Category Archives: faith

Paradoxes in Paradise

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Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

I needed to be held.

Difficult feelings had been arising in me well before I landed in Hawaii for a much-needed vacation last Sunday afternoon.

The previous day – Saturday, August 12 – I was driving back from Albuquerque, having spent the last four days at the Center for Action and Contemplation’s Living School. This was the beginning of my two-year journey under Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgeault, and Jim Finley. Master spiritual teachers, all of them. I was feeling excited and grateful.

And uncomfortable.

I had slept fitfully every night since arriving.

Encountering what was showing up in me in the lessons and meditations had not been easy.

And as I drove the four hours back home to El Paso, something else was on my mind. Charlottesville – my former home, my community, my friends.

Keenly aware of the anxiety and trepidation that had been building in that city for weeks, even months, in anticipation of the alt right march planned to descend there on that day, I knew prayers were needed.

And I had been praying. Praying for love to prevail in the face of such hate and violence.

You could say I had a lot on my mind and heart.

But in the midst of my prayer, something else arose. The violence and hatred I was praying to heal out there was also in me. I suddenly recognized the violence I was perpetrating towards myself in response to what had been showing up in me.

It may have been subtle, but it was definitely present. The self-judgment. The self-rejection. The ways I was hurting myself through my erroneous thoughts and beliefs.

In that moment, I realized that it was only in acting with nonviolence towards myself that I could even begin to help heal the violence out there.

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I needed to be with that painful realization. And to hold it with compassion.

But early the next morning I flew off to Hawaii without having the opportunity to venture into that painful place.

Yet I knew I would have to go there. One of the key teachings I’ve learned from Pathwork is that any difficult feeling must be fully felt before it can be transformed. Whether it’s hate, fear, grief, pain….

So, one morning I sit with that hate in my meditation.

As the feelings of hate increase, I feel my body grow tense and tighten up. I hear myself ask God, where were you? Where are you in this pain and hate?

And I believe that I must tense up to care for and protect myself.  The hate feels too big.

I am deep in the middle of this growing, threatening force when suddenly the image of a beautiful, white Hibiscus emerges. Its delicate blossoms are surrounded by a sea of soft, green leaves that seem to expand as they enfold all the misery and pain and hatred that had surfaced.

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And now everything is enfolded and held tenderly in the arms of this Source. A sea of Love.

Allowing this Love to hold my own hate softens my heart and, in turn, allows me to hold my darkest and most painful places with love, mercy, and compassion.

This is the place I needed to come to.

And I will need to return to again and again.

Because before I can stand against the darkness – and not come from a place of self-righteous certitude – I must be grounded in this love, vulnerable and aware of my own woundedness.

The darkness of the kind of hate we experienced in Charlottesville is, I believe, the pain of separation from this Love. Separation from the unconditional love of our Source.

As Rohr teaches, “The great illusion that we must all overcome is that of separateness.”

“Sin” is a symptom of separation, he says.

And yet the paradox is that we can never really be separated from God.

Here’s another paradox:

We are already whole and yet each of us is in need of healing.

And darkness must be revealed before it can be transformed by the light.

Before I left Hawaii, a hike at Volcanoes National Park gave me a great metaphor for what can emerge when what is percolating underground rises to the surface. Volcanic eruptions have created the most beautiful black sand beaches.

It’s just one example in nature.

All of this gives me hope that healing from the painful darkness we are seeing now is possible.

Because I know that love is trustworthy.

It is trustworthy. And it will prevail.

 

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A Radical Revolution

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Tara Brach and Pope Francis have something in common. They both support a “revolution of tenderness” based on “radical compassion.”

I’m thinking it couldn’t be a more appropriate time for this radical revolution to begin. It’s definitely needed. Wouldn’t you agree?

But I don’t mean this based simply on what we’re seeing in the news.

Last week I was asked to start helping accompany refugees again. And what I witnessed is what got to me. Got me looking for an answer to the pain we’re inflicting on one another.

So I scrolled talks from Tara Brach – my favorite Buddhist insight meditation teacher, and found one on “A revolution of tenderness.” I recognized this term Pope Francis had coined in a recent surprise TED talk he’d given by the same name.

