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We Have Awoken

Standing Rock orange

We faced the fear with love. Our spirit is not broken.

That was the message of the film “Awake” that my new Native American friends presented to the public this afternoon. A film that was more than disturbing. I felt sickened as I watched the events unfold at Standing Rock in North Dakota – the site of protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

We all heard and saw the news reports last year as the protests persevered and expanded, well into December. We know how the story goes.

And, sadly, how it ends.

But to see it unfold in real time, in this documentary…to see peaceful people standing in prayer in the river pepper sprayed and hosed down with water cannons in freezing temperatures…to watch as unarmed Native Americans fell to the ground after being hit with rubber bullets…

It hurt my spirit.

Sadly, this is not new to indigenous people. They have been fighting for land rights, for nature, for the environment, for hundreds of years.

Funny to think that English-speaking people were actual immigrants to this country. And they were welcomed by these natives. Without visas. Without knowing the language.

Coming without jobs or ways to support themselves.

As Rudy, one of the elders of the tribe that has befriended me, explained, “Community is most important to us. We are taught to be gracious hosts, to welcome all into community.”

And that they did. And still do, despite how they were treated in the past.

I can vouch for this based on how they have welcomed me, a white-faced stranger, into their community.

So, why do indigenous people still fight to protect the land?

“What we do is for the next seven generations,” Rudy explained. “It is for our children and our grandchildren. We must protect our earthly home and keep a balance in all of life. Honor what is sacred.”

The Missouri River – which the DAPL travels under – is the longest river in North America and the water source not only for the Sioux Nation, but for 17 million Americans.

Missouri River

Missouri River, South Dakota

Not only was the pipeline built, but in the process, sacred sites were desecrated. Elders were arrested. Tepees slashed. People brutalized.

But something else happened as well. Something positive.

A movement began. Many people – around the globe – heard the truth the indigenous people speak.

They understood the message of DAPL protestors: “We belong to the water. We belong to the air. We belong to all creation. We are all guests on Mother Earth. And we must honor her.”

They realize the truth of these words: “We will pay the consequences for desecrating Mother Earth.”

And more people have joined these water protectors. These global protectors.

DAPL is not the end.

Hundreds of pipelines are being proposed all over the United States. But now millions of people have awoken.

“Will you join us?”

I’VE BEEN WOKEN

by the spirit inside that

demanded I open my eyes

and see the world around me.

Seeing that my children’s future

was in peril. See that my life couldn’t

wait and slumber anymore. See that I was

honored to be among those who are awake.

To be alive at this point in time is to see the rising

of the Oceti Sakowin. To see the gathering of nations

and beyond that, the gathering of all races and all faiths.

Will you wake up and dream with us?

Will you join our dream. Will you join us?”

FLORIS WHITE BULL, ADVISOR AND CO-WRITER OF AWAKE, A DREAM FROM STANDING ROCK

If you’re interested in a screening of the film, go to: http://awakethefilm.org/

Standing Rock

In Love’s Flow

Sevenoaks view

View of Blue Ridge Mountains from Sevenoaks Retreat Center, with St. Francis in foreground.

I spent the weekend at Sevenoaks Retreat Center in Madison for a reunion with some very dear friends. Sevenoaks has special meaning for me. It’s the place where I dived deeper into the courageous and challenging spiritual journey of knowledge of self and God through the Pathwork program. It’s also where I began to trust the overpowering and overwhelming experiences of God’s love flowing through me. And Sevenoaks is where I first made a serious commitment to use my gifts and talents to serve community.

Being there again this weekend only affirmed that commitment.

I know I have a mission. Or, I should say, the mission has me. That’s what I was told during my missionary service orientation in Mexico City last August. And I know these words are truth.

I also know this passion for my mission did not come from my ego mind. It came from what I would call the Spirit of divine love. A love that has awakened my heart to the needs and the pain of the “other.”

I hear friends — good and caring people — voice concerns about how the influx of Hispanic immigrants is affecting our economy, affecting our lives, and I wonder, how can I explain what I’ve experienced? What I’ve seen in the Other? What I know about how our country has contributed to the economic situation in Latin America? How our economy would falter without the contributions of these hardworking immigrants? About what it really means to be hungry and in danger?

