Monthly Archives: August 2016
Have you ever been surprised by joy? Felt it come out of nowhere and suddenly overtake you? Yet you can’t fully explain it?
That’s been happening to me since returning to this desert border town. I’ve been experiencing a mysterious joy.
Despite not knowing for sure what I’m doing here. Not knowing where I’ll settle. Still trying to sell a house in Virginia. Looking for a paying job. Aware that my temporary living arrangement will soon expire.
So many unknowns. Enough to send anyone into a panic. Or at least an anxious spin.
But surprisingly I feel peaceful. And happy.
Maybe it’s because I’ve done this so many times now. Uprooted myself. Leapt off into the unknown. Taken risks. And come out the other side, assured once again that I have everything I need as I listen and trust my inner guidance.
But I know it’s more than that.
“Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God,” said Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the French philosopher and Jesuit priest who wrote The Divine Milieu.
God has been showing up a lot lately.
Just two days after arriving in El Paso, I returned to volunteer at the Nazareth migrant hospitality center where I’d served over a year ago. As soon as I walked through the door, took in the familiar surroundings, saw the people, I felt this inexplicable happiness spread inside of me.
Nothing had precipitated it. Other than being in this place.
It was the presence of joy.
A Presence letting me know that I was exactly where I needed to be.
Then last Sunday, I attended a Spanish Mass. A joyous celebration, the walls reverberating with lively music and handclapping. Pews packed with Hispanics. Many others standing along the side and back walls. And this was only one of six masses held every Sunday!
I went because I love being among the people. Saying the prayers in Spanish along with them. Celebrating the combination of their rich spirituality and connection to the earth. Seeing their faith in action both delights and humbles me. I can’t explain it, but they possess something special.
I was standing there, silently taking everything in, when suddenly I recognized something. I recognized the Presence of what it is they possess. And it filled me. This unnamed Presence.
Tears sprang to my eyes. Joyful tears.
And I knew. This is God. This is the Presence of God.
In these people. In these tears I’m shedding.
In this overwhelming joy that has taken me by surprise.
In this awareness that I am standing in the midst of grace.
In the knowledge that every leap I’ve taken — even when it didn’t feel “right” at the time — has been a perfect piece of the process of my life. Taking me where I needed to go. Helping me to heal.
In that moment of recognition, a Scripture verse came back to me:
“Count it all joy when you are involved in every sort of trial.” (James 1:2)
Two years ago I was struggling in San Antonio. Trying to make a go of a promise I’d made to serve there. Feeling very alone and uncertain, I’d written a blog post about the “life in abundance” God wanted for me. The promise of joy. Knowing it was possible, but feeling a million miles from anything close to joy.
Now I understand.
My heart knows why I am here.
“That my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete.”
La alegrίa. That’s Spanish for joy. Now I understand. A joy no one can take from you.
Cultivate your inner garden.
Maybe you’re wondering what the heck that means.
I know ever since I was given that directive on a recent retreat in Ruidoso, NM, I’ve been walking around with the phrase in my head. Thanks to our very spiritual and wise retreat director, Sr. Margarita, who just happens to have indigenous grandparents and a real connection to nature.
Our first night there she had us all sitting in silence in the middle of a green meadow surrounded by lovely green trees (that in itself was a gift for someone like me who’s been missing greenery since I arrived in El Paso).
“Listen to nature welcoming us,” she said as we settled into our plastic lawn chairs.
Sure enough, within moments, trees swayed in unison, leaves rustled, crows cawed. Even the setting sun slowly lit up clouds drifting overhead.
I felt at home.
Not because the place reminded me of Virginia. Although it did. But because I realized, in that moment, that I am always home.
That was just the beginning. The gifts kept coming.
And Sr. Margarita, with her awareness of the presence of Spirit in everything, helped foster that awareness in me.
She seemed to love using metaphors. Something I also love as a writer.
