Sometimes your fire can be rekindled instantly. Your inner spark ignited. For me, it happened recently by a most unlikely source. A 12-year-old Girl Scout.
And it’s been illuminated since!
It started over two weeks ago when we received news that our former hospitality site at the Loretto Nazareth Living Center was reopening! The new owners of the building had decided to give Annunciation House use of their unused wing again as a temporary shelter for the migrants and refugees processed by ICE.
Its two long hallways, dozens of hospital-type rooms with individual bathrooms, large kitchen and dining area meant we could receive more “guests.” Employ more volunteers. Offer better care.
We were “back in business.”
Just entering the familiar space that morning made me happy. Remembering the special memories, the many graced encounters we’d experienced during the previous 2 ½ years we’d occupied this place…it’s hard to explain.
But there was lots to do. The place had been closed for over a year. All our supplies, donations, and volunteers had moved on. It meant everything would have to be replenished.
Then the El Paso Girl Scouts, Troop #883, showed up.
I had been told they’d be bringing donations and that Ruben Garcia, director of Annunciation House, was coming to personally thank them. I just didn’t know the magnitude of their efforts until, assisted by somebody’s mom, the girls carried in armload after armload of their collections.
Soon nearly our entire office floor was awash in a sea of colorful tote bags. Bright yellows, blues, purples, greens, oranges, whites, and reds brimming with snacks and toiletries stuffed in individual Ziploc baggies.
“We have more in my garage when you’re ready for them,” the mom said.
My curiosity won out.
“Whose idea was this?” I asked. “How’d you get all these donations?”
That’s when Natalie spoke up.
She said she’d attended the protest in Tornillo when the news first came out that children separated from their parents would be housed in a tent there. That’s where she learned about Annunciation House and decided to help with supplies for the traveling families. She posted something on her Facebook page and soon financial donations poured in. Not only nationwide but from people as far as away as the UK and Australia.
Natalie said she was “heartened” by the response.
So was I.
Honestly, I had been feeling weary from all that’s been happening at our border. And elsewhere in the country. All the cruelty, the lack of decency and civility to one another, the suffering we’re causing.
I have to admit that I’d been struggling not to let the state of my own mind and heart be affected by what was happening around me.
And then Natalie and Girl Scout Troop #883 reminded me of something.
The divine spark within. It’s there in all of us.
In some cases, it’s covered over by lots of layers. Layers of hurt and pain and fear. We’re seeing evidence of that in many ways these days.
But I want to tell you that it’s alive and well in El Paso. I witness it every time I step over the threshold at Nazareth.
This week we began receiving some of the reunified families. And if this week is any indication, it’s going to be crazy, chaotic, exhausting.
“Such joy!” is how Lisa, a friend and volunteer, expressed her feelings at witnessing these families back together.
Now that Annunciation House has been “in the news” as one of four places in the country to which ICE will deliver the thousands of parents and children they are reuniting, volunteers are coming out of the woodwork.
This week Natalie’s mom came to Nazareth with other moms to make breakfast for our families. Calling themselves “the angry mothers group,” they donned tee shirts that expressed their support of the families. Those moms who didn’t know Spanish smiled a lot at our guests. They made our families feel like they were human beings. And let them know that somebody – although a “stranger” – cared.
People from all walks of life, all faith denominations, all skin colors and cultures – they are all showing up at our door wanting to help.
And they are on fire too!
Not only because they want to do something positive in the face of such abominable treatment to our fellow human beings, but because they too are recognizing what I and my fellow volunteers have been recognizing in the faces of these migrants and refugees since day 1.
The face of Christ. The divine spark.
And that spark is igniting their own spark.
Dorothy Day says:
“Love and ever more love is the only solution to every problem that comes up….If we love each other enough, we are going to light the fire in the hearts of others. And it is love that will burn out the sins and hatreds that sadden us. It is love that will make us want to do great things for each other. No sacrifice and no suffering will then seem too much.”
