These are my o Antiphons. My own chants leading me into Christmas.
They’ve been on my heart since I took a few days in solitude earlier this month at a nearby hermitage. A practice that’s become my custom in Advent.
Time for solitude and silence. To slow it right down during a season when most of us are speeding it all up.
The spiritual gifts and graces I receive during those days away are invaluable. But this time was especially rich.
This time I took with me a quote from Jacob Boehme — one of the mystics we read in Living School– to reflect on: “God’s spirit acts only in resigned humility, which neither seeks nor desires itself.”
And I asked myself, what would it take for me to let go of everything I think I am?
Over those three days, I came to an overwhelming awareness of Infinite Love manifesting itself in finite time and space in the miracle of Christmas. And of the kind of humble surrender it took — and continues to take — for that love to incarnate.
For God needs a dark and joyful womb to create something new.
In a few nights I will gather with nearly 200 Annunciation House volunteers and their friends and family to celebrate Las Posadas. It’s true we all have experienced a dark and very challenging year in which we’ve witnessed and accompanied so many suffering people.
But it’s also true that despite the evidence in this world of confusion, fear, prejudice, violence, and greed, Love Incarnate prevails.
This gathering will be an example of that love. It will be an example of the joy that is born from serving the Holy. Of the hope that is born out of darkness.
And it will show me, once again, what extravagant love looks like when it is poured out in the flesh. And how God can act in ” resigned humility, which neither seeks nor desires itself.”
On Thursday I ventured over the Bridge of the Americas into Juarez. Not quite like over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house.
Not at all.
I was on a mission. And I didn’t have a song in my heart or a pumpkin pie in my lap. I simply carried the two things I knew I would need: my passport and my willingness.
It turned out to be more than enough.
We rode in a nondescript white van – myself and two fellow female volunteers. Our driver, a 29-year-old Peace Lutheran volunteer and grad student, had crammed boxes filled with satchels of toiletries and packages of new underwear for adults and children into the back. Insulated bags of warm burritos sat on the floor behind me.
Our destination – no shelter of warmth, but pop-up campsites just over the border where dozens of families had erected tents while they await their “turn” to cross the bridge and request asylum.
These “campers” were mostly Mexican nationals fleeing violence in their home states. Places like Michoacán, Zacatecas, and Guerrero, where cartels seemed to be especially powerful. Places where they’d left behind family homes. Maybe a small farm or herd of animals. Maybe not much of anything. Except their fears about keeping themselves and their children safe.
But Customs and Border Protection agents stop them before they can cross one of the international bridges. They’re told CBP can’t handle them. They’ll have to put their names on a list and wait until their number is called. A process called “metering.”
Over the months since this practice has been put into place, asylum-seeking families, afraid to lose their place in line, have pitched tents close to the bridges. And they wait.
In the meantime, church groups from El Paso all the way to Las Cruces have been bringing food over almost daily. Lutherans, Methodists, Catholics, Unitarians…they come to feed the people stranded here.
This was to be my first experience witnessing these campsites.
I didn’t know what to expect.
So my prayer before starting out that morning had been that I would have eyes to “see.” That I would be open to whatever I would encounter at the tent “city” where we were to deliver these donations.
The camp is easy to spot. A nest of tents encircling a small park. Wet clothing hanging from atop fences and trees.
As soon as we park and unload, people start lining up. They are used to this routine.
But, once they see the goodies I have in these boxes, it doesn’t take long before any semblance of a line dissolves. Eager children surround me.
I finally stop trying to tell the children to get in line. I let go of my desire to make it more orderly, each one waiting his or her turn. I simply give everything away until the boxes are empty.
Afterwards, while another volunteer pours extra water into people’s empty containers, I speak with a couple of the women. How long have you been waiting to be called, I want to know? Two months, they both say.
Two months! Just to cross over and be processed!
I want to ask if they’re aware they will have to come back here and wait again. Unless they are lucky enough to be released to their family sponsors.
I want to ask if they know how slim their chances are.
Maybe they do. Maybe they know that, especially for Mexicans, the chances of winning asylum are remote.
But maybe they have no place else to go. Maybe they figure even a glimmer of hope is worth holding onto while they sleep on the ground.
As I listen, I realize that I have never known such desperation. I cannot identify with these women living in little tents covered with plastic garbage bags in a crowded and dangerous city. I have nothing to compare it to. I feel so disconnected.