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In listening to Tara, it struck me how both she and Pope Francis call for us to connect with our capacity to be tender. And to identify with “the other.”

Long a promoter of “radical compassion,” Tara teaches that compassion begins with our capacity to be tender – towards our own heart. To see and feel our own violated self, our suffering inside ourselves. And then we can open the door to feeling the suffering of the other.

I’ve been practicing that, more or less, since my Pathwork days. But it was her next comment that I needed to hear.

“This quality of heart is our potential,” Tara said. “It’s cultivated by our opening to suffering and remembering the goodness and the beauty.”

Opening to both. That’s the key.

I needed to remind myself of the goodness and the beauty. Because I was getting stuck in the suffering. My heart was hurting for a mother in pain. Just one of many mothers I’d come to know.

When I was at this hospitality house, waiting to do intake after a handful of refugees had arrived, I noticed one woman with a little boy less than 2 years old. She was bent forward on the sofa, keeping her head down as we gave our usual welcome talk. Even when her child came over, seeking her attention, she brushed him off, putting her head in her hands, clearly distraught. My thought was, she must have had a very disturbing journey.

Because she only spoke Portuguese, it took us a while to find out the problem.

Turns out her husband had been traveling with their 4-year-old daughter and had arrived at the border a few days earlier. But the agent that admitted them had separated the child from her father – detaining the dad and sending the 4-year-old to a foster care-type detention center. This child who only spoke Portuguese, couldn’t communicate with anyone, was now in a strange country surrounded by strangers without her mom or dad.

I couldn’t comprehend this decision. And I couldn’t shake the thought of this frightened child. Alone.

Maybe the agent was having a bad day. Maybe he wanted to send a message, to deter others from coming.

Maybe he had simply closed off his heart long ago.

We numb ourselves in order to not feel the pain we are inflicting. We separate ourselves by identifying with dualistic thinking – “they’re wrong and we’re right; they’re bad and we’re good.”

Identifying with a separate egoic self keeps us from recognizing the truth. We belong to something larger. Larger than our small, fearful selves.

“Each and every one’s existence is tied to the other,” Pope Francis says. “The other is not a statistic or a number. The other has a face….Tenderness means to use our eyes to see the other.”

If this is true – and I believe it is – then what we are doing to hurt others will and is affecting us.

The future of humankind is in the hands of those who “recognize the other as a ‘you’ and themselves as part of an ‘us,’” as Pope Francis claims. It’s in the hearts of those who have the quality of compassionate presence that Tara promotes.

“Tenderness is the path of choice for the strongest, most courageous men and women,” Francis says. “Tenderness is NOT weakness. It is fortitude. It is the path of solidarity, the path of humility.”

Yes, it takes courage and humility to remain open to the “other.” To not close down or numb out when you see someone in pain.

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How courageous are you? Are you willing to be part of a revolution of tenderness?

I am. And I hope you are, too.

As Pope Francis says, “It only takes one person, a ‘you,’ to bring hope into the world. And a ‘you’ becomes an ‘us.’”

And that is how a revolution begins.

Emptied Out

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I was a little over an hour away from Dallas, where I’d planned to stop for the night, when three warning lights popped up on my dash.

Panic. I’m on an interstate surrounded by nothing but ranchland. I still had about another 10 hours of driving to get back to El Paso. Plus, it’s Friday night of Memorial Day weekend.

After pulling over to peruse my manual and check my engine, I offer a prayer to get somewhere safely. Then I decide to calm down. I decide to trust that whatever happens, it’ll be OK. And I let go of any expectation to make it back to El Paso tomorrow.

This is not a typical response for me.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been getting a lot of practice in learning to trust over these past several years.

Maybe it’s the effects of listening to CDs on Meister Eckhart and the art of letting go while taking this incredibly long roundtrip drive from El Paso to Virginia.

Maybe it’s because, from the beginning, this journey has been about ridding myself of what is unnecessary. Of letting go of attachments and outcomes. Of learning to say yes to what is in front of me.

And there’s no doubt it’s because of what I’ve seen and experienced along the way.

