Blog Archives

Love’s Response

Marianne Williamson-wholehearted-response-to-love-then-love-will-wholeheartedly-respond-to-you-600x370

Apparently, my last post concerned some of my friends. Not to worry. I’m not down or discouraged. On the contrary, I’m actually very encouraged.

Encouraged because the more self-aware I become, the more able to step back and see what is arising in me, the less I identify with this judging, fearful self.  Encouraged that the more I allow myself to be held by love in the middle of all that arises, the more aware I am of the loving container that holds it all.

And encouraged because more people are willing to go down into those places in themselves.

This is what’s needed during this transformative time – this going down into the darkness and meeting what is there. It’s the only way we can begin to heal. As individuals, and as a nation.

Many have been reflecting on this topic lately. Guess we all know that darkness has been coming to the surface. Darkness that needs to be addressed.

As Richard Rohr said in a recent meditation:

“Human consciousness does not emerge at any depth except through struggling with our shadow. It is in facing our conflicts, criticisms, and contradictions that we grow. It is in the struggle with our shadow self, with failure, or with wounding that we break into higher levels of consciousness….”

I’ve certainly tangled with my shadow. Struggled as I’ve discovered my particular woundings.

But I’ve also been trying to listen more deeply from this place.

Twice while in Albuquerque attending the Living School, I heard the same message, from different people on two completely unrelated occasions:  “God wants to take your heart and give you God’s heart in return. Be open to that.”

What does this mean? To have God’s heart?

To tell the truth, the idea scares me. It feels overwhelming, to have a heart that holds all the pain, all this darkness.

What will such a heart ask of me?

I don’t yet completely understand.

But as I listen more deeply, I hear that through this Heart, I will see the world differently. With eyes that recognize the goodness of everything. With a heart that can hold all the pain.

And a heart that is not afraid to step into the light.

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To stand up and speak up from a voice of love. Even if that voice makes others feel uncomfortable. Doesn’t allow them to remain complacent.

A heart that asks me to accompany those in darkness. Those living on the margins. Those who are vulnerable and have no voice.

I hear it challenging me to use my own voice to challenge and change the negativity and untruths associated with words we use. Words like “immigrant” and “Mexican.”

To live out the directive to “welcome the stranger.”

To boldly support DACA and the young people who have studied and worked so hard and contributed so much good to our society.

To speak up when laws are inhumane and need to be changed. Some of us take strong, proactive stands to change the abortion law because we say it is wrong to treat the unborn inhumanely, yet few will stand up to change immigration laws that treat suffering human beings inhumanely.

Love requires that I respond differently to such suffering.

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That I reflect on exactly what Jesus means when he says, “I was away from home and you gave me no welcome, naked and no clothing….I assure you, as often as you neglected to do it to one of these least ones, you neglected to do it to me.”(Matthew 25)

In my heart, I cannot neglect to hear that call. I can’t NOT respond.

And I know it will change me.

Spiritual leaders have been urging us to speak truth to power and call for justice during this transformative time when our collective shadow has shown itself so boldly. Rohr says, “There is every indication that the U.S., and much of the world, is in a period of exile now. The mystics would call it a collective ‘dark night.’

“Those who allow themselves to be challenged and changed will be the new cultural creative voices of the next period of history after this purifying exile.”

I may not know where I am going during this “exile.” I still do not fully know what is being asked of me. Or what it means to receive this heart as my own.

But I do hear love’s question, “Will you allow yourself to be challenged and changed?”

Can I say yes to this?

Can I respond wholeheartedly?

I have come to believe that this is what it means to be “virginal” – to let myself be a vessel, empty and available, open to something new being born in me. Something as unbelievable as the heart of God.

Mary_open

 

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Women and Children First

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Remember the movie The Unsinkable Molly Brown? Just the other day I was thinking about that scene on the Titanic’s lifeboat where Debbie Reynolds, who plays the colorful Molly Brown, gives up her fur coat and then her dress to keep those women and children from freezing. Back in the days of the Titanic, when lives were threatened, putting women and children on lifeboats first was an “unwritten law.”

It was the humane thing to do.

Guess that image came to mind because since I’ve been home, I can’t forget them. I mean the women, especially the mothers, and children I met  and heard about in Texas. And there’s something else I can’t forget. The inhumane treatment many of them experienced, either in crossing the border or after they arrived.

Like the Guatemalan woman who was kidnapped in Mexico, where she was abused and raped for months until she managed to escape. By the time she made it to San Diego she was 8 months pregnant. After ICE processed her information, an agent shackled her — chains around her wrists and ankles — and put her on a plane to El Paso. The chains encircling her ankles were so tight, they broke the skin. By the time she got off the plane, she was bleeding and in pain. The ICE agent in El Paso asked her why she hadn’t said anything to the agent on the plane.