Mostly, how can I explain that when we look at the other and feel fearful or lacking, we are in illusion?

Yes, my heart has awakened.

Sometimes it feels impossible to hold it all. To know the pain of others in my heart. But this weekend at Sevenoaks I was reassured that I am not holding it alone. All I need do is listen and follow the call. Take the next right step. But it’s not easy.

The question I must ask myself time and again is this: In whatever I am doing, thinking, or expressing, am I in love’s flow? Or am I in my fear? Will I spend my life worrying about whether there will be enough? Or will I trust the transformative Love of God to support me and give me what I need as I listen and follow as best as I can? The kind of trust I witnessed in those I served.

I choose to trust.
i-see-the-divine-in-you
I trust that if enter the flow of seeing the divine in the other and open my heart, I will in turn receive much more than I have given. I’ve already experienced this. Especially in Texas and Mexico. Why wouldn’t it continue?

How about you?

Will your soul be enriched by the other?

How will your heart respond?

Will you allow yourself to look into another’s eyes, listen to their story, feel their pain, and recognize your Self?

This weekend I was reminded of the Prayer of St. Francis. It’s a tough one to live by. But I say it anyway, trusting that it’s quietly transforming me. Along with those whose lives I touch.

I share that prayer here.
prayer of st francis

 

The Gift of Esther

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I can’t believe I’m writing this. Esther died today.

Less than three weeks ago she came into my room at Grandview house and said she had some news. Esther never even ventured into my room, so when she pulled out a chair and sat down, right away I knew this was serious. She told me she had cancer and it had spread throughout her body. I was in shock. We all were.

Esther was the Sister of St. Joseph with whom I’d been living since I arrived in El Paso in early December. Over the past few months she’d been losing weight. I thought it was due to the stress of managing this big house by herself. Although I was helping as much as I could, having volunteers coming and going every two weeks or more, trying to feed them all, keep the house clean, and manage the bills, all seemed like a huge responsibility to me. And I wasn’t 70+ years old.

Then Esther had developed this unrelenting back pain on top of the weight loss. Still I didn’t attribute it to anything serious. Esther was just too spunky and vibrant. A former phys ed teacher, she’d often break into song. Remembering a show tune or classic that somehow related to the situation at the moment, she’d simply start singing. Not the least self-conscious at all. Even though she rarely got through the first line or verse before forgetting the rest.

I found this endearing.

So was her addiction to doing the crossword puzzle in the morning paper. Whenever I came down to breakfast, I knew if I sat down with her, I could expect to be drilled.

“How many letters?” I’d ask.

But she’d already have moved on to belting out the next clue. It was too much for my mind that early in the morning. Sometimes I’d eat my cereal in my room.

The thing is, I love Esther. But at first, I wasn’t even sure I liked her.

When I came to live at Grandview house, she questioned me. She didn’t understand why I had left everything behind. What was I looking for? More than once she told me she could never do what I was doing. And she wasn’t too keen on the idea that I was writing three days a week instead of working every day with the immigrant families at the hospitality center where all the other volunteers at Grandview spent their time. So, I offered to give her one full day a week of chores to help towards my room and board.

Still, I don’t think she trusted me. Or my ability to live like a missionary and adjust to the situation. Our relationship didn’t exactly start out on stable ground.

But as she saw how I adapted to making meals with whatever lay stored in the cupboard, how I rarely asked for anything, how I was available whenever she needed me, she eased up. And I grew less resentful. Prayer helped. So did my commitment to being there.

And then, very subtly, Spirit slipped in and taught me how to open my heart to this woman. Showed me how to see her more clearly. Like the night Esther shared her faith story with me. How she’d been a teacher for years, focusing on herself, before she experienced a grace-filled moment that changed her life and caused her to join a religious congregation.

The day Esther handed me a large sum of cash to manage groceries because she had to be away from the house for several days, I thought I’d cry. It was more than the fact that she trusted me. Without saying a word about it, I knew we’d grown fond of each other.