Days earlier I had emptied out the extra bedroom at a friend’s house where I’d stored boxes I couldn’t get to before leaving Virginia last January. Sorting through years of family photos and other memorabilia filled me with gratitude for the blessed life I’d had.
A life I couldn’t return to. No matter how appealing it seemed.

And appealing it was. Visiting friends who were settling into a simpler life with their husbands, their kids now grown and out of college, yet still living close enough for family get-togethers in the beautiful rural countryside of central Virginia – I’ll admit, it was attractive.

This physical emptying out, I realized, was a metaphor for the internal releasing and emptying that has been going on. An emptying of attitudes as well as possessions, of the way I would like life to show up. The way I would like things to be.

Like not having car issues on the interstate, for example. Or not having my husband die so young. Or living so far away from my son who’s remaining in Alaska for at least another year.

Yet I also saw how, the more I “empty myself out,” the more I have room for God. And for “the other.” Room for true listening. For opening to the grace that’s right here.

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The next day, as I sat in the customer service area at the Dallas Sewell Subaru, waiting to get the news about my car, I pulled out a letter I’d received from Martin, a 27-year-old Mexican journalist who’d come here seeking asylum because his life had been threatened. He was stuck in the El Paso detention facility, awaiting the results of his case.

I’d begun writing to Martin, hoping to encourage and visit him soon. I was considering my response to his letter when I received a text from a friend in El Paso saying that Martin had been denied asylum for the second time! Losing hope, he’d decided to give up his case rather than appeal and remain in our prison-like system. That means he’ll be returning to Mexico where at least half a dozen journalists have been killed in recent months. His young life is surely in danger.

Suddenly my minor inconvenience is irrelevant. My calling to follow my heart clearer than ever.

It may be that every time I step out in faithfulness, I’m taking a risk. But my risks are insignificant compared to the risks taken by those I’ve accompanied, my brothers and sisters running for their lives. People who live in constant fear and danger.

Living with an open-hearted stance is not easy. I feel the pain of the other as I grow in awareness that my life is not about me.

But this is what I choose. And I need grace to succeed.

“Grace leads us to the state of emptiness, to that momentary sense of meaningless in which we ask, ‘What is it all for? What does it all mean?’ All we can do is try to keep our hands cupped and open. And it is even grace to do that.”       Richard Rohr

I hope that I am being “emptied out” so that I can be filled with the very fullness of that grace.

Spring Is Stirring Everywhere

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Memorial Park in El Paso

 

I’ve been missing Virginia’s spring. Luckily, I’m about to experience it once again when I drive back to Virginia next week to attend my niece’s graduation from George Mason University. Soon my senses will be filled with sweet-smelling blossoms, blasted with the color of azaleas, irises, dogwoods, and lilacs. And, of course, stuffed with pollen.

I imagine Davis is missing it, too. Up there in Nome where the earth is just beginning to thaw and show sprigs of green.

Like him, I’ve been having a different kind of spring.

As in Nome, spring’s arrival in the desert is slow and subtle. You have to really look for it.

So lately I’d been paying attention to the stirrings of the earth. Seeking changes in the landscape. Looking and listening. Trying to find what I thought I was missing.

Turns out, I found something. Something within myself.

One day I ventured out to a park located not far from my apartment. So close, I’d wondered why I hadn’t been there before. Sinking my feet into the grass – real grass – I strolled across the lawn and finally settled down under a tree. A wide-trunked tree. Placed my back up against it and took in the energy of one of my favorite forms of life. Right away I started missing the greenery of Virginia. The red cardinals and indigo buntings. Even the squirrels.

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Roses at El Paso park

Suddenly a slight breeze stirred the leaves above me, as if to say, “Hey, we’re here. Can’t you see us?”

And then – I’m not kidding – a squirrel scampered across the hillside. The first I’ve seen since arriving in El Paso. He was quickly followed by another chasing after him. All along I’d thought squirrels didn’t exist here!

In the silence I sensed God saying, “Everything you need is here.”

I smiled as I was shown once again that I have everything I need. That “everything is everywhere” – to use a title of a lovely Carrie Newcomer song I recently came across. That I am never separated from my Source.

And I remembered why I am here.

