“There’s nothing I can do,” he tells me.
He’s told me this countless times before.
Always with the same calm, trusting composure. And I have come to accept the acceptance in his words, knowing that his deep faith guides him.
But tonight…tonight I feel the anger growing inside me.
Tonight I want to slam my fists on the table, pound the glass between us, yell at the guards or his deportation officer, or better yet, the anonymous person who wrote this dreadful form letter Mathias has just slipped under the thick glass that divides us.
The letter that states our government continues to work with his government to take him back, even though we both know that since he has no passport or other legal documents, it’s highly unlikely his country will ever accept him. They’ve already said they can’t take him.
The letter that states he must not interfere with the process (a statement that would be laughable if it weren’t so ridiculous).
And, finally, the worst part, the letter that states he must remain locked up until October. Three more months of not knowing. With no guarantee any decision will be made even after that time.
Mathias, the young man I visit in detention, lost his asylum case back in April. Not unusual in El Paso. Denial is happening at an even higher frequency here than elsewhere.
We know he is supposed to be deported. But he waits in this liminal space as the two countries go back and forth, indifferent to the life they are impacting.
Three more months in limbo. Or is it hell?
I know the food isn’t good. I know that whenever he is allowed outdoors – always accompanied by a guard – he must stay within the narrow areas outlined in white on the cement. He cannot venture outside these lines.
I know about the locked metal doors that seal behind you, the tall barbed-wire fences and the full barracks where the TV plays loudly throughout the day. The difficulty he has in trying to pray.
And yet, I tell him I wish I could trade places with him. Even as I say it, I know I am sincere.
He is already so thin, he cannot afford to lose any more weight. I would gladly lose it for him. I would take on the monotony of his structured day, assigned to wear a navy jump suit, allowing others to make decisions for me. In such a situation, so completely out of my control, I would be forced to turn to God while perched on this ledge in liminal space, feeling like a confined criminal when I am anything but.
This is Mathias’s situation. And he no more deserves it than I do.
This young man who followed the law, coming to a U.S. port of entry to present his case for asylum. As international law allows.
The thing is, I care about Mathias. I have come to know him as a man of integrity. I have watched him deal with the stress and uncertainty of his situation with courage and tremendous trust in God.
When he tells me, “There is nothing I can do,” I hear and see in his face his ability to accept “God’s will,” as he puts it. He trusts God to care for him.
Yet he tells me he longs for freedom. After all, he has been confined for more than a year already.
I think of this as I drive home and discover Interstate 10 is closed. Traffic crawls as it’s diverted off the highway. I feel so tired and frustrated, knowing this will double the time it normally takes to get back to Las Cruces. I swear aloud.
Then I think of Mathias. Locked in his barracks tonight. Sleeping soundly, ever since he has learned to accept his situation.
Stressed behind my steering wheel, cursing tonight’s road construction, I suddenly wonder, who is more free?
Sometimes I have trouble accepting life on life’s terms. Despite his age, Mathias is my teacher. He reminds me of the importance of returning to my Source. My true freedom. And did I mention he is Muslim?
“He [or she] who attempts to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening his own self-understanding, freedom, integrity and capacity to love will not have anything to give others.” Thomas Merton
It was such a precious thing.
To have a little 4-year-old, previously a stranger to me, trust me with her knotted tresses. Trust me enough to allow me to secure her between my knees as I sat down and attempted to untangle her long, wavy locks.
Lint and other particles from her weeks-long journey from Honduras had nested in Yoselin’s curls and refused to disentangle themselves.
It felt like a nearly impossible task. Especially with only a thin comb as my tool.
She never made a sound. Never winced. Yoselin stood quietly, patiently, while her 7-year-old sister and her appreciative father watched.
I finally threw my hands up.
“It’s the best I can do. Es la mejor que puedo hacer.”
I gave a pleading look to her dad and twisted a hair band around her tresses, securing any loose ends. Even after I pulled her hair back into a ponytail, Yoselin didn’t budge. She remained perched between my legs, unmovable. I gave her a little nudge.
