Secret Work

Rumi fire and smoke secret

There’s a secret work going on. Collectively and personally.

At Jardin de Milagros, where I’ve started volunteering one morning a week, the planting is a good metaphor for this secret work. As I gently push the sweet potato seedling into the hole – one among a dozen rows of holes waiting for seedlings – I wonder how it will fare. Will this tiny thing survive?

I have no idea, but it’s not mine to know. Mine is only to do my part and surrender the rest.

It’s a lesson in non-clinging, in letting go of the outcome. Like a good spiritual practice, nature is teaching me that I must allow the work to unfold under the surface, without knowing what is happening. Yet I must fulfill my responsibility in this process.

On a larger scale, I see this unfolding in the midst of COVID-19. I am asked, as we all are, to let go of any attachment to how I think this is supposed to turn out, and, instead, to open to limitless possibilities. To be willing to step over this threshold in the liminal space in which we find ourselves. And leave our egos outside the door. So that we may enter with new vision.

This requires qualities we humans do not take on easily: patience, trust, non-resistance, humility, and self-emptying, or kenosis, as it’s known on the Christian path. Not easy, but we learn through practice. By waking up and stepping up.

For me, stepping up has meant to delve more deeply into body wisdom and other spiritual exercises and resources. To daily ground in my practice so that I don’t fall prey to the anxiety, fear, and negativity circulating. To listen more intently. And to more fully enter the heart space.

I know that I am privileged, even as I write this. I sit in my living room participating in online spiritual talks and programs. I am not suffering, not going hungry, or worse, starving to death, as so many people are in countries that were impoverished before this pandemic began.

Julian of Norwich

Julian of Norwich, the 14th century mystic who lived during the Black Death – a plague that wiped out one-third of the residents of Norwich – knew firsthand about the mystery of suffering and the unconditional love of a God she saw as Mother. Like all spiritual teachers, Julian recognized suffering is finite. Only Love is infinite.

And in that regard, I have a significant part to play in this cosmic evolution.

For we are in the midst of evolution. As scientist and Franciscan Sister Ilia Delio says, “Whether or not you want to accept evolution, you are in evolution.”

We need “science and spirituality to heal our divisions, deepen our compassion, and ignite the human spirit toward greater unity and flourishing,” says Sr. Ilia, who founded the Omega Center, based on Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s teachings of the Omega Point, the concept of “deepening toward a more unified future. Teilhard was aware that the energies of creativity bring with them a certain terror, a not-knowing what the outcome will be. Hence, he advocated radical trust in the inner presence of God and the holiness of the world.”

She says that “Teilhard would view this pandemic as an opportunity to harness the energies of love in new ways. Every act of suffering in his view is an invitation to a new creative moment, a wake-up call that something old is breaking down and something new is taking place in our midst.”

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From mystics to scientists, from wisdom teachers to ecologists, all speak of the universe as evolving in a relational field that needs our conscious contribution in love. They use words like reciprocity, flourishing in mutuality, greater relationality, a new vision and a new world, a more unified Whole, and a Divine exchange – the practice of giving-and-receiving.

Spiritual teachers like Teilhard de Chardin and the Pathwork Guide speak of how we are “instruments” in the changes taking place in the evolution into Christ consciousness. In Pathwork lecture #233, we are told: “you need to realize the importance of your task from an inner place that is not ego-involved, not steeped in vanity or pride…for a higher cause of the deepest significance.”

These teachers give me hope, and they challenge me, too.

I’m learning more and more how everything I have, I’ve been given. And I am to give it away – not cling to anything – in this dance of reciprocity. A dance in which my ego moves further away from center stage.

Volunteering at Jardin de Milagros, the garden of miracles, is one way I have chosen to participate. Owned by a retired couple, the garden produces 3 acres of fresh fruits and vegetables. They donate all of it to a food pantry in El Paso to feed the hungry. A food pantry that normally gives 3,000 to 5,000 boxes of food a month to hungry families. Now they give 5,000 a week! The garden needs volunteers. This is something I can do as an instrument of giving-and-receiving.