Later, reflecting on this experience, I remember my intention. My willingness to see.
So, I look up the definition of “connection.”
The relationship among people and objects across the barrier of space.
And then I remember something. Words that come in so clearly in the middle of my meditation:
“Have you been with me this long and still do not see me? Not know me?”
Humbled by how blind I am, I say again, “I want to see.”
It had seemed like such a small action. This crossing the bridge to hand out food and new underwear.
But it wasn’t. Not for them. And certainly not for me.
Because taking this small step has shown me. Your love is the bridge. Your love is the connection to recovering my sight.
A spiritual connection can come so easily in nature. At least it does when I am open and trusting, like a child, to the mystery. That’s when I discover nature gifts me with answers to my inner questions.
Recently, it happened my last night in Paria Canyon – my last night sleeping under the Milky Way. I had left the cover of my tent off so I could gaze up at the nearly full moon and the preponderance of stars filling the heavens. Feeling comforted and secure, I asked the moon about a concern I had on my heart – a concern about suffering.
And I fell asleep with Sister Moon shining into my tent.
During the night, she gave me a powerful insight through my dreams. I scribbled it all down in my journal, and maybe I will write about it more in depth later on.
But journaling about that experience reminded me of another conversation I’d had with the moon.
Late March 2014. I had just returned from my first time volunteering in El Paso. The two months I’d spent there had affected me in ways I hadn’t expected. I felt changed somehow.
Already, I was transitioning from my life in rural Virginia.
But I didn’t know that then.
I’d like to share that 2014 journal entry. Because it expresses the uncertainty I felt about the way forward. It reveals how Love upheld me in my loneliness. And it affirms the benefit of listening inwardly.
God did speak to me in the silence of my heart. And I’ve learned how to listen.
March 2014: Last night I had a conversation with the moon.
It’s easy to do, where I’m living now, from my log home in the woods. Standing in my great room, its huge A-frame windows opening to the trees and sky, I noticed the misty white light pouring in, casting itself in great gulps across my country carpet with its images of bears and moose and acorns.
Through the floor-to-ceiling windows, the expansive sky filled with stars tried to soothe and remind me that I am not alone.
It feels so very different from my sojourn in El Paso – this place in the woods. Here it’s absolutely still.
When I pause and listen, I hear complete silence. Only the occasional light tinkling of my wind chimes dangling from my porch as a breeze catches them. A gentle interjection. No freight trains blaring their horns as they cross intersections. The daily trains passing through El Paso are a distant memory now. The open, expansive sky hovering above millions of twinkling yellow lights dancing across two border cities – it too has faded. Replaced by a sheath of woods, concealing all neighbors.
So, I asked the moon – my most attentive neighbor – what am I doing back here? In the silence and solitude. Is it to regain my balance? Is it to truly learn what patience and trust mean?
I tend to believe this prayer that I have been saying regularly: “I am exactly where I am meant to be.” I whispered it to myself in the moonlight. And Sister Moon, she seemed to nod in agreement, reassuring me in the silence.
In the morning, I am greeted by a plump robin perched on a branch as I take my daily morning walk down my long gravel driveway. In the midst of the waning winter cold and these bare branches, I recognize the nourishment that’s been given this creature. She’s obviously been fed well and is quite healthy as she awaits spring’s return. Spirit has given me a gift this morning through this robin – an awareness of God’s providential care.
I begin to notice a few other signs of life.
The bird’s nest in the rafters on my porch.
The small stream of water that runs down the hillside of my property.
But no other human voice. No other sound to match the sighing of my breath as the day passes as it has like so many before it: soundlessly.
Is this how You are caring for me? Through the lonely, silent beauty of nature? What am I to make of this? Whom can I talk to, besides the sky and the earth and the moon? I am seeking answers, and they come so slowly, so subtly, through these sources. Maybe that is the point. Maybe the answer I seek will come through the uncertainty in waiting. Maybe this is how You have been asking me to listen all along – in the solitude of nature, in the silence of my own heart.
These poetic words from Mary Oliver were the farthest from my mind while hiking in Paria Canyon recently.
In fact, my mantra had become two simple words: “Stay upright.”
A prayer I uttered to the heavens each day as I focused on my footing while keeping up with my more experienced comrades.