“I did tell him it was hurting me,” she said.

I guess the threat that a woman 8-months pregnant posed was too much of a risk to loosen those chains.

And then there are the women and children who are transferred to so-called family detention centers. Texas has two of these privately run facilities, holding thousands of mothers and children, including babies. It’s basically akin to putting them in prison. Some have been incarcerated since last fall.

Sr. Pat, who volunteers at the Dilley detention facility near San Antonio, told me of a woman she’d met who had been there since August! It’s strange how even violent criminals have a right to due process in this country. But not immigrant mothers whose only “crime” is showing up at the border.

Sr. Pat says the children are losing weight. They can’t eat the food the facility serves. There’s a commissary, but if a mom wants to buy her child juice, it costs $4. She says more than one attorney who has come to speak with the women about their case has anonymously added money to their client’s commissary account.

What gets to me the most is the traumatizing affect this environment is having on innocent children. And the fact that we are basically punishing them and their mothers, many of whom have legitimate cases for asylum. This from a country that prides itself on promoting justice and defending human rights.

The New York Times had an excellent editorial on this subject last week. You can find it at http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/05/15/opinion/end-immigration-detention.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=opinion-c-col-left-region%C2%AEion=opinion-c-col-left-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-left-region&_r=1&referrer

Thankfully, more people are speaking out against the inhumane practices of family detention centers. Women and children should not be treated this way. Certainly not by one of the wealthiest nations in the world.

Like Molly Brown, we can be wealthy, and kind and compassionate, too. There’s room in our lifeboat for these women and children.

mock up detention

mock up detention “room” at Voice of the Voiceless fundraiser

Still Living the Questions

 

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Spring break. College students have descended upon us from the frozen terrain of Omaha, Cleveland, and Boston! But they haven’t come to bask in the desert sun. Or drink beer while lounging poolside. Not that they’d have much luck finding a body of water in El Paso anyway.

No. They’ve come with a more selfless purpose: to learn about life at the border, to experience and better understand the issues concerning immigration, and to serve.

One group of 10 students from Emerson College in Boston has been staying at our house. It’s been fun to catch them being silly with each other, to hear their laughter and feel their high energy. Part of me hopes to capture a bit of it for myself!

But, as the week has progressed, I’ve captured something else from these young people. Or, actually, recaptured.

It’s the passion and enthusiasm I hear in their voices as they share all they’ve been experiencing. They’ve visited with the families on the colonia, prepared and served dinner for migrant farmworkers, helped us clean rooms at the Nazareth hospitality center, and played with the children. They’ve met with Border Patrol, visited a detention center for youth, and listened to legal experts who’ve explained the complexities and insensible process of our current immigration system. They’ve been filled up with the realities at the border.

Realities that have touched their hearts, made them cry, opened their eyes. And committed them to return home and “do something more.”

One young woman, a junior, told me she’s changing the focus of her career because of this experience.

“In college, we’re taught to measure success by our career and what we earn, but now I’m seeing success in a whole different way,” Katie told me. “It’s about doing something that serves others.

“I don’t know exactly what that will be yet, but it’s going to be something different than I thought. I’m going home with lots of questions.”

Her words echoed my own two years ago. Like Katie, my trip to the border was life-changing. It awakened my heart and a calling that I still carry. It also generated lots of internal questions. Questions I still wrestle with, as I wonder where all this is taking me.

Sometimes I feel no older than a 21-year-old student questioning her major. I grapple with doubts and insecurities. I get impatient. I want answers, damn it! I want to be able to figure it out. Or at least be able to see the next step in front of me.

Those darned questions.

But when I’m quiet and still, I recognize that this is only my ego’s need to know, to have some semblance of control. Once again.
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I’m still learning how to live the questions without needing to have the answers. Still learning what it means to be faithful to a call in my heart.

Sometimes it simply means all I can do is show up every day with a prayer to let myself be used for a purpose beyond what I am able to see most of the time. Or ever figure out.

And on my good days I’m able to recognize that the gift is hidden in accepting the questions.

Early last year, a dear friend sent me an excerpt from poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. I need to reflect on these words again, and to remind myself: Rather than seek the answers, live the questions. And love where they take you.

“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.”

Rainer Maria Rilke

 

Missing the Bus

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Two weeks back from my sojourn to El Paso and I’m missing, of all things, the bus rides.