And since I can no longer accompany immigrants at the border, I’ve been practicing a different kind of accompaniment. Daily I energetically accompany someone who is dying or has died alone in the midst of the coronavirus. I accompany this beloved stranger into another realm surrounded by love and gratitude for his or her life. It feels like powerful “work,” emerging from my heart space.

It’s true that I don’t fully understand or know the impact of anything I am planting or praying. But I am open to the mystery of it. And trusting the love at its center. A place from which I heard:

“Take up the secret work. The wisdom of the heart knows how.”

 

She Knocks

child-knocking-on-door

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.

Puppets
Finger puppets I would give to the migrant children who stayed with us.

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.”

Beds at Westerbrook
Three-tiered bunkbeds in Etty’s camp at Westerbrook where Jews were crammed together. Children in Clint had no beds.

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.

The Humanity Before Us

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The young mother was still breastfeeding when they took her from her baby. She was only 16, giving Immigration the right to put her in a detention facility for minors.

It didn’t seem to matter – what that meant, removing her from her husband and 5-month-old daughter with whom she was traveling. She was considered an “illegal.” She had no rights. The action taken didn’t have to make sense.

But I’m afraid this post isn’t about recounting a story from last summer, when ICE was separating parents from their children. Nope. It happened just four days ago.

Santiago, her 21-year-old husband, showed up at our shelter, carrying their fussing baby and a heaviness we couldn’t help him shake.

The volunteer doing intake held her emotions intact as he sputtered the details of his story. But the child, free to express herself, howled and squirmed in her father’s arms.

Santiago attempted to keep his voice level. But he could barely hold it together. How was he going to feed this child, he wanted to know? What would she eat without her mother’s milk and nourishment? Would she survive?

He peppered questions at Sr. Lil, my friend who was shift coordinator at Nazareth that day.

As his sad tale spread, the other mothers crowded around him. The women took turns holding the little girl close to their chest, snuggling against her neck, cooing sweetly in Spanish. A few offered to coax the little one to suckle the nipple of a plastic baby bottle we happened to have on hand. Someone filled it with bottled water and Nido powdered formula – a popular brand with our Central American families. Another one showed Santiago how to hold the baby as she was nursing so she’d feel secure.

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Sample stock photo; not our “real” baby

But who would help him feel secure, I wondered?

Luckily, a doctor who occasionally volunteers her time at Nazareth happened to show up that day. She checked the baby and reassured Santiago that not only was his daughter in good health, but she would adjust to the formula. She would survive. No need for him to worry about that.

Yes, she would survive. Children often do. No matter what they’ve experienced. Surviving and thriving are two different things, however.

And what about the baby’s mother? I think about her in a facility with other teenagers. I wonder if her nipples are leaking. If that heaviness she’s feeling in her breasts and in her heart closes in on her at night when she longs for her child. I wonder if she attempts to hide her breasts and her despair in her aloneness. Or if she’s found a friend in whom to confide.

annunciation house detention
What it’s like for our young mother in detention

I’ve never met this mom. I didn’t meet Santiago either, or his little girl. Lil told me about them the day after it happened, her voice unable to hide the distress still lurking in her heart.

I wish I could tell you I’ve gotten used to these stories. That my heart doesn’t feel for this young family, especially the mother.

But then again, I’m glad I haven’t “gotten used to it,” that I haven’t numbed myself to what hurting people feel. That I can remember what it was like to be a mother to a little one, to hold my nursing baby in my arms, in awe of this wordless bond we’d created.

I don’t apologize for citing the preciousness of such a bond. Nor for calling out the cruelty of separating a mother and her breastfeeding baby.

I wonder, if God loves as a mother, how can we ignore the divinity in the human love of a mother for her child? And be the one to cause such suffering?

Yes, I hear about the numbers coming. I know it’s challenging for us. We’re doing the best we can here in El Paso. And that’s the question I ask of myself, and of all of us – Are we doing the best we can to address the humanity before us? To consider that maybe there are more positive solutions to what we’re calling a “humanitarian crisis”? And to ensure we do not have a hand in causing the suffering.