I’m sharing this post from Fr. Bill, a Columban priest from our mission in El Paso who is now visiting El Salvador, where he witnesses daily the very situations that are forcing people to leave their homes. This particular post describes the disheartening situation of people being deported back to the very life-threatening situations they risked fleeing.
As I stood on our steep hillside shaking out a rug, a mom and her three children waiting at the bus stop caught my attention. The eldest, a boy of about 7, had gathered pebbles from the rocky mound beside them and, as I watched, he whipped them at his little brother. One at a time. The younger boy turned his body away from the force of the stones. Their mother, preoccupied with removing their little sister from her stroller to prepare for the bus, either didn’t notice or chose to ignore them. The boy continued without reprimand. I stopped beating the rug, wanting to yell down at him from my perch on the hill. Suddenly he stopped and turned his attention to his sister. The toddler now stood beside him while their mother folded up her stroller. Instantly he changed from a relentless rock thrower to a tender caregiver as he enfolded his arms around his sister and pulled her against his waist, as if protecting her from an oncoming storm. His sweet actions, in stark opposition to what I had just witnessed a moment ago with his brother, rather than surprise me, resonated within me.
Maybe that’s because when I was about his age, I picked up a metal toy shovel and threw it full force at my sister’s head. She’d pissed me off, after all. That was my natural reaction.
But the boy’s actions created something stronger than that memory — a recognition of the capabilities within myself.
I am this living paradox.
And I’m not the only one. Within each of us lies this propensity for both darkness and light — a false self and true self, lower self and higher self — whatever you choose to name them.
This recognition is particularly meaningful to me in light of the overblown negative reactions I’ve been reading in response to President Obama’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast. To tell the truth, I don’t think it matters what the president would have said at that prayer breakfast. The pundits would have pounced.
But in his remarks, the president noted that religious groups have distorted and twisted faith or used it as a weapon to justify violent acts. He warned us that these actions are “not unique to one group or one religion.”
Honestly, I think he was trying to get us to pause and look within ourselves. At our own negativity and intolerance.
But some people, most of whom I imagine are Christians or politicians — or both — took offense. They didn’t like being included in this “club.”
A former governor of my home state of Virginia, Jim Gilmore (R), even went so far as to say, “He has offended every believing Christian in the United States.”
Well, I consider myself a Christian, and I’m not offended.
Because even though I strive to follow the teachings of Jesus, I readily admit that I fail — every day. Following what Jesus taught, and how he lived is just downright difficult! And it requires humility — something I didn’t see at all in any of the negative comments I read about Obama’s remarks.
I did, however, find the word in the president’s remarks:
“…we should assume humbly that we’re confused and don’t always know what we’re doing and we’re staggering and stumbling towards [God], and have some humility in that process. And that means we have to speak up against those who would misuse His name to justify oppression, or violence, or hatred with that fierce certainty.”
The truth is, still today, and in this country, people say and do terrible things, justified by their version of God, or justice. And some of these people call themselves Christian.
Somehow I can’t see Jesus condoning religious intolerance, the death penalty, and torture — all of which have occurred in or by our country. Recently.
I think the trick is to look within ourselves first.
I’m remembering these wise words: “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own?” (Matthew 7:3)
If we continue to point to evil and darkness as being “out there,” we will never reconcile these realities. We will completely miss that log lodged right in our own eye. I almost did. Thanks to a little boy at a bus stop. Just being himself.
To read the full script of the president’s remarks, go to:
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
It hasn’t escaped me — the parallel between what’s happening in my life and this current season of Advent. Both are marked by expectant waiting and preparation. Of hope and anticipation in the darkness.
But my experience seems to be lasting a lot longer than one season!
Since my last post, I’ve made it back to El Paso. With a writing assignment waiting for me at the Columban Missions’ border ministry, I didn’t want to “wait it out” any longer at my cousin’s until housing for volunteers became available. So, I decided to make a couple of calls. An El Paso friend took me in for two nights, and then I moved back temporarily with the School Sisters of St. Francis, where I lived when I started this journey at the beginning of the year. It may sound funny, but I’ve slept in so many places over these past several months, it’s been hard to keep track.
Guess it’s not unusual I’d be feeling displaced, uprooted, unsettled. Yet again.
And I’d not anticipated the sadness I’d feel upon leaving Incarnate Word Missionaries and the deep connections I’ve made there. Sometimes I think I’m too old for all this uprooting and moving around. This lack of routine and daily schedules. This inability to anticipate what’s ahead on the path. Even in the slightest next step. It requires a keen watchfulness. An attentiveness to the clues — signs visible only to my spiritual senses.
Seeing as it’s Advent, I was reflecting on another journey: the journey of a couple who, many years ago, also found themselves uprooted, displaced, and wandering. The young wife, pregnant with her first child, traveling away from home, her mother, her midwife, all that was familiar, was guided only by her new husband and the hope of a promise, which, to tell the truth, hadn’t been laid out very clearly. All she knew was her willingness to respond to a call she didn’t fully understand.