Maybe your spark will be ignited too. Wherever you are.
Maybe we all will someday recognize that this divine spark, this love has been there all along. Waiting for us to wake up. To remove our blindness. To catch on fire with the awareness of who we truly are.
Every single one of us.
As the darkest day of the year approaches, I’m finding hope in the darkness.
My own darkness, that is.
I’ve been silent because it’s been hard to put words on a page. Hard to express what I’ve been experiencing.
A couple of months ago I entered a darkness, a place where I felt hopelessly negative and stuck. And it was painful.
Despite the pain, I recognized it as an invitation from Spirit. Draw near. Delve deeper. There’s more to discover. More that hinders you from fully realizing all that you are in Me.
So, I reached out for help.
I’ve no idea where this will take me, but I’m willing to go deeper. I’m willing because I believe my faithfulness in saying yes to this invitation will allow the manifestation of what longs to be born in me.
“The birth of the Word in the soul,” as my Living School teacher Jim Finley puts it. Through our fidelity to these yeses, to what shows up unexpectedly in our lives, Christ is incarnate in the world, he says.
But, for now, I sit in the Advent season of expectant darkness.
I sit in the silence and wait. I wait because there is nowhere else to go. I wait with hopefulness, with the courage and trust it takes to say yes. To accept what is before me. And I wait with an awareness that infinite Love is loving me in this place. And a recognition that this, too, is part of my spiritual journey.
I know I’m not the only one who’s experienced this. Each of us has our own moments of waiting in darkness. Sometimes it’s dealing with a chronic illness. Emotional pain. An unexpected medical diagnosis. The death of a loved one. Separation from one’s children.
Here at the border we’ve been getting more asylum seekers lately. We’re especially seeing an increase in refugees from African countries like Ghana, Ethiopia, and Cameroon, where violence has caused many to flee. I’ve begun visiting a few of these young men detained in the El Paso detention facility while they await their court date. They are not much older than my own son. Every one of them has had life-threatening experiences to get here. And every one of them has been separated from their families. If they are sent back, they will be killed.
I wonder how they remain hopeful. How they say yes to the darkness.
One young man I visit tells me his mother knows nothing about where he is. She doesn’t know if he’s safe, or even alive. I think of what that must be like for her – waiting for news. Wondering and worrying. Is she able to say yes to this darkness? To accept this part of her journey?
I think of Finley’s words: “… your ongoing yes is the incarnation.”
And then I recall a very young woman so many years ago. Her willingness to say yes with courage and trust to what presented itself in the silent darkness led to the incarnation. The birth of Christ in the world.
In the silent darkness of the night, no matter how dark, no matter how uncertain, God speaks the Word in the soul.
Like Mary, fidelity to that yes is my journey, too. It is changing my life.
Life’s water flows from darkness.
Search the darkness, don’t run from it.
Night travelers are full of light,
and you are, too; don’t leave this companionship.
Sometimes I need to reground. Connect with my center again.
With all that’s been surfacing lately – within the world and within myself – I knew I needed a day away. I planned it for October 10th – my 36th wedding anniversary. A day when I feel especially held and embraced by love.
I knew I’d feel the spiritual support I needed.
I chose my favorite place – a Franciscan retreat center in New Mexico. A place with real wide-trunk trees and leaves that actually curled and floated to the ground, crunching underfoot, making me feel like fall has truly arrived.
It’s no Sevenoaks (in Madison, Virginia), but it’s probably as close I’ll get to it around here.
Why? Because I hear the invitation.
I hear an invitation to let go of “distractions,” like Martha in the Gospel story, distracted by so many things when only one thing matters.
The Divine invites my mind to rest. My heart to awaken. My soul to remember.
Only when I am still and my mind is silent can I remember who I am and whose I am.
Only then can I “hear” the voice of the Divine calling me “beloved.”
