Monthly Archives: November 2016

What You Do to Me

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I have never felt so close to the truth of these words.

They have never been as powerful for me as they are now.

Sure, I’ve volunteered before.  Served dinner to homeless men. Worked in an after-school program with juveniles in a housing project. Visited strangers in nursing homes. Manned a phone at a survival crisis hotline. Mentored single moms and their kids. Even volunteered at an orphanage in Bolivia.

Each of these have been rewarding in themselves.

But nothing like what I experienced on Thursday.

I’ll try to explain.

The morning started out busier than usual.

The moment I walk through the door at the Nazareth migrant hospitality center, I’m bombarded with requests. A couple of moms stand at the doorway of the hygiene room waiting for Pampers. Someone needs Tylenol. Someone else wants cough medicine for her child. Families are lined up ready to head out and pile into a van waiting to take them to the airport. One mom hugs her bare arms, looking cold in a pink tee shirt. Some of the children don’t have coats.

“Where are you going? What state?” I ask Nanci, the mom of one of the coatless children.

“Maryland,” she tells me.

“Oh, necesita un abrigo,” I say and run off to the clothing closet to retrieve whatever coats I can find before they’re herded out the door.

With only a few volunteers working in the office, it can feel impossible to try to handle the needs of 100-150 people. Because that’s what we’ve been seeing the past several weeks as the number of migrants and refugees arriving daily has been doubling and tripling.

We do the best we can. Sometimes we make decisions by the seat or our pants.

Like now.

My first priority is to get these travelers coats for their journey. Then I dole out the appropriate-sized Pampers and am about to head to the medicine room when Adolfo, our center coordinator, asks me to accompany the van driver to the airport. It’s his first time driving solo and he doesn’t know what to do.

So off I go. Me. The driver. Four moms. And eight kids.

Although we’re not required to accompany them all the way to their gates, it’s something I like to do. After all, none of these women have ever flown before. They don’t know the language. They don’t know what they’re doing. Their fear and anxiety are palpable.

So, I ask the airline agent for a special pass to accompany the moms and their children through security and to their gates. And I ask her to please have someone help the women who will be making connections in overwhelming Dallas. I’ll walk each of them to their gates, show them the letter and number matching the one on their ticket. Review several times the flight number, the boarding time, the time the plane actually leaves, the difference between their two boarding passes if they have a connecting flight.

At security, I wait while each of the adults are patted down thoroughly, their belongings picked through, their papers scrutinized. It takes a while.

Passersby look at us. We must be a sight. The women in their ankle monitors like criminals wear. The white trash bags we’ve given them to store their few articles of clothing. They stand out like refugees, but I know they’ve already been through much worse.

The last mom is nearly finished when Nanci comes over, looks right at me, and begins showering blessings over me. Blessings for my health, for my life, and I don’t know what all else, but she goes on and on. I’m not getting everything she’s saying and I tell her I don’t understand.

“You’re an angel from God,” she repeats slowly.

“Yes, you’re an angel from God,” Estrella, another mom, pipes in.

I feel my eyes moisten.

This is not just a clichéd expression. These women sincerely appreciate my kindness. A kindness that probably no one has ever shown them before.

I want to protest that “I’m no angel.”

But I simply say, “It is my pleasure.”

Because it is.

And in this moment, I recognize something. It’s there in Nanci’s eyes.

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Christ is right here in front of me.

Reflected in this woman. A woman who had been a stranger. And who now is a reflection of the heart of Christ.

In this moment, I understand, more fully than I have before. How these people who live on the margins are close to Christ.

“What you do to me.”

And I know exactly why I am doing this.

Even more clearly than when I made the initial decision to come to El Paso.

And I know why I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.what-you-do-to-me

 

 

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A Promise in Post-Election Pandemonium

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Hope. Love. Commitment.

I’ve settled on these three qualities. They’re what I will be carrying with me as we go forward into the next four years. Along with a promise, which I’ll get to in a minute.

Throughout the day following the election, I felt unable to completely focus. My heart laden, my mind racing with legitimate concerns.

For the vulnerable, for the marginalized. For the migrants and refugees whom I serve and for those who will be denied a much-needed haven here. For Muslims, especially Muslim Americans. For African-Americans. For the LGBT community. For women. For Mother Earth. For those who already face lives more difficult and painful than most of us will ever experience – in this country and far beyond.

Did I leave anyone out?

I prayed to be able to say yes. To all that I was feeling. To all that I was fearing.

The only prayers I could get out were, “Help.” And “Not my will but thine be done.”

Then I found myself remembering someone else who’d surrendered with those words.

I imagined the fear and helplessness Jesus must have felt.

And I realized I was looking at this from a smaller lens. Like a child fearing the next wave while missing the grandeur and beauty of an entire ocean that could lift her up.

And I began to hope.

Not the kind of hope that wants to believe everything will turn out the way I think it should.