In this desert, at the border, I am finding my heart, my compassion, my voice. What was planted in me is thriving. And I’m discovering that the changes I seek in the landscape are happening within me.

Just as Davis discovered something stirring within himself in the dark of winter. Something that called him to remain in Alaska and be a voice for the people there.

It’s part of the sacred pattern of life. This rhythm to the cycle of the seasons. A sacred rhythm that’s playing out within us, too. If we can only have patience to allow it to unfold.

Whether it’s under the deep, dark, frozen earth or the dusty, dry landscape, life is stirring within. Seeds have been planted. Seeds that will miraculously burst forth at the appropriate time.

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It’s all part of the cycle. A cycle you can trust.

And you can trust the Source that’s fulfilling what has been planted within you.

Whether you’re at the Bering Sea, the Arabian Sea, or a place like El Paso that’s never seen the sea.

Because, as Carrie sings, “Miracles are everywhere. Love is love; it’s here and there. Everything is everywhere.”  (from “Everything Is Everywhere”)

It’s a message we need to remember. No matter what season we’re in.

To listen to this beautiful song by Carrie Newcomer, find it at

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WuCb8EwApQM

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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Grace to Find Your Way

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Find your way. When a flight attendant uttered these words yesterday on my return flight from a brief visit to El Paso, I stopped reading my book mid sentence. Maybe she had some words of wisdom for me.

But no. Apparently “Find Your Way” is simply an American Airlines website that helps you make your connections and get to your destination. Just check the Internet and “find your way.”

If only life were that easy.

Finding your way can be a lifelong journey. Sometimes you wonder if you got on the wrong flight!

If you’re like me, you’ve realized you might as well relax and give in to not knowing where the journey will end. Or when.

But you can go forward with a willing spirit, an open heart, and a mind a little less engaged in trying to “figure it out.”

Which brings me back to El Paso.

I had to return this past weekend to attend the last module of my Capacitar training. Otherwise I wouldn’t have received my certificate acknowledging my year-long study and application of these body-mind-spirit practices. Practices that are helping people in over 40 countries, including Israel, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, who suffer from trauma, violence, or any type of stress. Practices that I have been using myself and hope to use with those I will serve in the years ahead. Wherever that may be.

I still don’t know for certain where I’m going next. But I do know I haven’t lost my way. Nor have I lost an awareness of the grace available to get me there. Grace that seems to appear as I need it. That happened a lot on this trip.

Like the frequent flyer miles I unknowingly had acquired that helped me “afford” the flight to El Paso. Like the offers of rides to and from airports, of meals, and of places to stay while there. And, most especially, the unanticipated grace of the very warm and genuine welcoming I received everywhere I went. They sure made me feel like I was home.

For the four nights I spent in El Paso I slept in three different homes. And at every one of them, I was offered a room should I decide to return to the border. I admit, it certainly feels tempting. Something about being with people who have a heart for mission — for this mission of serving the migrants and the marginalized — just feels right. But lots of questions remain.

On the table in one of the bedrooms where I stayed, a postcard-sized greeting caught my attention. A pretty picture of blue sky and birds in flight. A quote I can’t now recall.

“That’s nice,” I thought. But then I turned the card over.

As soon as I saw Thomas Merton’s name at the bottom, I knew what it was. Merton, a well-known Trappist monk, author, and contemplative, has a famous prayer, found in his book Thoughts in Solitude. It’s my favorite. And one that’s shown up at various times in my life when I needed to hear it. That’s what was on the other side of this card.

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me. Nor do I really know myself.
And the fact that I think I am following your will
Does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you
Does in fact please you.

And I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this,
You will lead me by the right road
Though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore I will trust you always
Though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death
I will not fear for you are ever with me.

And you will never leave me to face my struggles alone.”

― Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

A prayer of surrender. Of trust. Of humility. From a man who dedicated his life to seeking union with God. I immediately knew this prayer was yet another grace. A gift to my heart.

I figure if Merton wasn’t sure about the way forward, I don’t have anything to worry about. I’m in good company. In more ways than one.

Drawing the Face of God

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Imagination, innocence, and trust. Qualities I love about children.