“I need to get up,” I gently said. Necesito levantarme.
Reluctantly she moved away and I went off to prepare lunch so she and her family could eat before they boarded the bus to Tennessee in a few hours.
It felt like such a small thing. And yet very precious.
I didn’t know the next time this child would receive such a gentle, loving touch. Her innocence and complete vulnerability and trust at my hands made me want to cry.
Sometimes it’s not just children who are innocent and vulnerable and trusting in our hands.
I’ve become familiar with so many suffering people who have come here completely vulnerable and trusting in a country known as the greatest defender of human rights and democracy.
Like my guy in detention “Mathias.” He was shocked when, after explaining to U.S. Customs and Border Protection his reason for seeking international asylum, they handcuffed and confined him in a detention facility.
I’ve been visiting Mathias for months. I’ve gotten to know him and care about him. Even took the morning off to attend his court hearing, as his main support system and concerned friend. But he lost his case. It doesn’t appear he has much chance for appeal. His health has been deteriorating since he arrived at the El Paso detention facility. Yet El Paso has one of the better facilities.
If he doesn’t appeal, he will soon be transferred to another facility as he awaits deportation. And his situation could get much worse.
My fear is he’ll be transferred to a private facility in Sierra Blanca, Texas, where African immigrants, in particular, are being abused and beaten, according to a recent report by immigrant and civil rights groups. This is not surprising, based on what we hear from other volunteers and immigration attorneys.
It deeply disturbs me – what’s happening in our country. Both behind closed doors and overtly.
I’m aware that sometimes I can’t get all the knots out, no matter how hard I try. I can’t prevent the pain someone is experiencing.
Sometimes the best I can offer is to simply walk alongside them in their anxiety. Their fear. Their suffering.
And not have any answers. Not be able to explain why a country known throughout the world for supporting and defending human rights would treat others inhumanely.
It doesn’t seem like enough. What I do.
But I know that kindness does matter. A caring heart matters. And an educated, intelligent response to abusive authority matters, too.
Your response matters.
Let’s all do the best we can do. It’s the only way positive changes can happen.
Today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day. The perfect day to say thank you to all of you out there who supported Blanca, the woman I wrote about in my last post. She is one remarkably strong woman.
And soon she will be reunited with her family! I’m thrilled!
You should be, too. Through your prayers and donations, we surpassed our goal of $8,000! In future blog posts, I hope to share more about Blanca’s progress.
But in the meantime, make sure you join the rest of the world in celebrating the special women in your life. Those strong, courageous and nurturing women who’ve mentored you. Guided you. Loved you. Taught you. Helped you to be the compassionate, caring, and wise being you are.
If you missed the opportunity today, you’ve got the rest of the month since March has been designated Women’s History Month. Another fact I didn’t know until recently.
When I was studying Spanish in Bolivia a couple of years ago, International Women’s Day was a big deal. Wives, moms, grandmothers, girlfriends, sisters. Women in all kinds of roles all over the city of Cochabamba were receiving gifts, YouTube videos, cards of praise and poetry. Messages came through billboards, radio and TV, advertisements, phone texts. It was an even bigger deal than Mother’s Day.
Yet it was news to me. I not only didn’t know that there was such a thing as International Women’s Day, but that people in other countries honored it so seriously.
What happened to us, I wondered?
But this month I feel like we celebrated in grand style by helping to free Blanca.
A widow in pain. A mother who would do anything for her family. A woman who has the kind of courage that needs to be honored today.
This day we gave at least one woman hope. And realized what is possible.
In honor of International Women’s Day, I’m posting a few good quotes from women. These quotes speak to my path. The path I’ve chosen.
And I’d say you’ve probably chosen this path, too.
“If you don’t get out of the box you’ve been raised in, you won’t understand how much bigger the world is.” – Angelina Jolie
“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement.”– Helen Keller
“When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.” – Malala Yousafzai
Like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, I have confidence.
Confidence in what exactly? That’s a question I had to ask myself recently after reading an NPR article on what Americans have confidence in – or don’t.