The most powerful metaphor was that of a garden – a place where resurrection happens. (Think of a seed falling to the ground. Or Jesus falling to the ground at Gethsemane.)
A place, she said, that we need to cultivate. A place that represents our inner selves.
She told us how, like Mary in the children’s story, The Secret Garden, we have to go into the attic – or the basement – and take the risk of delving into our dark, mysterious selves, in order to find the key to our secret garden.
I don’t have any problem with that idea. I’ve been to some pretty dark places in myself. But the idea of cultivating and discovering a “secret garden” intrigued me.
So, one afternoon I stepped into the middle of this huge garden at the retreat center, hoping I’d get some insight. I sat in the sun taking in the scent and beauty of red and peach roses — a childhood favorite.
All of a sudden I noticed them.
First one weed. Then another. Pretty soon I was completely focused on those weeds.
The thing is, they weren’t even that large. Or tall. Or overgrown. They seemed so miniscule standing beside the expansive rose bushes that only minutes ago had captured my attention.
But I just couldn’t leave those weeds alone.
Before I realized it, I’d grabbed hold of one and plucked it out of the ground. It lay there limp and lifeless, the sun beaming down on it.
And then it came to me. How that sun is always present. How it warms both the roses and the weeds. How it doesn’t judge whether one is more worthy than the other. It simply shines. And nurtures. And warms and loves everything.
What about me? Can I do the same for myself? Can I let go of focusing on the weeds?
Allow my inner garden to flourish? And accept and love the whole beautiful mess that is me?
Maybe that’s the real secret to gardening.
That would be me.
For six weeks in Bolivia. I was a stranger at someone else’s table. Living with a family I didn’t know. In a country where I could barely speak the language. In the midst of a different culture. Where everything looked, smelled, and tasted different.
It didn’t take long to realize, “I’m not in Kansas anymore.” Or Virginia.
Or anywhere that even resembled the home I knew. Everything felt different. And I felt so alone.
True, that was months ago. But the memory of those feelings has stayed with me.
I actually think the mother of the house where I was living in Bolivia had a preconceived image of me as an American. And maybe she had a little attitude too.
Now the tables are switched.
I’m the one with a little attitude toward foreigners.
You might find that surprising. After all, why would I travel so far from home to return to the U.S.-Mexico border to serve migrants and refugees if I had an attitude?
Truthfully, I’m happy to be back serving at the Nazareth migrant hospitality center. It feels right to be here.
I knew it the first day I walked through the door and was among “the people” again. I found myself smiling for no particular reason throughout the day.
Even though I never stopped moving from the moment I stepped inside the place. And was exhausted by the time I left.
The thing is, so many people are coming. More than I’d ever seen when I was serving here last year.
It’s not so easy to spot those in desperate need this time. It’s not black and white. If it ever was.
Immigration is such a complex issue.
What got me was I was noticing some conflicting feelings arising. A judging, critical side.
I mean I’m aware that I have this side of me, but I didn’t like the fact that it was coming up here, in relation to the migrants whom I’ve felt such compassion for. In a place where I’m serving alongside some of the kindest and most generous people I’ve ever met. The people of El Paso. People who still, after more than two years, continue to fully operate this center through their donations and volunteer hours.
So, the other night I went to bed with these questions on my heart.
“How do I keep my heart open and let go of trying to be judge and jury? How does love respond to this situation? What do you ask of me?”
On the verge of sleep, an image of Jesus in his passion came to me. The pain and suffering he endured. The terrible loneliness.
Then I “heard” his question: “Did I do this only for those who deserve it?”
Such a powerful and humbling response! The truth of it hit me hard.
Because I knew. I certainly don’t “deserve” this gift. In fact, I often take it for granted. And I doubt I fully appreciate it.
In that moment, I understood.
Love has nothing to do with fairness or with who deserves it.
Love invites everyone to the table. No one is excluded. And preconceived images are left at the door.
Granted, it’s challenging to love as Christ loved.
I don’t know if I can do it. But this is my practice.
This is why I am here.