By the time my birthday came around at the end of March, she was asking me what I’d choose if I could have my favorite meal. And then she went and bought fresh tuna steaks and told me to invite a friend to dinner. This from a woman who had worried aloud more than once about what the grocery bill was running.

As Esther grew weaker, I felt especially blessed to be at Grandview. I actually enjoyed lugging the trash cans up and down the steep driveway every week. And pulling the weeds popping up out of the pavement and along the hillside. It would have been easy to stay there longer.

The morning I’d packed up my car and was ready to head out of El Paso, Esther and the other Sisters at the house gathered round to bless me on my way. The beauty of this gift — Esther had prepared the blessing. When I looked into her eyes to say goodbye, I recognized my own heart.

Esther surrounded by Emerson College students visiting the border in March

Esther surrounded by Emerson College students visiting the border in March

I’m treasuring Esther’s gift tonight.

Why Should I Care?

stuffed-animals
I scrub toilets, mop floors, disinfect cots, and breathe in a mixture of bleach and water that’s giving me a slight headache.

moppingI’m helping Sr. Mary Beth, another volunteer at the Nazareth Hospitality Center, clean the rooms our guests have vacated. Guests, as in the immigrant families who have passed through our doors, staying for one night, maybe two, before heading to relatives elsewhere in the states.

As I heave the wet mop across the linoleum, I feel some resistance. Cleaning bathrooms is not my favorite way to be of service. So, why am I doing this? Why am I cleaning up after these strangers? People I will never see again. People who might not even be grateful for what I’m doing. And, some might be quick to add, haven’t played by the rules.

I remember the angry faces in the news last summer protesting all the families and kids streaming over the border. And, more recently, the disheartening comments I read online with  messages like,  “Send them back!”  How appalled they’d be if they knew what I was doing here. “Why?!!” they’d surely ask.

I ask myself that question, too, as I carry a trash bag of shitty-smelling diapers out to the dumpster.

But then ICE calls, promising 20 new guests this afternoon. And I’m too busy to think about my answer.

The government van pulls up around lunch time and deposits some families at our door. A father with his little girl, wisps of her pigtails loosening from their crooked elastics. A couple carrying a baby and shepherding in a daughter about 5 years old. Another young couple with three little girls under 6 in tow.

Dirty faces, tangled hair, smelly clothes. All of them.

After doing the intake and settling the families into their rooms, I ask the mom with the three little girls, “Necesita ropa limpia?” Do you need clean clothes?

An obvious question, but the mother hesitates, then nods apprehensively. We search the clothing room for shoes and warm sweaters, tops and pants. Plenty of selections for the adults, but it’s slim pickings for the girls.

Next I help the father with his little girl. She’s wearing lavender crocks with no socks. Her feet are darker than the rest of her. She needs socks and a pair of pants. They’re headed to Delaware. But I can’t find any girl’s jeans. Or any pants at all to fit her. Her little legs are bare beneath her skirt and I think of the long, cold bus ride ahead and the freezing temps up north. I suddenly have this urge to run out and buy several pairs of girls’ size 5-6 jeans, but I can’t leave the center at the moment.
blue jeans
We’re out of girls’ jackets and sweaters, too. There’s not much I can offer in the way of clothing. But there is something I can offer. Something fun.

We’ve got these precious gift bags that were prepared and donated to the center by schoolchildren last summer. The kids made tons of them, and we still have some in storage. Simple Ziploc bags, they’re loaded with crayons, a pair of socks, a soft huggable toy or doll, a few quarters, blank notepad with colored pencils, and a handwritten note saying “welcome, friend, to my country.”

I go to the storage room to grab a few bags for the pantless, sweaterless girls. But I’m in for a surprise.

The bags are stored in their original mailing box, so, out of curiosity I check out the return address. Brewster, Massachusetts! So the bags weren’t prepared by local schoolchildren after all, as I had thought. They actually come from the children of First Parish Brewster Unitarian Universalist Church.

This warms my  heart — not only because Massachusetts is my native state — but because it’s so far away from the border! The children of Brewster remind me it’s not only the people in El Paso who care about these migrant families.

