesus promised an everlasting relationship with himself, the Father, and the Holy Spirit, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always” (John 14:16).
The art of accompaniment is an art which means that it has and continues to be practiced during ever-changing times in ever changing new ways.
As a young campus minister at the University of Krakow, St. John Paul II accompanied students not only by providing the sacraments but by being with them during significant and often difficult times of their young lives.
In his 2007 apostolic exhortation, The Sacrament of Charity, Pope Benedict XVI called the Church to accompany people who have heard God’s call to join their lives with Christ with pastoral care that is gentle and truthful.
Pope Francis echoes God’s calling by encouraging the art of accompaniment in his apostolic exhortations. In The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis emphasizes the need for all Catholics to practice the art of accompaniment to evangelize. “The Church will have to initiate everyone---priests, religious, and laity---into the art of accompaniment, which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other.” Pope Francis continues to share his thoughts and inspiration about the art of accompaniment in his homilies, prayers and pastoral ministry.
By our grace-filled human nature, we are called to accompany each other day in and day out wives and husbands with each other, and parents with their children. Friends, relatives, teachers, co-workers —as well as complete strangers — may come into our lives as companions who generously care for us and who desperately need care from us.
ACCOMPANIMENT AND CATHOLIC SOCIAL TEACHING
Catholic Social Teaching is a collection of beliefs and values about the dignity of human beings and God’s love for all creation. Since 1891, popes, bishops, and people of faith working together with ecumenical councils and synods have carefully distinguished seven themes characterizing what makes a fair and just world: 1. The life and dignity of the human person, 2. The call to family, community and participation, 3. Solidarity 4. The dignity of work 5. Rights and responsibilities 6. Option for the poor, and 7. Care for God’s creation. Like a conductor directs an orchestra of talented musicians playing horns, strings, keyboards, and percussion, the seven themes of Catholic Social Teaching sometimes together and sometimes alone — direct the art of accompaniment.
CATHOLIC CHARITIES AND THE ART OF ACCOMPANIMENT
Inspired by God’s love and compassion, the mission of Catholic Charities’ staff, volunteers and benefactors is to extend the healing ministry of Jesus Christ to the poor and those in need on the Western Slope and along the Front Range of Colorado, and in Wyoming. We work to fulfill our mission by following five principles of accompaniment:
- We are available to every client. We are especially available to those who may not know or be able to ask for what they need.
- We embrace each client without judgment, even if others judge them harshly because they do not seem to fit a common standard of living.
- We allow each client to tell his or her own story, while being sensitive to how personal experiences may have and/or may continue to traumatize his or her life.
- We are patient with a client, gradually building a relationship of trust by keeping true to what we say, do, and promise.
- We are aware that no matter how hard we try; some clients can be difficult. Nevertheless, God’s grace is the power behind accompaniment. Through our active presence, God is at work in the lives of our clients lives and our own.
The art of accompaniment is living in God’s world together. The goal is to give the best of ourselves to others so that their needs are diminished and a more just world is created. The art of accompaniment is successful when we truly walk the road together knowing that God walks with us.