Because between avoiding shoe-sucking mud resembling quicksand, stepping in and out of a flowing stream strewn with glistening rocks, and learning to lift my own weight along with a heavy backpack onto rocks above knee height, keeping my balance was not guaranteed. Teetering on my own two feet is something I do on a good day when I’m walking on a flat sidewalk carrying nothing more than a set of car keys and a cell phone.
I actually did quite a bit of praying on this adventure.
Not that I was scared. My trepidation pretty much disappeared after the first day. That is, once I’d decided to stop listening to that voice in my head questioning what the hell I thought I was doing when I’d agreed to let this challenging, narrow canyon be my first-ever backpacking trip.
I had to make up my mind to get beyond the discomforts. Things like constantly walking in wet shoes with sand and silt that, by the end of the day, lay heavy on the top of my socks, and attempting to accurately use and carry “human waste bags” – these were completely new experiences for me. And they were a little disconcerting.
Outside my tent that first night, the repetitive rhythm of the stream running by and the innumerable stars overhead soothed me. Seeing the massive Milky Way again reminded me of the last place I’d seen it so visibly – my Virginia home in the woods. A place where, despite the challenges that came with living alone and so close to nature, I’d often received spiritual gifts and guidance.
Here, with the majestic beauty of the red canyons rising up around me in the darkening sky, I chose to fall into trusting the rhythm of this adventure, to regard it as a pilgrimage, for that’s what it was. A journey into a place of raw and glorious nature. A place where I felt small and insignificant.
As I prayed to let go, I knew that in my insignificance lies the presence of the Infinite.
My prayer transformed my attitude overnight. I eased into the next day. Slipping on my still-wet shoes, I silently chanted my usual morning psalm, and off I went, both my head and my footsteps lighter.
In fact, I felt so light, I volunteered to carry an extra bladder of water, increasing the weight of my pack to about 30 pounds. Since fresh water springs were few and far between, this would become a regular practice, but for now, I happily took on this new experience. My two-word mantra ever present.
By late afternoon, my toes hurt, the heat of the sun bore down on my bare arms, and the additional weight of the pack on my back began to strain my right shoulder. A memory surfaced. Davis, 3 years old, plopping himself down in the dirt, whining and claiming he couldn’t make it up the hill we were climbing on our way back from a hike. I hoisted him up and continued on, stopping every now and then to readjust his weight on my back or catch my breath. How much did he weigh then, I wondered?
This question swiftly turned my attention to other memories. Memories of stories from others who journey across uncertain and uncomfortable paths. Across sand and desert carrying, not 30-lb backpacks, but 30- or 40-lb children on their backs.
As I walked, I carried the stories of the people I have accompanied. The story of the mother who carried her disabled child. The story of the 19-year-old who carried a pregnancy caused by her rapist in a homeland where no one could protect her. The story of the boy who carried nothing, except the pain of badly blistered feet.
I also carried the story of my privilege, to be able to take this journey for pleasure. A story that would end in a few days, with a hot shower and a cheeseburger with fries and a beer waiting for me at Marble Canyon Lodge.
I forgot about my feet. My prayer turned to the people. For their journey.
I cannot separate myself from them. Any more than I could separate myself from the mud always at my feet or the clumps of tiny red and violet flowers that popped up along the path or the towering red sandstone.
This is the collective story. It belongs to the Infinite. And I must honor it all.
“I would say that there exist a thousand unbreakable links between each of us and everything else, and that our dignity and our chances are one. The farthest star and the mud at our feet are a family; and there is no decency or sense in honoring one thing, or a few things, and then closing the list. The pine tree, the leopard, the Platte River, and ourselves – we are at risk together, or we are on our way to a sustainable world together. We are each other’s destiny.”
― Mary Oliver, Upstream: Selected Essays
This is what it means to be a pilgrim on a journey.
I’ve recently returned from a week-long visit back east. My Virginia friends will probably wonder why I didn’t tell them I was coming. But this trip was solely for a reunion at Sevenoaks Retreat Center in Madison.
At least that’s what I thought when I started planning it. However, God had other plans.
Before long nearly 100 middle schoolers had entered the picture. But more on that in a moment.
First, I need to express how spiritually nourished I felt being back at Sevenoaks. The minute I stepped on that 130-acre wooded property again, I began to remember the many graces I’d received throughout my years there.
Sevenoaks is a special place where I and these now very close friends had first met and gathered more than 10 years ago, to begin some deep work together. It was a journey towards healing and transformation. With lots of pain, and pleasure, too, along the way. The opportunity came at a time when I was ready, and in need of taking that journey. I started this program only months before David died.