Based on a recent poll, NPR found that Americans don’t seem to have much confidence in any institution. Not in Congress. Not in their political parties, nor the president, nor big business. Not in banks nor the media. Not even in public schools.
But there is one institution in which Americans apparently have a lot of confidence.
As much as 87 percent of Americans said they have “a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the military,” according to the poll.
That’s a 30-percent increase from the 1970s.
At first, reading this was upsetting.
I mean, for a country that overwhelmingly claims to be Christian, this somehow didn’t sit right with me. Trusting in force and firepower. In violent means to an end. Not that Christianity hasn’t been violent throughout the centuries. Still, I do believe we are evolving.
I also believe this growing confidence in the military equates to a growing fear and anxiety in our society. Perpetuated by what we’re fed.
Anyone could easily tap into that fearful place by listening to the news or political pundits. Or by following the barrage of negativity coming across social media. Or coming down the pipeline from Washington.
So, for my own sanity, I decided to pause. Take a breath.
And in the silence, ask myself, “What do you have confidence in, Pauline? What do you trust?”
What came to me immediately is that I have confidence in what I cannot see, yet I know is present in everything.
I have confidence in love. The Source of love that we cannot fully grasp with our finite minds, yet upholds us in everything.
This love permeates nature. It causes the sun to rise every morning and the moon to shine in the darkness.
Everything and everyone is a manifestation of this love. Nothing exists outside of it.
I have confidence that love is present in everything. It prevails in the midst of negativity and deep darkness. Even in the violence, in the madness, in the disease and desperation.
And although love won’t intervene, I trust in this love to heal the repercussions of violence. To show up in each of us as acts of mercy and compassion. Selfless kindness. Sacrifices made for another.
It heals what seems impossible to heal.
And it accomplishes this through me, and through you.
I have confidence in this love. And I have confidence in me. Because, as St. Catherine of Genoa said, “My deepest me is God.”
My true Source is love.
Sometimes, trusting in that is the only thing that saves me.
Funny, but after I reflected on this, I found myself breaking into song. Suddenly singing “I Have Confidence” just like Maria in The Sound of Music.
I picture Maria in her little jacket and funny hat, carrying her guitar case along a picturesque Salzburg street as she makes her way to the von Trapp mansion. She’s belting out a song to her little scared self about what she has confidence in. She needs to remind herself. Because she’s venturing into completely unknown territory.
And it feels a bit frightening. As the uncertain future easily does.
But as she sings, Maria grows stronger as she remembers her Source of confidence, present in the sunshine and the rain. Present in her.
Maybe we all need to sing along. And trust in what really matters.
I had Davis to myself for nearly five days over the Christmas holiday. That has to be a first.
Usually, whenever he’s home, he has friends to catch up with, numerous social engagements to attend, and at least one overnighter at a best friend’s house. But I’m not in Virginia anymore.
Here in El Paso, he had nothing on his social calendar except visiting me.
Despite my glee, I wasn’t stingy with him. I didn’t hoard his attention. I shared him with El Paso.
After all, he was the first of my intimate circle of family and friends to visit, and I was anxious to show him around. To introduce him to life at the border and expose him to the people and places that mean so much to me. I wanted to give him the full effect.
And I hoped he would understand.
On Christmas Eve, his first day, we attended the annual Las Posadas and intimate Christmas Eve Mass and dinner at Annunciation House – a hospitality house for migrants and refugees that has been operating for 40 years in downtown El Paso. Entirely run on donations and volunteers, the building is old, but it’s filled with the precious hearts and stories of those who have passed through its doors.
This was Davis’s first Las Posadas. He didn’t seem to mind as we walked the street, knocking on doors, singing in Spanish – a language he doesn’t know. We followed a little girl posing as Mary, a lace shawl draped around her head, accompanied by her raggedy-dressed Joseph – both of them real-life refugees.
When we gathered back at Annunciation House, he didn’t seem to mind the peeling paint and cracked walls. Or that he had to stand during the service because there weren’t enough seats. He toured the house with one of the 20-something year-old volunteers who’ve made a year-long commitment to work and live here, and he asked thoughtful questions. He listened to fellow volunteers share stories about what this place means to them.