And they also remind me of why I care. It’s not about what anybody else thinks of what I’m doing. And I’m not doing it for the thanks. I’m doing it because they are human beings. And they matter. They matter to me.

When I hand two of these gift bags to the sweet little sisters from Guatemala, they squeal their thank you’s. I give their younger sister’s bag to the mother. Mom looks it over and points to the children’s hand-printed message alongside their picture.

Message the children of Brewster, MA, included in gift bags. "Welcome, my friend, to my country."

Message the children of Brewster, MA, included in gift bags. “Welcome, friends, to my country.”

“Yes,” I say. “It’s a gift from these children.”

A gift to all of us.

 To belong to a community is to begin to be about more than myself…No work is enough to satisfy the human soul. Only the satisfaction of having touched another life and been touched by one ourselves can possibly suffice. Whatever we do, however noble, however small, must be done for the sake of the other. Otherwise, we ourselves have no claim on the human race.

~ from LISTEN WITH THE HEART by Joan Chittister

Off the Grid

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For the past couple of weeks I’ve been living out of my suitcases. Holed up in my temporary living quarters — the second floor of a spacious and comfortable home in the suburbs outside San Antonio. Not exactly the life of a missionary.

Nor is life in American suburbia the life I want. But I won’t be here much longer. And my hosts have been so gracious and kind to take me in for the month of November. So I deal with the inconvenience of having to dig under piles of once folded, packed clothing to find clean underwear. Or try to remember if I stuffed those shoes I now need in a tote bag I brought into the house or in a box still hiding in the back of my Subaru.

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In truth, none of this matters. It’s a small price I’m choosing to pay for following my heart. For listening to inner guidance and going where the Spirit leads me.

But there’s another price to pay as well.

The cost of saying goodbye yet again.

Lately I’ve been feeling the sadness of leaving the Sisters and others I’ve connected with while serving Incarnate Word Missionaries. Some very special people have supported me, been present to me in the challenges, and touched my heart. Along with the difficulties and sometimes painful moments, there have been many gifts.

There always are.

In fact, I’ve come to see that it’s all gift. Even when — and sometimes especially when — the gift arrives hidden in rough, tattered, or unexpected packaging.

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Ironically, now that I’m leaving, I’m immersed in a spiritual community. Sharing lunch with the retired Sisters at The Village. Participating in Women’s Global Connection’s commissioning ceremony for volunteers headed to Peru. Chatting with the Sisters on campus. Slipping into the chapel for quiet moments.

In those quiet moments the magnitude of what I’m embarking on hits me. This time I’m stepping off with no sure footing. I’ve said yes to returning to El Paso without knowing where I’ll land. With no certain ministry to go to. Simply trusting that following my heart is enough. That the Divine will be present. No matter how or what shows up.

“You’re off the grid,” my friend Liz tells me. “You’re trusting God in a way most of us can’t.”

She’s right. And I’m living off the grid and trusting God in a way I myself couldn’t have a year ago. My journey of the heart has prepared me for this. It has allowed me to say yes to complete uncertainty. Because each step off the grid has proven I can trust Spirit.

But, honestly, I woke up this morning feeling a bit anxious. After all, it’s nearly the end of the month and I don’t have a definite assignment in El Paso, a ministry to go to, a place that will take me in. I started to doubt. I prayed for deeper trust.

Suddenly an email popped onto my phone. A response I’d been awaiting for weeks. It’s from the Columban Fathers. They are inviting me to come write for their border ministry. And they have arranged lodging.

I’m not kidding. I couldn’t make this stuff up.

Funny how just yesterday someone reminded me that all I needed was faith the size of a mustard seed.

I’m also reminded of one of the many gifts Sr. Brigid has given me: a copy of the first principle and foundation of St. Ignatius. He wrote a wonderful book on spiritual exercises. And he was a big fan of discernment.

The last line reads:

“Our only desire and our one choice should be this: I want and I choose what better leads to God’s deepening God’s life in me.”

That’s what I choose. And that means I’d better be prepared to accept whatever shows up. To say yes to life. To be OK with living off the grid.