Sometimes, because I lived only minutes away, I would come over just to spend time on the land. To be alone in the sacredness of nature. And to listen to God speak to my inner being. And it was there in the silence of nature and in the depth of that program that I had begun to understand that God had placed a new calling on my heart.
And now here I was again surrounded and held by Mother Earth, the forests, the Blue Ridge Mountains, the rich, red earth. Whether standing amidst a grove of cedars, meditatively walking the labyrinth under a canopy of trees, or praying in the little sanctuary in the woods, all of it filled my heart and soul with gratitude.
I thought I was spiritually filled up.
And then I headed to Raleigh.
My plan had been that, on the tail end of my trip, I would drive down with my friend Rob and spend the remainder of my time with him and his wife before flying out of Raleigh the next day. It was unusual for me to book an afternoon flight when traveling back to El Paso from the East Coast. Especially with the 2-hour time difference. But at the time I didn’t think much about why I hadn’t scheduled a morning flight.
Not until weeks later when the “coincidence” surfaced.
Rob discovered that Lucy, a family friend and teacher of World History and Language Arts at a private middle school in the Raleigh area, was offering her 7th graders a long-term program focusing on the various issues of immigration and refugees. When Rob told her where I lived and what I did, she wanted to know if I’d come speak to her classes about El Paso and my experiences at our border.
I didn’t hesitate to say yes.
What has been so difficult for those of us living in El Paso these days is not being able to do much in the face of the alarming and false anti-immigrant narrative and policies that are sending asylum seekers to wait in dangerous Juarez. Most Americans have no understanding of the border reality. I had been praying and asking God, what can I do now in the service of love? Making PB&J sandwiches didn’t seem to be enough. I had turned back to writing more.
And then I received Lucy’s invitation.
If I was willing, she wanted me to give presentations to all four classes, back to back, enabling me to reach all 7th graders. That meant I would have to be there the entire morning.
Now I understood why I had delayed my flight. I could say yes to Lucy. And yes to what I clearly felt was Spirit’s response to my prayer.
After standing before students for 3 ½ hours, my mouth dry, my mind feeling like mush, I realized I had never spoken so long in my life. And never so effortlessly and smoothly. Never had I taken follow-up questions so easily. Clearly I had gotten myself out of the way and let Spirit take over. Clearly it wasn’t “me” doing the talking.
I had simply asked to be a voice, an instrument, through which Spirit could reach the hearts of these youths.
And the best part was I could tell they were listening. They were engaged. By their surprised expressions and concerned questions, I knew that they were learning about something they had had no clear understanding of beforehand.
Afterwards, Lucy and her colleague Matt were so appreciative of my willingness to do this. But they have no idea how thankful I am for them. How grateful I am to know there are teachers like this who want to educate youth about all sides of such an important issue, help them think for themselves, and learn empathy along the way.
Certainly they have no clue how I was spiritually fed that morning. How they allowed me to be a voice for those God has clearly put on my heart. And to have had it be part of my journey back to Sevenoaks seems especially mystical.
The pain of heartache flows in the narrow river. I watch the ripple from the footbridge above, feeling helpless, hopeless. There is little I can do.
Do I let my heart feel the sorrow, the grief? Sometimes I do.
Sometimes I cry with the young wife and mother who lost her 2-year-old daughter and the husband carrying her on his back. Or with the Honduran woman whose husband did not want to come but listened to his wife’s plea. “It’s only for a few years,” she told this strong man who could no longer keep his family fed and safe.
He did not make it across the Rio Grande.
Nor did the 21-year-old female who’d been sent to wait in Mexico. Alone and vulnerable. No one to protect her from imminent rape. She tried to venture back across.
Taking the risk in the water was better than the risk of waiting in Juarez.
Single women, mothers with children – they are the easy targets.
I’ve heard courtroom reports of Guatemalan women pleading with the judge at their initial court hearing not to send them back. “Put me in a cell,” one tells the judge. She would rather be locked up while she waits than be “free” in the homicide capital of Mexico.
“They extorted my family for money,” another one says. “I’m afraid to go back.”
Two women sob in the courtroom, with their young children in tow. Intruders tried to rape them at their shelter.
Those of us who live at the border – we all know it’s not safe in Juarez. There is nothing protective about this outrageously unsafe policy, the complete opposite of any kind of “protection” for migrants.