Then we ate a simple Christmas Eve meal of Posole, a traditional Mexican stew made with hominy, while sitting on a hard bench alongside refugees from the Congo, Guatemala, and Honduras. Davis even scrounged up the courage to practice his French with the African woman. Not knowing either English or Spanish, she had been silent until he engaged her in conversation.
The next morning at breakfast I asked what he thought about our unique Christmas Eve celebration.
Without hesitation, he said, “I can see God is present here.”
As he spoke of the volunteers’ commitment to the people, of all the “good” and the generosity he’d witnessed, my heart filled.
He’d seen what I’d wanted him to see. After only one day!
During the rest of his trip, in quiet moments, Davis asked questions about his dad. He wanted to remember the quirky aspects of David’s personality. Hear more about his father’s childhood and the early days of our marriage.
I didn’t mind at all. In fact, I became acutely aware of David’s presence in our conversations. I felt immense warmth and gratitude.
I never wanted Davis to suffer this loss at such a young age, in the middle of the most important stage of his relationship with his father. Yet I know he is wiser because of this experience. His life is richer, his insights deeper, his compassion more genuine.
It’s what enabled him to stand in this place at the border with me and see what I see. With an awareness and understanding that comes from the heart.
Gregory Boyle, the Jesuit priest who’s worked with gang members in LA for 30 years and wrote the best seller Tattoos on the Heart, spoke about this in a recent interview with Krista Tippett. He says that “standing in the lowly place with the easily despised and the readily left out,” he finds more joy, kinship, mutuality. He’s discovered that “the measure of our compassion lies not in our service of those on the margins, but in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship.”
Sometimes that kinship comes in the guise of wounds.
As one of Fr. Boyle’s homies, who’d been abused and beaten throughout his childhood, explained, “How can I help the wounded if I don’t welcome my own wounds?”
So, we have to welcome our wounds. These hurting places within us. And I think if we are not afraid to acknowledge them, and know that we are loved unconditionally in them, we will be better able to stand in that “lowly place” offering kinship to those whom society considers dismissible, disposable.
And we will see with different eyes. The eyes that saw what Davis saw in El Paso.
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.”
I needed to be held.
Difficult feelings had been arising in me well before I landed in Hawaii for a much-needed vacation last Sunday afternoon.
The previous day – Saturday, August 12 – I was driving back from Albuquerque, having spent the last four days at the Center for Action and Contemplation’s Living School. This was the beginning of my two-year journey under Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgeault, and Jim Finley. Master spiritual teachers, all of them. I was feeling excited and grateful.
I had slept fitfully every night since arriving.
Encountering what was showing up in me in the lessons and meditations had not been easy.
And as I drove the four hours back home to El Paso, something else was on my mind. Charlottesville – my former home, my community, my friends.
Keenly aware of the anxiety and trepidation that had been building in that city for weeks, even months, in anticipation of the alt right march planned to descend there on that day, I knew prayers were needed.
And I had been praying. Praying for love to prevail in the face of such hate and violence.
You could say I had a lot on my mind and heart.
But in the midst of my prayer, something else arose. The violence and hatred I was praying to heal out there was also in me. I suddenly recognized the violence I was perpetrating towards myself in response to what had been showing up in me.
It may have been subtle, but it was definitely present. The self-judgment. The self-rejection. The ways I was hurting myself through my erroneous thoughts and beliefs.
In that moment, I realized that it was only in acting with nonviolence towards myself that I could even begin to help heal the violence out there.
I needed to be with that painful realization. And to hold it with compassion.
But early the next morning I flew off to Hawaii without having the opportunity to venture into that painful place.
Yet I knew I would have to go there. One of the key teachings I’ve learned from Pathwork is that any difficult feeling must be fully felt before it can be transformed. Whether it’s hate, fear, grief, pain….
So, one morning I sit with that hate in my meditation.
As the feelings of hate increase, I feel my body grow tense and tighten up. I hear myself ask God, where were you? Where are you in this pain and hate?