On the days I’m fortunate enough to serve at the Nazareth Hospitality Center, I get to witness these qualities. Interacting with the children is the highlight of my day.

But when the migrant children first come through our doors, their faces reveal anything but trust.  Their eyes search me, as if for a sign. Some cling to their parent’s side or try to crawl in their mother’s lap. Others sit quietly on folding chairs as I explain to their parents where they are and ask the necessary questions to fill out our paperwork. Sometimes when I bend down to tell a child my name and ask his or hers, I get no answer. The little girl glances away shyly. The little boy pulls closer in to his mother. I wonder what they’ve experienced on their journey. And I’m aware of the place they just came from—an Immigration and Customs Enforcement holding facility.

I ask if they are hungry. And I smile. A lot.

After a while, they respond. They begin to trust that we really do care about them here and that this place is safe. Once a child joins in my game of peek-a-boo or lets me chase him like a make-believe dragon, I feel reassured that despite whatever they’ve experienced, their imagination and innocence are still intact.

Besides, once they see the toy room, they can’t hold back. Before long, I hear the sounds of giggles traveling down the hall and plastic wheels being dragged across the linoleum. Or I’ll walk by and catch a budding artist concentrating on her picture. Later she’ll ask me for tape so she can add it to our wall collection of drawings from the hundreds of children who’ve passed through this center. Most likely her colorful drawing will include words like “blessed” and “thank you” and “God.”  Always the children are thankful. No matter what they’ve experienced.

Luis, a young man who volunteers at Nazareth, knows a lot about the migrant children. About their innocence and imagination. Their trust. And their faith. In addition to taking classes, studying, and juggling a full schedule, for the past six years Luis has volunteered with his church’s immigrant ministry. On weeknights and some weekends he visits and works with the children and youth confined to detention centers.

These children are what our government calls UACs — unaccompanied alien children. That means they’ve come to the border without a parent. Unaccompanied children under 12 are put in a foster care-type system until they’re reunited with a parent or deported. Youth 12-17 are placed in a very structured and secured detention center.

When Luis asks the children why they’ve come, the top two reasons he hears over and over are:

#1 – “To be with my parents/my mother.”  Often the child’s parent came to this country years ago to work and support the family. Some haven’t seen their mother since they were toddlers.

#2 – “To escape the violence.” Now more than ever children tell Luis of being threatened by gangs. Girls often don’t even go to school for fear of being raped. They tell him no one can protect them.

Luis has many stories about the children and youth he’s encountered. Tough stories to hear. Stories about the pain of being separated from parents for years. Stories about things children shouldn’t have to endure.

But Luis has something else, too. A very special scrapbook filled with drawings and letters from the children. They say how blessed they are to have known Luis. In their neatly printed letters, they thank him and thank God for him.

child's drawing of Our Lady of Guadalupe

child’s drawing of Our Lady of Guadalupe

And then there are the drawings. So precious. A seven-year-old’s version of Our Lady of Guadalupe. A young teen’s intricate painting.

But there’s one unusual drawing that Luis especially likes to explain.

One day he’d asked the little kids at the center to draw a picture of what God looks like to them. Six-year-old José presented a colorful, oblong-shaped object up at the top of his page with his name above it.

Not having a clue as to what it was and not wanting to hurt José’s feelings by trying to guess, Luis simply asked him.

“An airplane,” the little guy answered.

Confused, Luis asked, “So, José, why is God an airplane?”

“Because God is fast like an airplane. And I know that if I have God in my heart, God will be the fast plane that will take me to my mom.”

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Trauma. Heartbreak. Disappointment. Uncertainty about what’s going to happen tomorrow.

This is what these children experience. Yet they remain innocent. They still have faith and trust in a God who is present no matter what. And their imagination soars. Just like José’s airplane.

It makes me wonder. If I’d been through what these kids have, how might I draw God?

Simple Joys

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Recently two little girls from Guatemala arrived at our door wearing something I’d never seen on a child. Men’s sweatpants.

Admittedly, the girls and their mother appeared a little more disheveled and a little wearier than most of the migrants that show up at Nazareth. Their massively tangled black hair encircled brown faces streaked with dirt so ingrained, their skin appeared to hold various shades of darkness and light. Permanently.