And from this place, I can reflect more easily on this heart of God. The heart that I’ve been asked to receive in that meditation. This heart of the world that bleeds for all, yet doesn’t die. This heart that never stops loving.
But in reflecting on this heart, I also hear another invitation. An invitation to let down my boundaries. The self-imposed ones I created to protect me, to keep me safe. I recognize them very clearly in this place. I see how they’re holding me back.
What if I cross these boundaries?
Is that the invitation I’m hearing now? To cross the boundaries that prevent me from knowing who I am eternally in God? Boundaries that prevent me from knowing myself “hidden with Christ in God forever”?
What if I then discover that we all belong to this Heart? That no one and nothing can exist apart from it? That we are never separated from the heart of God? Even when we’re unaware. Or we reject it. Or we think we don’t deserve it.
No one and nothing is excluded.
It’s one heart. And it’s the heart of the world.
I’ve created my own collage of this heart. Cutting out photos that cause strong reactions in me. Pasting these tiny pictures into a heart-shaped image. A sacred heart where everyone is included.
From innocent children to violent gang members. From poets to presidents. From Mexican immigrants to poverty-stricken Nigerians. From Jihab-wearing women to white supremacists. They all fit in this bleeding, bulging, beating heart.
It causes me to weep. And to soften, so that, ever so gently, I can move beyond my self-imposed boundaries. Into the very center of this sacred heart.
And I just may find that I wake up on the inside of understanding the intimate immediacy of the One who calls me “beloved.”
That would be me.
For six weeks in Bolivia. I was a stranger at someone else’s table. Living with a family I didn’t know. In a country where I could barely speak the language. In the midst of a different culture. Where everything looked, smelled, and tasted different.
It didn’t take long to realize, “I’m not in Kansas anymore.” Or Virginia.
Or anywhere that even resembled the home I knew. Everything felt different. And I felt so alone.
True, that was months ago. But the memory of those feelings has stayed with me.
I actually think the mother of the house where I was living in Bolivia had a preconceived image of me as an American. And maybe she had a little attitude too.
Now the tables are switched.
I’m the one with a little attitude toward foreigners.
You might find that surprising. After all, why would I travel so far from home to return to the U.S.-Mexico border to serve migrants and refugees if I had an attitude?
Truthfully, I’m happy to be back serving at the Nazareth migrant hospitality center. It feels right to be here.
I knew it the first day I walked through the door and was among “the people” again. I found myself smiling for no particular reason throughout the day.
Even though I never stopped moving from the moment I stepped inside the place. And was exhausted by the time I left.
The thing is, so many people are coming. More than I’d ever seen when I was serving here last year.
It’s not so easy to spot those in desperate need this time. It’s not black and white. If it ever was.
Immigration is such a complex issue.
What got me was I was noticing some conflicting feelings arising. A judging, critical side.
I mean I’m aware that I have this side of me, but I didn’t like the fact that it was coming up here, in relation to the migrants whom I’ve felt such compassion for. In a place where I’m serving alongside some of the kindest and most generous people I’ve ever met. The people of El Paso. People who still, after more than two years, continue to fully operate this center through their donations and volunteer hours.
So, the other night I went to bed with these questions on my heart.
“How do I keep my heart open and let go of trying to be judge and jury? How does love respond to this situation? What do you ask of me?”
On the verge of sleep, an image of Jesus in his passion came to me. The pain and suffering he endured. The terrible loneliness.
Then I “heard” his question: “Did I do this only for those who deserve it?”
Such a powerful and humbling response! The truth of it hit me hard.
Because I knew. I certainly don’t “deserve” this gift. In fact, I often take it for granted. And I doubt I fully appreciate it.
In that moment, I understood.
Love has nothing to do with fairness or with who deserves it.
Love invites everyone to the table. No one is excluded. And preconceived images are left at the door.
Granted, it’s challenging to love as Christ loved.
I don’t know if I can do it. But this is my practice.
This is why I am here.