Monthly Archives: October 2016
The man sitting on his cot, head bowed, eyes closed, catches my eye as I pass his room. His toddler son, wriggling on his back beside him, gleefully plays with some imaginary toy held high in the air. But the child doesn’t disturb his father. The man prays silently, deeply entrenched in a place far beyond this room.
I pause in the hallway. Quietly take in what I have just witnessed.
Granted, pausing is unusual when I’m working at the Nazareth migrant hospitality center. Most days I barely have time to gobble down a spoonful of yogurt or finish an apple.
But, I sense the beauty and preciousness of this scene. It’s worth taking a moment.
And in that sacred, tender moment, a door opens. A door through which I catch a glimpse into the life of another. A door that further opens my heart.
And I understand why I do this work.
A job that no one in her right mind would ever accept from an employer. The pay is lousy (non-existent!). No company perks. You don’t get a half-hour lunch break. In fact, you have to force yourself to remember to sit down and eat. No 15-minute coffee breaks or gathering in the company kitchen to choose a K-cup of your favorite coffee. No time for checking emails or text messaging. Not even time for friendly banter with your coworkers.
But the reward is priceless.
A connection that takes me far beyond my self-preoccupation. Beyond my judgments of how I “think” things should be.
This act of witnessing, and being with, the migrants and refugees who come through our doors – makes me forget my petty concerns.
Every time I hear one of our “guests” tell me he hasn’t eaten much for days and is thankful for the meals we’ve offered him.
Every time a mom says how happy she is to be able to finally take a shower.
Every time a child’s face lights up when she’s given a used pair of shoes.
Every time someone says I’m kind — “muy amable, gracias,” — when I hand them a jacket or a bag of food for the journey ahead.
Every time I put myself in their shoes, I forget about my own unknown future.
But I am remembering something much more important.
Last April, at a James Finley retreat on Meister Eckhart, I wrote down these words. They struck me, because I knew this was how I desired to live my life:
“Find that person, that community, that act, that when you give yourself over to it with your whole heart, unravels your petty preoccupation with your self-absorbed self and strangely brings you home to yourself.”
That’s what I’ve found. That’s what this “work” is giving me.
The opportunity to come home to my Self.
Richard Rohr writes: “Jesus did not call us to the poor and to the pain only to be helpful; he called us to be in solidarity with the real and for own transformation. It is often only after the fact we realize that they helped us in ways we never knew we needed. This is sometimes called ‘reverse mission.’
“Only near the poor, close to ‘the tears of things’ as the Roman poet Virgil puts it, in solidarity with suffering, can we understand ourselves, love one another well, imitate Jesus, and live his full Gospel.”
In truth, I can’t really walk in their shoes. But I can pause. Be present. Keep my heart open. As I walk in solidarity alongside them.
I’ve left the shore behind.
Leaving Atlantic Beach wasn’t easy. After all, I grew up near the ocean on the East Coast. And nowadays, ensconced in the El Paso desert, I’m lucky when I spot an occasional raindrop.
But even more challenging – within one week of returning to El Paso from my reunion/vacation in North Carolina, I found myself packing. I needed to move. Again.
I knew before I left for NC that I’d to have to find another place to live. My three months of room and board at the house for volunteers were coming to an end.
Truthfully, I’d expected my house in Virginia to sell quickly. And I’d be settling into a new home by now.
But my plan didn’t materialize. So, instead, I had to move into another temporary living situation. Another place that’s not my own.
And, yes, that’s challenging.
But it’s also a gift. A spiritual practice that’s continually teaching me about letting go. About my real “home.” And about the abundance of the Universe.
No sooner had I started wondering where I would go next and what I could afford when an idea came to me. Call Anita. As it turns out, this woman, who hardly knows me, was happy to rent out her extra bedroom. At an unbelievably reasonable rate.
Once again I was given what I needed.
So I began my vacation grateful that I had a place to go once I returned.
And I was open. Receptive to how the Spirit might speak to me at the ocean.
What struck me at every turn? The abundance of the Universe.
I recognized it in my morning walks along the shore as the rising sun cast multi-colored hues of pink and peach across an infinite sky. In the endless waves rolling onto the beach in a constant, humbling roar. In the calm waters that glittered and stretched majestically beyond the horizon. In the sandpipers and pelicans fed from the ocean.
It’s easy to see how Nature exemplifies the abundance of God. With her ever-present giving and receiving, she demonstrates what it means to be “in the flow” of life.