Whenever the sisters couldn’t get me to where I needed to go, I hopped on a city bus. During these hour-long-plus bus rides (involving some transfer along the way), I encountered many people. Usually I was the only white-faced rider. The sole gringo. I didn’t mind that at all. In fact, I felt surprisingly alive amidst the mostly Hispanic passengers.
Latina bus

The bus teemed with the juiciness of life. Young moms grasping the hands of wobbly toddlers, community college students plugged into their iPads and Smart phones, old women toting canes and shopping bags, tired men wearing dark green work clothes or the occasional business suit. I often caught my Hispanic travelers—from young men, to middle-aged women, to the elderly—in what was for me a particularly enamoring practice: just as the bus would take off, they’d make the sign of the cross and then kiss their thumb and forefinger as a prayer for safety and a sign of reverence for their God.

At times people would lug their groceries onboard. I watched one woman and her young daughter unload a Wal-Mart shopping cart heaped with groceries onto the bus platform in anticipation of their bus’ arrival. It took them several trips to pile everything onto the cement. I wondered how the bus driver would react when he saw their load, but I witnessed no impatience on his part as they stepped on and off the bus methodically carrying the groceries and stacking them as securely as possible. I imagined this was a regular practice for them.

There were funny moments too. Like when the bus lurched suddenly, causing a couple of beer cans to fall out of a plastic grocery bag and roll down the aisle, their owner laughing as she chased after them, joking in Spanish. Or when a young woman wearing a short, black leather jacket, black eyeliner, and black fishnet stockings that revealed flesh all the way up to the hemline of her cropped black mini skirt got on board, strutting slowly down the aisle. The middle-aged man sitting in a front seat lowered his dark shades as she passed. Shortly thereafter he headed to the back of the bus.

When not paying attention to the passengers around me, I became engrossed in reading The Great Work of Your Life, the book recommended to me during my first full week in El Paso. It became, and has been, a messenger and guide for my current stage in life, as it deals with discovering your dharma, or sacred purpose, and how to live it “full out.”

Rereading excerpts from this book, now that I’m back in Virginia, helps me remember. You see, part of me is afraid I’ll forget. Forget what I learned. Forget the richness of life I experienced. That I’ll somehow “miss the bus” and remain in my quiet, peaceful, and safe surroundings. But I know that’s not really possible. Not now. Too much has changed. I’ve changed.

I can’t ignore the images of the people I met. Or the messages about deportations and the stalling of immigration reform in Congress that keep popping into my email box. I choose not to ignore them. Next week is the National Week of Action for Administrative Relief from Deportations. According to the Immigration Interfaith Coalition, 1,100 people are being deported every day and predictions are that by the end of April, 2 million people will have been deported under the Obama Administration. For me, now, this has a very personal side. I know about the stories of families being separated. Some of those being deported are parents of children who are U.S. citizens. The children remain behind and are either put in foster care or in the care of relatives. Or if they go with their parents, they are thrust into a country, culture, and language that is foreign to them, and that poses many threats.

I remember when I was teaching English to Hispanic adults and we got onto the subject of immigration reform. One of my students asked me what I thought about it. Every student’s eyes were on me, waiting, wondering what this white woman would say. My answer might have surprised them. They were accustomed to hearing, or expecting, something different from white America. My student then shared that her neighbors of more than 20 years had recently been deported. Taken away one day, just like that. They had been good people, she said, the sadness in her voice and eyes so palpable.

Since returning home, I’ve been discerning where to go from here. Attempting to listen further to my heart. And considering the risks I will take. In The Great Work of Your Life, author Stephen Cope describes what listening for divine guidance, or what some of us call “the will of God,” involves. Among other things, it involves asking for guidance, actively listening, allowing yourself to be surprised, testing the guidance, praying for the courage to take action, and then letting go of the attempt to eliminate risk.

Cope says, “The presence of risk is only an indication that you’re at an important crossroads. Risk cannot be eliminated, and the attempt to eliminate it will only lead you back to paralysis. In important dharma decisions, we never get to 100 percent certitude.”

That’s funny. Those words about the lack of certitude in following one’s calling are the same words I heard from Ruben Garcia—the director of the refugee and immigration house of hospitality called Annunciation House. And from Fr. Bob—a Columban father and missionary now serving in downtown El Paso. And from Alma. Alma, the wonderful massage therapist I visited via yet another bus ride. While kneading my sore muscles, she asked about my journey and discovered how and why I had come to El Paso. Then she shared a special story. Her indigenous people from Mexico had a ceremony for women when they turned 52, an age that is seen as a significant period in their lives, a time when women “cross over” into becoming elders in the tribe, and their focus now changes to one of serving the community. As she spoke of this ceremony and the letting go of old roles and patterns, symbolized by the woman breaking her old dishes, one at a time, as she releases her old life, I wondered, where could I sign up? And why don’t we have these kinds of threshold ceremonies in our culture as we pass from one significant stage into another?