Even the El Paso City Council denounced the “Remain in Mexico” policy 6 to 1 back in July. Still, it continues.
I read about a priest who was kidnapped in early August by a gang for not letting them into his shelter to kidnap migrants. He is still missing. Another priest was killed outright in Matamoros.
Now at our hospitality center, Casa del Refugiado, in El Paso, a different kind of migrant passes through. The kind that can take a plane across Mexico and land closer to the border. The kind that have cell phones and are cellphone savvy enough to make their own travel arrangements quickly. Some leave our center within less than 24 hours of arriving.
Granted, not all are like this. But I hardly see the desperate, disheveled, dirty faces anymore. Those who had to leave their country just to survive. And started out on foot.
Facing extreme hardships. Extreme suffering. Extreme roadblocks along the way.
Wait in Mexico? They have been waiting. Especially the Guatemalans, the Hondurans, the El Salvadorans. Waiting for justice and safety that do not exist.
So, this tiny patch of water that separates two cities, two countries, poses a minor obstacle.
Still, the river can be deceptive.
The water churns, swirls, gains power.
So many stories are buried in its silt.
I ask, what can I do? Plead? Wail?
And then I do one thing I know I am asked to do. I pick up my pen. I tell others. I write the stories, hoping those who read will know that we cannot stand on the shore watching. We, too, must wade in. Feel this churning, swirling power.
Maybe it will change us. Maybe it will cause us to act.
Alaska. What a spectacular, breathtaking vacation!
But I wasn’t two days into it when I realized something.
Just how much I needed this break.
How much I needed to relax. Have fun. Do whatever the heck I wanted. And, most particularly, I needed to get away from the border.
Yes, I did say that.
It had become more of a weight than I realized. This daily barrage of disheartening news, of mistreatment of other human beings, of lack of due process and other human rights abuses.
I needed a break from the weight of our border reality.
And I didn’t know just how much until I had left it all behind.
My phone went silent. No more daily text messages about how many families were being sent to which shelters. How many volunteers were needed where.
No more disturbing news about what was happening — unless I chose to look at it on my phone.
And every day I got to choose.
Choose how I was going to spend the day. Where I was going to go. How long I’d stay. What and when I was going to eat. Whether or not I wanted to splurge on some unanticipated treat.
Adventure was my companion. Spontaneity became my best friend.
I felt special, spoiled, so grateful, and so free.
As I reflected at the end of each day, I saw how privileged I was to have such freedom. I also noticed how easy it is to to get lost in a bubble – that kind of enclosed space in which only what affects me, and those I care about, is all that matters.
It’s true I had to put El Paso aside for awhile. To not think about the border. Yet, despite the need for self-care, I found I could not take the people out of my heart. I know this because I readily and easily talked about the border situation whenever anyone asked me where I was from or what I did.
One stranger who sat down next to me at the Seattle airport in between connections genuinely thanked me afterwards for informing her about this side of the immigration story.
Being a voice of truth in solidarity with those who are hurting is a responsibility that I believe comes with this unbelievable freedom.
Tomorrow is the International Day of Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its abolition. This is another area in which I am coming to better understand my privileged freedom. And the need for solidarity.
Recently I heard from a presenter at our gathering in Albuquerque that as a result of our Living School experience, we are more aware of the pain in the world. Certainly the Living School has brought more awareness to the plight of people of color and of the marginalized.
I think that what is also true is that as a result of my experiences at the border and my exposure to the driving factors of migration, I am more aware of the pain in the world.
And in my awareness of this pain lies my awareness of my responsibility to be in solidarity with a hurting world.
No matter where I find myself. Whether doling out donations to migrants or gliding over gorgeous glaciers in Denali.
Davis was the first to check on me. Thousands of miles away, yet he knew what was unfolding in El Paso before I did. And he wanted to make sure I stayed away.
Incredulous, I quickly checked the news. It was worse than I had feared.
But the hate that brought that young man all the way from Dallas to inflict so much pain and fear in our beautiful community was overpowered tonight by the love of El Paso.
Tonight our community came together – it looked like thousands of us – at Ponder Park just behind the Cielo Vista Mall where this hate-filled act took place. We came to pray together at an interfaith vigil. To share our pain, our grief. To support one another. To show the nation, and the world, who we are. And what it means to be #ElPasoStrong.