And I believe that I must tense up to care for and protect myself. The hate feels too big.
I am deep in the middle of this growing, threatening force when suddenly the image of a beautiful, white Hibiscus emerges. Its delicate blossoms are surrounded by a sea of soft, green leaves that seem to expand as they enfold all the misery and pain and hatred that had surfaced.
And now everything is enfolded and held tenderly in the arms of this Source. A sea of Love.
Allowing this Love to hold my own hate softens my heart and, in turn, allows me to hold my darkest and most painful places with love, mercy, and compassion.
This is the place I needed to come to.
And I will need to return to again and again.
Because before I can stand against the darkness – and not come from a place of self-righteous certitude – I must be grounded in this love, vulnerable and aware of my own woundedness.
The darkness of the kind of hate we experienced in Charlottesville is, I believe, the pain of separation from this Love. Separation from the unconditional love of our Source.
As Rohr teaches, “The great illusion that we must all overcome is that of separateness.”
“Sin” is a symptom of separation, he says.
And yet the paradox is that we can never really be separated from God.
Here’s another paradox:
We are already whole and yet each of us is in need of healing.
And darkness must be revealed before it can be transformed by the light.
Before I left Hawaii, a hike at Volcanoes National Park gave me a great metaphor for what can emerge when what is percolating underground rises to the surface. Volcanic eruptions have created the most beautiful black sand beaches.
It’s just one example in nature.
All of this gives me hope that healing from the painful darkness we are seeing now is possible.
Because I know that love is trustworthy.
It is trustworthy. And it will prevail.
Sometimes you have to go out of your way to see the stars.
The other night a couple of friends and I drove out to Hueco Tanks State Park just outside of El Paso to go stargazing.
Used to be, I’d step out onto my back deck in rural Virginia whenever I wanted to view the stars. Most nights I could see the Milky Way, it was so darn dark out there.
Not anymore. Now I live in a place where the lights never go out.
Sometimes I miss the darkness. And I especially miss the stars.
Light years away, they seem so far from our grasp.
Not unlike our dreams.
Sometimes we desire a thing so badly, yet it feels far out of our reach.
Like reaching for the stars.
Like building a log home in the woods in central Virginia, for example.
A far-away dream of mine, yet almost unbelievably, it came to fruition. And although my time there seemed short-lived, I know that home served its purpose. It planted the seeds for what would follow. Then I heard guidance ask me to leave that dream behind.
As if that were easy to do.
It reminds me of when I longed to have a child.
For six years I tried unsuccessfully, thinking there must be something more I could do – some other method David and I could try.
During that time, I simultaneously stumbled upon a path that led me on a deeper spiritual journey. One that taught me the meaning of detachment, of detaching from a specific outcome. Of surrendering to a God who is nothing but Love.
Still, when my 36th birthday came along and I was still childless, it was hard not to feel emotional. My mind told me “time was running out.”
I didn’t give up on my desire to have a child. But over the course of a painful journey of being attached to the outcome, I had learned to entrust the desires of my heart to God.
Whatever the result, I could trust the One who had placed the seed of that desire in me. I could trust the truth that “all things work together for good….”
In other words, I had set the intention and learned to let go of my demand for a certain outcome.
Months later I found myself pregnant, and before my 37th birthday, I had a child in my arms.
Now, again I find myself facing a desire to manifest a deeply held dream. One I’m passionate about that involves my writing.
It feels like my desire has been taking a long time to be realized. And yet again, I find myself relearning the lessons of patience and faith as I surrender control.
Because I know that whenever I am clinging to a particular outcome, my ego is still in control. Whenever I am attached to the way “I” think things should turn out, I’m not free. I’m not in the flow.
What are the deepest desires of your heart?
Do your dreams seem like stars out of your reach? Or are you clinging to them, unable to let go?
Here’s what I’d suggest:
Set your sights on the stars. Plant and nurture the seed of your deepest desires. Set your intentions.
Then relinquish the outcome. Open to the flow of creative possibilities.
Entrust the results to your co-Creator.
And watch the stars appear.
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.
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/