That’s really the metaphor for Mary’s life, isn’t it? How one’s willingness to say yes to the unknown, to something that doesn’t make sense in a logistical, material world, gives birth to something well beyond our expectations? Something that can only be envisioned in the imagination. The place where Spirit is experienced, and born.
I know I often have.
Franciscan Richard Rohr’s reflections this week have been on “Presence.” He’s been reminding me exactly what I need to be aware of — the Presence in this moment I am living. Not in the moment I am waiting for around the next bend when everything, hopefully, will become clearer.
“The key to all spirituality,” Rohr writes, is to be conscious, to be awake, to be alert, to be alive.”
To know that I have everything I need in this moment.
I had one of those “a-ha” awakening moments a few weeks ago while staying at Alison’s house in the suburbs of San Antonio — yet another temporary abode. One morning, as I searched among my half-unpacked belongings for something to wear, feeling frustrated over the constant moving and trying to find a place to land, I said aloud, “This can’t be my life!”
It felt so crazy.
But then I paused. And a new thought slipped right in.
“But this is my life! And it’s OK! It’s perfectly fine just as it is. I don’t need to wait for it to be anything different. I’m serving my purpose right where I am.”
Just for a moment I felt as though I had awakened. It’s not that I won’t go back to sleep. I need reminders. Be alert! Stay awake! Be present to your own life!
And know that it is good, just as it is, however it shows up. Because that’s where God is.
Sure, I’d like to have more clarity about where I’m going. Assurance that I’m making the right decisions. But even more, I want a deeper awareness of this abiding Presence. An awareness of this Love guiding all my choices.
Rohr says, “This is what it means to be awake: to be constantly willing to say that God could even be coming to me in this! Even in this!”
Even in the things I don’t like or don’t understand. Even in what I would prefer to change. Or at least be able to anticipate.
Like Mary, can I recognize and hope in the Presence that abides in me? In the here and now? As I wonder and I wait?
Up until now I’ve had the surety of a place to lay my head. The security of room and board. That all changed when, a little over a month ago, I decided to pursue the possibility of serving a different ministry than the one I started out with here in San Antonio. Still with Incarnate Word Missionaries, but in a different capacity.
Since arriving last July, I have been discerning and questioning, why am I here? I found the ministry in transition, with only one mom and child to serve, and, for various reasons, I clearly felt it wasn’t the best use of my gifts and talents. Most importantly — my heart wasn’t in it. I wasn’t experiencing joy in the sacrifices that I’d made to be here. Yet, I knew that joy was possible. I’d felt it in El Paso.
Then I discovered Women’s Global Connection. Also a ministry of Incarnate Word Missionaries, WGC supports projects empowering women in countries like Zambia and Peru. And they had a need for a writer. It seemed like a good alternative.
So, I spoke to the director of the program and the Sisters in my current ministry and we all agreed. I should move on. The Sisters gave me until the end of October to get situated in the new ministry. I thought a month was plenty of time.
Until I realized that housing would be an issue.
It seems the only “official” housing for lay missionaries here is associated with the program I’m leaving. That means other Sisters, another intentional community, or some kind person would have to be willing to take me in. The director of the program searched for housing options for me. I searched too. By the end of the month, nothing had materialized.
But that’s not a bad thing. Because as the deadline drew near, it pushed me to go deeper into my heart. And ask those tough questions. Again. Questions like, what is the best use of my gifts and talents? What do I really want? What is my purpose here?
The response pointed me back to El Paso. Where a piece of my heart remains.
Although I needed to take this risk in coming here, San Antonio is not where I’m meant to land. Another, and greater, risk is being asked of me now. I hear my heart telling me to stop holding back. To acknowledge and trust my gifts. To use them in the service of others. Especially my writing.
And I hear the voice calling me back to serve on the border. And write about the issues that need our attention. Issues that need a compassionate voice. The issues of immigration. And human trafficking. And the lives of those impacted by the decisions we make every day.
It will mean taking an even greater risk, though, because I don’t know how I’ll support myself. I don’t yet know for sure who will take me in. I have the possibility of a place to stay beginning in December. But lots of unanswered questions remain. Can I trust my inner authority? Can I trust the God who brought me here? This Loving Presence that wants me to realize the fullest expression of who I am? I’m on this adventure with God. Heading toward something I can’t reason or explain. And sometimes I do feel scared.
I wonder, isn’t this the definition of faith?
Speaking of faith…
With my other ministry ended, I started serving Women’s Global Connection, which I’ll continue doing through the month of November. The Sisters have graciously allowed me to stay in this apartment a little longer than October 31st, but I need to move by the end of the week. I couldn’t have told you for sure where I was going to be sleeping next week.
Until today. One of the staff at WGC offered me a room in her house for the month. Talk about getting what you need when you need it!
Now I have a safe place to lay my head for another month. It’s something I always used to take for granted.
But on those nights when I started feeling anxious, wondering where I’d wind up, I thought again about the children at the border — those migrating with their moms and those traveling alone. I wonder if they will be so fortunate. How many of them will have a safe place to lay their head tonight?