There was music. There were beautiful prayers and heartfelt messages offered by leaders of the Catholic, Protestant, B’nai B’rith, Buddhist, and Muslim faiths. I could feel the healing and the power in the words. I knew Love’s presence was among us and within us.
There’s so much love and warmth in this city. I think that’s what I felt right from the beginning when I first came here. And that’s why I have felt so connected to this community.
I had been planning to write my next post about my trip to Alaska, what I experienced there, the insights I received. But that will have to wait for another time.
Because tonight, this is what I want to write about more than anything. The unbelievable example of love this community has shown.
For one another. For the stranger. For the immigrant. For the suffering.
Yes, the love in El Paso is so strong. So very strong.
In one very powerful exercise, a female speaker asked us to turn to someone next to us that we didn’t know and ask them if they were alright.
I turned to a stranger. “Are you alright?” I asked sincerely.
Her eyes moistened, as she said, “I’ll get through it.”
Immediately I felt my own tears.
And then she asked me the same question, and I agreed. Yes, we will get through it. And I’m glad I’m here.
Then the speaker said if we noticed that person got teary eyed, give them a hug. And so this stranger and I hugged. Our hearts mutually hurting for this place we love. And simultaneously beginning to heal.
At one point during the event, we heard car engines revving as they drove around the park. I heard shouts but could only make out the word “Alabama.” Strange and unnerving. People turned to see what was happening. Faces concerned, apprehensive.
This is what such an act of terror can do. Put people on edge. Make a once very safe community not feel so safe. Create a reason to have a large police presence at a gathering that not so long ago wouldn’t have required any police.
I know that this past year things have changed in terms of threats being wielded at El Paso and at the hospitality centers where I volunteer. Knowing the hate that’s been growing unchecked, I take these threats seriously and have been concerned. But I continue to do what I do, where I do it, because of this love.
As Bishop Seitz said, prayer heals.
Our community’s love is much more powerful than hate.
We know how to love our neighbors, no matter what side of the Rio Grande they live on.
And love is stronger than death.
Most importantly, El Paso will always love. No matter what is wielded at us. That’s what we know how to do.
Maybe some people at the top could learn from this community’s example.
I have a little girl inside of me who’s afraid of the dark. She still believes there are monsters under the bed. She fears the face of the boogieman on the social media screens.
Lately she has been knocking on the door of my heart a lot. Asking me to let her in and comfort her.
She wants to cry. To crawl into my lap, put her face down and sob.
Such sadness she is feeling. The world seems so scary.
As the wise, experienced, adult mother who has raised my own little boy – a child who also needed comfort and reassurance when afraid – I should know how to do this, right?
And often I do. I can sit quietly and let my little one have my full attention as I cradle her tears in the cup of my heart.
But sometimes – like recently, with what I’ve heard and witnessed about our migrant families, especially the children – I get this feeling in the pit of my stomach. While the little girl in me is anxious and scared about the treatment of the children, about what is happening to those who are no longer able to come to our hospitality center, the wise mother in me is concerned about their safety. And deeply saddened by their treatment at our hands.
Distressed and sorrowful, I feel like I’m failing my own little one when she knocks on my door seeking comfort.
And I know need a little help.
Sometimes I must pray and ask the Divine Mother, my Higher Self, my Source, my Beloved – whatever name I need to use to better connect me with God in the moment – to soothe my own adult sorrow.
God always assures me that although He/She cannot take the pain away, I am never alone in it. My Beloved assures both me and my little one that feeling this sadness is not frightening. It’s a good thing.
It means we care. It means we love. It means we will act with justice and mercy.
And in turn, feeling these feelings means I can also fully feel joy, love, and beauty.
Sometimes I read children’s books to my little girl to soothe her. I let the preciousness of these stories wash over me. It feels good to do that for her.
And sometimes my Beloved gifts me with inspiring stories that soothe my adult self.
One of those gifts is Etty Hillesum’s An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbrook, written in 1942-1943. I’ve been turning to her beautiful words lately, this young Jewish woman who despite knowing she would die in the Nazi camps, had attained that “peace which surpasses all understanding.”
Etty recognized God’s graces all around her in the hellish camp where she was assigned. She recognized beauty in the patch of blue sky, the field of lupins, the quiet moments to herself. And she did this in the midst of what she described as “a misery beyond all bounds of reality.”