It wasn’t until Mary Beth bent down to help the children remove their worn-out sneakers that she noticed their clothing. With no laces, broken soles, the tongues flapping and tattered, the shoes were what first caught her attention. worn-out-shoes

But just above the tongues of the sneakers hung gray, baggy pants rolled up at the ankles, spreading out 100 times wider than the width of these thin girls, and then rolled several times over and cinched at the waist. Startled, Mary Beth motioned to me.

“They’re wearing men’s sweat pants,” she nearly whispered.

I had to take a look for myself.

She was right.

If they’d wanted, the girls could have ducked down under the waistband and swum around. I couldn’t imagine them trekking all the way from Guatemala through Mexico wearing these oversized pants.

Yet they had. And neither the girls nor their mother seemed bothered in the least by this. They simply smiled at our attention.
worn out sandals

While Mary Beth helped the family find appropriate clothing, I went off to get bath towels and toiletries for their showers. As I laid out the clean towels on the cots in the their room, I couldn’t help notice what they’d brought with them. Two brown paper sacks sat like fat, wrinkled cabbages on their cots. Twisted at the neck, the bags bulged and split from the weight of the belongings stuffed into them. It was everything they had.

Later, when I escorted the three of them to the showers, I realized the girls had already donned their newfound clothing. One wore a pastel top and jeans, the other, a white dress printed with colorful flowers.

“A dress!” I said to her in Spanish. Her response — nothing but teeth as she smiled up at me, her expression revealing everything. For a moment, I felt as happy as she did. All because of a second-hand dress.

They were still in the shower when it was time for me to leave. Since I wouldn’t be back for a few days, I knew I wouldn’t see this little family again. They’d be gone by tomorrow.

I wanted to do something more. So, I went to the storage room and got a couple of gift bags with crayons and notepads and little TY stuffed animals and placed them on the girls’ cots. It was fun to imagine the joy on their faces when they’d return to their rooms and find them.

But here’s something I’ve noticed.

In the process of doing whatever it is I think I am doing for the people here, something wonderful happens. Each time I learn a little more from their simple faith. Their trust. Their joy. Something about what it really means to live with uncertainty. To trust the journey to something beyond oneself. And to be happy in the midst of it all.

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A Faith Stronger than Fear

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I’m scared, the young mom tells me in Spanish. “Miedo.” It’s one of the new words I’ve learned.

“I know,” I say, managing to fumble my way through my limited Spanish. Of course she’s  scared, I tell her. It’s been a difficult journey. She’s in a new country. Everything is new and uncertain. And she doesn’t speak English.

This evening she will board a bus with her four-year-old son bound for California. And she has no idea what to expect or how she will communicate.

Many mothers have come through our doors here at Nazareth Hall after being processed by ICE. But she is the first to look into my eyes and share her fears. Her vulnerability moves me.

Later that afternoon her darling little son shows off the GAP jacket he’s chosen from the donated clothing room. With its puffy shoulders and bright peach color, it’s obviously for a girl. I try to tell him this. He continues to smile at me, as pleased as can be with his selection. His face is so innocent, I want to cry.hispanic-mother-child-8930055

I remember my own son at 4, how one night at bedtime he had a surprising request. Davis wanted my reassurance that I wouldn’t let any bad guys break into our house and hurt him. He wanted me to protect him from the scary people in the world. It broke my heart to tell Davis the truth. I couldn’t promise him that. But I could promise that I would do whatever I could to stop anyone from hurting him and I’d always love him. No matter what. He could count on that.

I wonder about this mom. Has her son asked for such reassurance? Has she been able to protect him on this journey? Certainly she worries about him, just as I did — and still do — about Davis.

I pull a picture of Davis from my wallet. This is my son, I tell her. She says she sees me in his face. That makes me smile.

Wanting to offer her something more, I tell her to have a safe journey, to go with God. “Vaya con Dios.”

She shows me the rosary hanging from her neck. She tells me she knows God is with her. God has blessed her on this journey. Then she says something about God blessing her through meeting me. Her voice is strong and confident. Her faith intense. Her words humbling. Yet I can bet that any one day in her life has been much harder than my worst day.