But I wonder. What if we, as human beings, could trust in an abundant Universe? What would our lives look like if we could abide in this flow of giving and receiving? Trusting that we will be given what we need? In every moment? Just as Nature does?
I think I know. The migrants have shown me.
The poor I’ve met live with a concept of the abundance of God more fully and completely than anyone else I know. They’ve tapped into this truth. God provides. You can trust in the flow of the give and take of life.
Here’s a recent example.
We’ve been crazy busy at the Nazareth migrant center. And last week, in our rush to get a mom to the bus station, we neglected to give her a “care package” of food that I’d prepared for her long journey.
A little while later, Linda, a fellow volunteer, showed up at the bus station with other migrants heading out of state. Linda was amazed when the fellow travelers, realizing this woman didn’t have a care package, started pulling food from their own bags to give her. One woman, who said she was “only going as far as Los Angeles,” gave this mom her entire tote bag of goodies. She figured this woman needed it more.
Giving from their need. This is unheard of.
Or is it?
Believing that more is given to the one who gives. That giving is receiving. And in the receiving is the giving.
It’s a message I’ve heard from the Gospel. And a spiritual law that I recently came across in a Pathwork Guide Lecture. This line from that lecture says it all for me:
“I will let God give through me in sincerity, in strength, in truth, in wisdom, in beauty.” (PGL #233, pg. 8)
Isn’t that what Nature does? Isn’t that what these migrants did for that mom?
To live life fully we need to move beyond our fear of not having enough. We need to leave the comfort of the shore behind. To trust in the abundance that is given to us and through us.
Whether I stand, sure-footed, on the shore of a North Carolina beach or move like a nomad from place to place in the El Paso desert, I want to learn this lesson. Nature is teaching me. And so are the poor.
Thursday I found myself praying in a mosque. For the first time. Hopefully, not my last.
Although a Christian woman, I chose to be here. To join my friend Rob, whom I am visiting in Raleigh, and his friend Steve – also Christians. Rob and Steve have been visiting this mosque every Thursday for months. An expression of solidarity.
It was Steve’s idea. As anti-Muslim rhetoric grew more vicious, and frightening, he felt the need to do something positive. So they come at 5:30. One of the five times daily that Muslims gather to pray.
They sit among Muslim men in folding chairs spread out on bright green prayer rugs. And they pray. Silently. Respectfully.
The people have noticed their presence. And welcomed them. It doesn’t matter that Rob and Steve clearly are not Muslim.
On this particular night, I take a seat in the back, where the women gather. A shawl draped over my head covers my shoulders and bare arms. As I sit, I become aware that this might be risky. Associating with Muslims these days can be dangerous. Innocent people have been killed. Simply for being near a mosque. Or appearing to be Muslim.
A smiling man walks over to hand me literature entitled “What Is Islam?” I leaf through the pages as the women wander in with their children.
I read things I did not know. For instance, Islam means to be at peace with God and His creatures. “Being at peace with His creatures implies living in peace within one’s self, with other people, and with the environment.”
I consider this statement – that one of the aims of Islam is “to emphasize the oneness of humanity as a whole and the Oneness of the Creator….”
Hmm. The Oneness of all. That’s the reason I am here.
I pray silently for that Oneness to be realized. For unity. For compassion. For peace.
I watch the women demonstrate their own prayer to this Oneness.
They stand, arms stretched out before them, palms raised in worship. They utter words I don’t understand. They kneel, bend forward, forehead to the floor.
An act of surrender. A humbling expression of devotion.
Present. Open. Surrendered.
That is what I see. That is what I experience. And I mirror it back to them.
I remain in contemplative silence for awhile. A passage from the gospel of John surfaces: “God is love. And he/she who abides in love, abides in God, and God in him/her.”
In this space, I recognize our connection to the One whose power surpasses all.
That connection is Love.
I like to think that this choice that Steve and Rob have made, and I along with them on this Thursday night, delights God. That in choosing to be in love and solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters, we are co-creating a world of love, beauty, and truth. For more years than I can remember I have prayed to co-create such a world. Thanks to Rob and Steve, I am being shown how.
Gerald May once commented while sitting in a prayer circle on a winter retreat when the electricity went out, “Here in this darkened room we are saving the world.”
A bold statement? Maybe.
But on that Thursday night, in a brightly lit room, with green prayer mats, I, too, experienced that possibility. Abiding in love with one another, we are saving the world.
One sacred moment at a time.