Spiritual hope.

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The kind of hope I remembered insight meditation teacher Tara Brach describing in one of her wonderful talks. The kind revealed to 14th century Christian mystic Julian of Norwich who asked for an understanding of the suffering in this world.

 

There’s no mistaking. Donald Trump has brought to light the dark shadow of this country. A shadow that has been lurking under the surface all along. He did not cause it. He certainly triggered it and capitalized on it. And he seems to live unaware of its existence within himself.

But unless we bring what is hidden in darkness into the light, it cannot be healed and transformed.

I find hope in that possibility.

I also pray for its realization.

Last night I gathered with my newfound Mexican indigenous “sisters” for a “supermoon” full moon prayer ritual. We came together with a prayer intention of sending love and light to our president-elect Donald Trump, to his team, for our country, and our world. It truly was a light-filled ceremony of releasing and surrendering. Of opening to Spirit’s power and love.

Pray.

That’s something we can all do going forward.

And I feel I must do more. Given the dangerous, divisive attitudes in our country and the groundswell of hate that has erupted.

So, I have made a post-election promise:

I will keep my heart and mind open.

I will be devoted and committed to self-introspection, to paying attention to my own shadow.

I will listen to those with different views and engage in nonviolent dialogue and behavior.

Yet, I will not stand idly by while someone of a different race, sexual orientation, or religion is insulted or threatened.

I will not be indifferent.

I will not be silent in the face of injustice, bigotry, or worse.

I will continue to serve those in need, to do the work I do for migrants and refugees, no matter the consequences.

I will be quiet enough to listen to God within me, and act from that wiser, contemplative place.

Most importantly, I will live by the law of love. The spiritual law of brotherhood.

Love God. Love neighbor. That will always come first. Before any law of the land.

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As Richard Rohr said in his post-election message: “We who know about universal belonging and identity in God have a different form of power: Love (even of enemies) is our habitat, not the kingdoms of this world.

“Only a contemplative mind can hold our fear, confusion, vulnerability, and anger and guide us toward love. Let’s use this milestone moment to begin again with confidence and true inner freedom and to move out into the world with compassion.” (Rohr’s full article is available on the Center for Action and Contemplation website at cac.org)

I go forward with compassion, empowered in my true identity.

With hope in the One who loves us beyond our current understanding.

Committed to speak out and to stand by all my brothers and sisters.

Because we are One. And all lives matter.

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The Futility of Fear

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I admit it. I’ve been feeling both relieved and scared that this presidential election is finally going to be over soon.

Probably like most Americans.

It hit home this weekend just how caught up I’ve been in the barrage of negative electronic media. And the effect it’s had on me.

A friend – a very conservative friend – I hadn’t seen in many years visited on Friday. I’d forgotten just how different our views are. When we sat down to breakfast, she began sharing her opinions and concerns about this election. Her fears and feelings of hopelessness.

I started to feel agitated. Anxious. Aware of my own negative reaction that this conversation was creating.

I felt caught in a frenzy of fear and negativity.

A frenzy that has been swirling among us many long months. Since this presidential race began.

And it’s not just been between the presidential candidates. It’s been all over social media. In the constant Tweets. The back and forth banter of complete strangers belittling one another over who’s right and who’s ignorant. It’s in the news clips that pop onto our Smart phones and laptops. Invade our TV screens. And work their way into our minds.

My friend’s visit simply brought it all to the surface for me, and by Saturday morning, I awoke in a fearful state. Lost in anxious thoughts about what “could happen.”

I had forgotten who I am. Whom I belong to.

I’d lost my grounding. And I knew I needed to spend the day quietly regaining my Center.

Late in the day, a friend showed up unexpectedly with a documentary about Thomas Merton’s life.

As I watched the film, I knew I’d been given what I needed.

As a young man living in New York City, Merton sought refuge in the monastery “…in revolt against the meaningless confusion of a life in which there was so much activity, so much movement, so much useless talk, so much superficial and needless stimulation…,” he could not remember who he was. And this was in 1941!

How much more needless stimulation invades our lives now! How much greater the need to seek silence in order to discover the truth of who we are. The truth beyond this crazy fear and negative rhetoric sweeping the country that threatens to drown us.

The futility of this fear haunts us. It directs our lives into a frenzy of stress-filled thoughts and imaginings.

But Merton reminded me of the gift of silence. How, in the silent emptying of ourselves, we are open to all that is, just as it is. God is present. Fear is useless.

And all things are possible.

Inspired by the film, I picked up one of Merton’s books. The depth of his writings reveal a timeless essence. And his words speak to us exactly where we are:

“…The more we persist in misunderstanding the phenomena of life,
the more we analyze them out into strange finalities and complex purposes of our own,
the more we involve ourselves in sadness, absurdity, and despair.
But it does not matter much,
Because no despair of ours can alter the reality of things,
Or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there.”

(New Seeds of Contemplation)

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