Before I left El Paso, one of my English students gave me a gift: a dragonfly pin. At the time I had no idea that the dragonfly symbolizes transformation and a “change in the perspective of self-realization.” According to information I found on the web, the symbolism of the dragonfly includes “maturity and a depth of character. …the kind of change that has its source in mental and emotional maturity and the understanding of the deeper meaning of life.” (http://www.dragonfly-site.com/meaning-symbolize.html

my dragonfly pin

my dragonfly pin

Hmm. Am I coming to understand the deeper meaning of life? Is my perspective changing? Am I being transformed?

I believe so. I think I’m ready to take the risk involved in serving something greater than myself. I’m on for the ride. Without knowing where it will end.

The Journey to El Paso

I do not want to be a bystander in life. I want to fully live, and that means being still enough to pay attention, be fully present to myself and others as much as possible, and take action when needed. It means listening to, and following, my heart more and being willing to jump in even when I don’t know where I’ll land. This is one way of explaining why I’ve decided to volunteer with the School Sisters of St. Francis on the U.S./Mexico border to serve the immigrant population. I have no idea where this will lead. I only know that I am responding to an inner calling.

It started back in February when I traveled to El Paso, Texas, with four women from my church to learn firsthand about immigration. Kristen, our justice and charity outreach coordinator, organized the weeklong “border immersion” trip in response to our church’s growing Hispanic population and the separation she had observed between our Anglo and Latino parishioners. She hoped to bridge that gap by exposing us to the issues of immigration as experienced by those living on the U.S./Mexico border. Something attracted me about this trip as soon as Kristen mentioned it. My first thought: I can write about this. As a freelance writer I was attracted to the opportunity to learn firsthand about immigration, hear personal stories, and get the facts from those who live and work with the immigrant population. I also knew that this experience would affect me somehow. But what I didn’t count on was how it would awaken and inspire me, tugging at my longing to serve so strongly that the experience would continue to pull me weeks and even months later.

From the moment we climbed into Sr. Fran’s van to begin our immersion experience, I heard disturbing stories and facts about the plight of those crossing the U.S./Mexico border. Sr. Fran has been running these border immersion trips since 2006, hoping to eliminate the myths and misinformation many Americans have about immigrants. She had us going from 7 a.m. until dinner time, meeting with Border Patrol, the founder of a migrant farm workers’ union, a physician who offers health care to the poor, and directors and administrators of various programs, shelters, and detention facilities, all of whom inspired me in the work they do and the stories they told.  The immigrants themselves, because of their deep trust, respect, and love for Sr. Fran, welcomed us into their homes on the “colonias” — stark settlements in the desert where migrants buy a plot of land and set up a trailer.

I felt my heart opening more and more each day until one afternoon I met Ruben Garcia. Ruben is the director and cofounder of Annunciation House—a “house of hospitality” for refugees and the homeless in downtown El Paso. He and his young friends opened Annunciation House 35 years ago in their response to studying Scripture and recognizing how God “first and foremost identifies with the poor.” His stories of the people who have come through his house—some, victims of torture; others, simply trying to survive—cracked through the last of that invisible shield over my heart. Suddenly,  I started to cry. And in that moment, I knew why I had come on this trip. I knew God was calling me to something more.

That’s when I first felt the pull.

The night before we left El Paso we had dinner with the Sisters—all three of them—at Casa Alexia, their mission house. Sr. Kathy shared her work with trauma victims. Eighty-year-old Sr. Nancy brought up the issue of human trafficking, so prevalent on the border, and how she wants to attack it. Then they pitched their need for help, whether through signing up for their volunteer program or joining their order. In that moment, it wasn’t just Sr. Kathy or Sr. Nancy inviting me. I experienced a stronger invitation, coming from someplace deep within me.

Whenever I’ve tried to explain this to anyone, it’s impossible. My mind can’t make sense of it. Why do I have to go all the way to El Paso to serve? There are so many needs here. And Virginia is my home. Why would I leave this beautiful countryside of green-leaved  trees and rolling hills and ever-changing mountains for dry, flat, hot west Texas?

But truthfully, I am no longer comfortable in this place, in conducting “business as usual.” Something deeper is calling me. Something that defies weather and terrain and logical understanding. I couldn’t care less about the surroundings. It’s the people I can’t get out of my heart. And this pull to “something more.”

I have learned that matters of the Spirit can’t be explained. Yet when I listen and follow these “insights,” amazing and powerful things happen. So, a few months later, despite  anxious feelings about how I would manage to do this, I applied to volunteer with the Sisters at the border in early 2014. My application was accepted, and now here I am stepping out into the unknown with nothing more than the desire to listen to and follow my heart. In the process, I hope to serve something greater than my small self.

That’s what this blog is about: sharing my experiences and the stories of those I have met and will meet—stories that are as varied as the issue of immigration reform is complex. I hope along the way I will dispel some of the misinformation out there about immigration. And I will discover my heart’s true calling.