Later I find her sitting in a hard folding chair set up in the hallway, awaiting her ride, who won’t be  here for another hour. Her face is calm, not looking at anything or anyone in particular. I’m sure she’s silently praying.

Wanting to join her, but not intrude, I take a seat a couple of chairs away. I pray for her journey. For safety for her and her son. For her faith to continue to be strong. Then I quietly return to my work.

When the volunteer driver arrives to take them to the bus station, there’s a sudden flurry of activity, of greetings and goodbyes. We hug and I can feel her heart. They are whisked out the door. I watch them go. And offer another silent prayer. A prayer from one mother to another.

Birthing Hope

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Days after I arrived in El Paso I found myself back in Mexico. A Sister friend invited me to come experience the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in her parish. A spur of the moment invitation. I gladly said yes.

I’ve known about the Latin American Catholics’ deep dedication to Our Lady of Guadalupe but I’d never participated in the feast day celebrations. Filled with lively music, colorful traditional clothing, singing, dancing. I wanted to experience it.

But Sr. Carol Jean’s parish was not in Mexico City, the place where Mary is said to have appeared to a poor, indigenous man named Juan Diego in 1531 and the place where I’d spent two weeks last July for orientation with Incarnate Word Missionaries. Back then I roamed a middle-class neighborhood bustling with restaurants, gas stations, supermercados, and shops peddling local pottery, art, chocolate, and helado. My trip across the border this time was quite different, as I ventured into one of the poorest sections of Juarez where my friend ministers.

Here there are no tree-filled parks. In fact, hardly any trees grow at all in the dry, dusty, gray surroundings. Crumbling structures, small stone adobes, and peddlers line the unpaved streets. A stark contrast. Not only to Mexico City, but to every other place I’ve visited.

Wanting to join in, I helped the neighborhood women decorate the beaten-up white pickup truck that would transport their teenaged Lady of Guadalupe and young Juan Diego — a small boy donning a poncho and straw hat. We covered three-tiered boxes with brown paper bags to simulate a mountain, taping colored paper flowers anywhere we could.
Our little Lady

Once the matachines (dancers) arrived in their bright red and white native dress, our caravan rumbled off. The boys banged their drums, the dancers stomped up the dust, and the rest of us processed behind singing. Walking alongside the women, some pushing strollers, some carrying images of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I chanted the lyrics to “La Guadalupana.” Over and over again.

For nearly two hours we strolled the streets of Juarez.

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Down the rocky, littered roads and structures scrawled with graffiti, we sang. People ventured out to watch the growing procession. Men from their mechanics shop, grandmothers, mothers, and daughters from homes that seemed incapable of holding them all. One elderly woman stood in her doorway hugging a large painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe, her smile revealing several missing teeth. Everywhere people stopped what they were doing to watch. Participate. Offer a prayer.

Somewhere during the procession I sensed something. Something about being among the people. I realized what it was. Happiness. I felt happy to be here.

But as I took in the richness of the festivities alongside the desperate poverty, I also felt compassion. And I uttered my own silent prayers. Prayers for hope. Most of these people, I knew, would never leave this life of poverty. How could they have hope? It seemed like the best thing to pray for.

Yet my voice seemed insignificant and small.

Days later I came across Richard Rohr’s meditation on a poem by 16th century mystic John of the Cross.

If you want, the Virgin will come walking down the road pregnant with the holy...”

Seeking shelter in your heart. Seeking your help in giving birth. She needs us because…

“each of us is the midwife of God, each of us.”

I see an image of the women walking down the streets of Juarez. I remember my prayer for hope.

And suddenly I see that hope is birthed through me. I am the midwife of God. What a gift I’ve been given! Yet most days I don’t feel up to it. I’m like a child, tentatively taking the gift offered, as if unbelieving that she can really have it.

Hope wants to be born. But it needs a recipient, a conduit, a midwife. God can only bring hope to the world through each of us.

I wonder, what if we all chose hope?
What if we all said yes to the birth of hope within us?
Again and again and again?
Might the streets of Juarez look a little different?

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