In one of her last letters, Etty prophetically writes:
“And I also believe, childishly perhaps but stubbornly, that the earth will become more habitable again only through the love that the Jew Paul described to the citizens of Corinth in the thirteenth chapter of his first letter.”
We all know that chapter in the New Testament. We’ve heard it recited at many a Catholic wedding.
But do we remember how it starts out: “Now I will show you the way which surpasses all the others.”
When my little one knocks, I remind both her and myself that we know the way that surpasses all others.
We know, despite any evidence to the contrary, that “Love never fails.” And the One who knocks waits patiently for us to let Love in.
In a matter of weeks, all the dinner tables were sold out. At $50 a plate.
Who would pay such an exorbitant price for a dollop of pinto beans, rice, and a tortilla?
Or spend their Saturday night witnessing reenactments at the border that make you feel uncomfortable?
And who would delay their family vacation in Colorado so they could attend?
Yet, these were the people who came to Annunciation House’s annual Voice of the Voiceless fundraiser recently.
We were there to support Ruben Garcia’s calling – a calling he has been passionately following for more than 41 years.
We were there because all of us have been touched in some way by the migrant poor at our door. Whether it’s through personal encounters at the dozens of hospitality centers set up throughout the Borderland community or through personally witnessing the harsh conditions under which many have been held after their arrival, such as the fenced-in outdoor areas under the port of entry bridge.
For us, eating this simple plate of food is more than symbolic. It is an act of solidarity with our brothers and sisters. It is a statement that we will not sell out. Our integrity, our values, our care for one another in our common humanity – these are not for sale.
Good Samaritans like Teresa Todd, who was the winner of this year’s Voice of the Voiceless Border Witness award, have proven that. BTW, she is the one, along with her entire family, who delayed their vacation so they could personally attend our dinner.
I was thrilled to discover Teresa was this year’s recipient. I had recently read a New York Times article about how this single mother, a well-respected elected official and county attorney of Jeff Davis County, was being prosecuted for helping three El Salvadoran migrants who had flagged her down on a Texas road one night. The three siblings hadn’t eaten for days. The young men’s 18-year-old sister, Esmeralda, was lying on the ground in pain, unable to walk. Her muscle tissue was being eaten up.
Teresa told us that as a mother, as a Christian, as a woman whose parents raised her to care for those in need, she did the right thing. Thinking of her own teenage sons, she helped the three young people into her car and made some calls to local officials for help. Instead of assistance, Teresa was taken into custody by Border Patrol and accused of “harboring aliens.”
Now she is facing federal charges.
Teresa saved the life of Esmeralda that night. And she told us she would do it again.
No matter the current political climate.
She didn’t sell out her values. She acted with courage and compassion. And she kept her moral character and integrity intact.
Unfortunately, we as a nation are not.
As Ruben told us that night, “…the relentless and insidiousness process of dehumanizing human beings is threatening the core of our being.”
That is why Ruben chose this year’s fundraiser’s theme, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident,’ as a reminder.
“What is being done to refugees stands in stark contradiction of the fundamental principles and values that brought the United States into existence,” he told us.
“Time and again we have heard the word ‘crisis’ used to justify practices that violate the very character of a nation that has been 243 years in the making. The real crisis on the border is a crisis of character and morality.” Ruben Garcia
Neither Ruben nor Teresa are alone in believing this. Many others are expressing or thinking similar beliefs about our moral compass.
This was evidenced by the numerous out-of-state donors listed in our program this year. Sponsors from North Dakota to Maryland, from Alabama to Indiana.
I thank God for people like Teresa Todd and people across the country who have stepped up to volunteer or financially support those who are suffering in our name.
And I pray for all of us, as a country, that we do not “sell out.” That we stop finding ways to justify or ignore cruel and inhumane treatment of others because our business is thriving or our economy is doing well.
When we do so, then we have sold our integrity for greed. We have lost our moral compass.
And we cannot continue to claim that immigration is about observing the law when we as a country ignore the law when it isn’t convenient or doesn’t match our current agenda.
This was so evident when articles from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were read at the VoV dinner. The United Nations General Assembly declared these fundamental human rights in December 1948 as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations.
We, as the United States of America, are in defiance of articles such as Article 14, the right to seek asylum; Article 16, the protection of the family; and, most especially, Article 5, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
I believe our country is at a crossroads.
We are still evolving into the real truth of the words of our forefathers: “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all [persons] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights – that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
Let us declare that these truths are not for sale.