Learning to Love: Crossing a Decade of Rootedness

by Mark Votava


This past year marked the tenth year of living in the neighborhood of Downtown Tacoma.  I moved here back in April 2004 with hopes of exploring ideas of community, rootedness, parish and hospitality.  I left my job as a teacher and eventually moved into a Catholic Worker community in the neighborhood.  So after my tenth year, these are some of the things I have highlighted about my life experience in 2014.

  • Published my first book The Communal Imagination 

First of all, 2014 has been a great year where I started writing and published my first book at the beginning of the year called The Communal Imagination: Finding a Way to Share Life Together.  I also worked really hard on my second book, which should be out this next year, called The Mystical Imagination: Seeing the Sacredness of All of Life!  My friend, Paul Sparks, also published his first book which is exciting called The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches are Transforming Mission, Discipleship and Community with Tim Soerens and Dwight J. Friesen.  Writing has definitely been a highlight for me as I am discovering that I am good at it, it is life-giving for me and it is fun!

  • Learning from the writings of Thomas Merton

Writing has been so helpful for me as I am discovering this year that in the midst of all of my disillusionment, frustration, anger and unhappiness at the state of the church – writing is helping me to find some hope.  I have learned a lot from the writings of Thomas Merton, who was the most widely read writer on spirituality in the twentieth century.  I have read some eighty plus books by or about him in the past years which is currently helping me understand the ideas of the true self, contemplation, mysticism, ecumenical spirituality and unity.  This has been a great highlight for me as I as currently reading a wonderful book about Merton that came out in 2014 called The Franciscan Heart of Thomas Merton: A New Look at the Spiritual Inspiration of His Life, Thought, and Writing by Daniel P. Horan.  Highly recommended!

  • Started blogging about spirituality and community

I also started blogging about spirituality, community and book reviews 5 times a week in January 2014.  Having been faithful to this task all year, I am currently on my 246th post.  In the next 3 years I am hoping to develop this blog more and continue to learn about it.  Blogging is helping me to really focus on writing while creating a platform online for myself and the things I care about.

  • I want the poor to have voice

At the Tacoma Catholic Worker, where we have 8 houses within a block, I have been exploring how to listen more deeply to the poor, oppressed and marginalized.  I want the poor to have voice, to be empowered and reimagine their humanity with dignity.  Living with the poor has helped me to see Christ in new ways.  I am learning to see beyond the illusions of the American Jesus that is so common and finding a vulnerable Jesus of humility, love and compassion.

  • God is teaching me to love the marginalized

In 2014, God is teaching me to love the marginalized, the outsider.  I am becoming less fearful of living outside of the status quo.  This doesn’t scare me as much as it used to which is helping me to love more freely and compassionately.  Giving up an overly consumeristic life where simplicity is a value I live by is freeing me to understand what it means to become an expression of love in everyday life.

  • The Gravity Center

I became aware of the work of Phileena and Christopher Heuertz at The Gravity Center, a center for contemplative activism, which is relatively new.  They started back in 2012 and have been a great encouragement to me as they talk a lot about silence, solitude and stillness in the midst of an active life.  I have read all of their books Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life by Phileena Heuertz, Simple Spirituality: Learning to See God in a Broken World, Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community and Friendship at the Margins: Discovering Mutuality in Service and Mission by Christopher L. Heuertz.  These books are some of my favorites!

  • Faith Shift and The Naked Jesus

Two books that I have read toward the end of the year that were definitely a highlight for me: Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart by Kathy Escobar and The Naked Jesus: A Journey Out of Christianity and Into Christ by John Casimir O’ Keefe.  Both of these books brought me a way to reimagine an authentic spirituality in the twenty-first century.  I strongly recommend reading these books as they will help us to live with more freedom, peace and humility.

What are some of your highlights in 2014?