“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
Exactly one year ago today — July 18 — I left home. Got in my car and followed a longing to fulfill something deep within me. But I hadn’t realize just how scared I was until I locked and closed the door to my house, leaving everything behind — my son, my dog, all my possessions. I had no clue what I would find in Texas, how I would be cared for, how I would support myself financially, or what shape things would be in when I returned. It definitely felt like a major risk.
Yet I felt absolutely certain I had to risk it.
And I’m so glad I did.
Nothing was as I expected. So many challenges. So many doubts and questions along the way.
And it was all good.
The journey taught me some things that, even though I thought I knew them, I didn’t really “know.” Not until I actually lived them.
Here are some of my favorites:
- Trust your inner guidance.
- You have a deeper wisdom and tremendous inner strength that kick in when you ask for help and trust enough to listen.
- It’s safe to leap.
- When you follow your heart, the Universe really does provide.
- Even though you sometimes feel all alone, you never are.
- Your true self will keep you company through any darkness.
- Love connections can be made in an instant. Even when you don’t speak the language very well.
- You don’t have to know where you’re going. You only have to “do the next right thing that’s in front of you.” (This one’s from Sr. Brigid Marie, my dear spiritual mentor who provided a light for my path during a dark time in San Antonio.)
- Celebrate the unique way God is revealing Godself in the world through you. (Another gem from Sr. Brigid Marie.)
- You can live in liminal space a lot longer than you think.
- Love and grace are always available. You’re the only one that blocks them from getting through.
And the most important of all:
When I can still the voices long enough to be in the silence, I hear a gentle and quiet Spirit that whispers nothing but love in my ear and fills me with this one truth: I am loved beyond measure. In return, I am asked to love “the unseen” and the “not-yet.”
In those moments, this is what I do know: that everything — all things — live and move and have their being in God’s love.
Sometimes I have a hard time accepting and taking this in. I have to remind myself that I KNOW this. I may not know where my next home will be or how I’ll live out the next step of this journey. But I do know when I truly listen and follow, Love gives me what I need.
Trust the flow of the river.
As I teeter on the edge of this threshold, preparing to step into something that remains unclear and uncertain, Richard Rohr’s daily reflection speaks to my heart. Just as so many of them have these past several weeks, reflecting on liminal space and trust.
Röhr says, faith is “the ability to trust the river, to trust the flow and the Lover…
“It’s a process we don’t have to create, coerce, or improve. We simply need to allow it to flow.”
Not so easy when the river is dense with fog. You are listening within and believe you are following your heart, but you’re a bit anxious of what’s in front of you. Like Röhr says, “That takes an immense confidence in God.”
Since I arrived in San Antonio I certainly have been refining that faith and confidence, along with a deeper trust in my inner knowing. I have learned — with slowly improving skill — to hold “a certain degree of uncertainty, ambiguity, and tension.”
It’s all part of the adventure. Of the journey of realizing a personal calling. And of realizing that “the river is God’s providential love.”
As I prepare to move on, I’d like to share images from my favorite places in San Antonio: Brackenridge and Woodlawn parks and the grounds of the Oblate School of Theology.
Faced with loud, unfamiliar noises, our imagination tends to leap into action. That’s what happened to my friend Nina.
Nina’s probably one of the funniest people and greatest storytellers I know. She’s got that Erma Bombeck kind of humor. For those too young to remember, Erma penned a funny newspaper column about suburban family life for about 30 decades, until the late 1990s. Like Erma, my friend Nina could easily be writing her own column. Lucky for me, Nina’s been supporting my journey by regularly sending along humorous emails about life back in Virginia.
But this week Nina’s intended humor turned into a different kind of — and unexpected — gift.
In her email update, she joked about how her hearing has been declining. My hearing has been declining, too, so I can relate, even though Nina’s quite a bit younger than I am. I guess that encouraged me in a weird kind of way. So, right away she peaked my interest.
“My hearing is shot,” Nina writes.
“It’s been a steady decline for 15 years. However, I REALLY thought I was ‘hearing things’ yesterday. Is it my heartbeat? Is the ringing in my ears getting worse? Am I now schizophrenic? Because I HEAR noises that are SO LOUD?”
As would happen with most of us at this point, her imagination has kicked in.
“What did I do yesterday to worsen the condition?” she muses. “Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten that cheese enchilada at El Agave!!!!”
She is obviously baffled, and maybe just a tad anxious. Yet Nina ventures outside to her porch, where she is bombarded by this unidentifiable, VERY LOUD NOISE!
Thousands of swallows have alighted on the trees in her backyard. Nina relaxes and watches as the birds fly together from tree to tree, casting shadows over branches and earth. In the process, they create magnificent hues of darkness and light, like figures dancing across the sun.
“It was a little gift to me,” Nina writes.
And a very special gift to me. Because by the time I got to the end of her story, I was smiling.
Not because she had made me laugh. It was much more than that.
Those birds in flight represented a powerful metaphor: my own freedom.
Not simply because the image of birds flying symbolizes freedom. What really struck me was how the sound they had created was initially unfamiliar and somewhat scary.
Just like in my own life.
Here I am at another crossroads. With another decision to make. In about one week’s time. Living in liminal space can definitely create a little angst. And possibly lead to more risk-taking as I try to listen more deeply and follow my heart.
As a wise friend assured me, the risk involved is a small price to pay for the freedom of following our bliss.
The freedom to be who we truly are.
The freedom to live from our deepest self.
The freedom to create from a place of vulnerability and compassion.
Sometimes we can be surprised by the sound freedom makes. But if we are willing to venture out and follow the source, we may discover something breathtakingly beautiful.
Call me crazy but I drove to El Paso this past weekend. 550 miles one way. A straight line right through the desert along I-10. And a speed limit of 80 mph all the way. Not that I drove that fast!
My reason for going? To begin the first of four weekend trainings in Capacitar — a multicultural wellness program that I wrote about in an earlier blog. Ever since I was exposed to Capacitar during my first visit to El Paso, I’ve been attracted to it and inspired by its founder Pat Cane. Capacitar — a Spanish word meaning “to empower, bring forth”— integrates body-mind-spirit practices to bring healing to people all over the world who have experienced trauma, violence, and emotional and physical stress. (You can read more about it at http://www.capacitar.org)
Now I’ve been given an amazing opportunity to receive training and certification in this program, with the idea that I will bring it to others who need healing. Not only did I receive the assistance I needed to do this, but the sisters here in San Antonio allowed me to extend my weekend in order to take advantage of the program. I was pretty excited about how this all came together. My hope is that I can teach some of these practices to the women at our little learning center, La Casita.
But even more than feeling extremely grateful to be participating in the Capacitar training, I recognized the excitement growing in me as I drove closer and closer to El Paso.
As soon as I exited off I-10 onto Lee Trevino and headed to North Loop, I felt like I’d come home. The familiar roads. The bus route I’d taken, along with all my Hispanic neighbors. Even the Whataburger on the corner. I’d treated myself to a great chocolate shake there. I was smiling from ear to ear.
When I called my cousin in Austin to let her know I’d arrived safely, I couldn’t contain the feelings.
“I’m so happy to be here!” I blurted.
I heard her chuckle. “Nobody’s happy to be in El Paso.”
“Well, I am. My heart is happy here. It’s like being home.”
I’m sure I must have left a piece of my heart in El Paso when I left back in March. Certainly the sisters welcomed me as if I were home.
I talked to them nonstop through dinner, pouring out every detail of my journey to San Antonio. Where I am and what I’m doing. The questions and concerns that still remain.
They listened to all of it. Then one of them suggested something that struck a chord.
“Sounds to me like you’re in liminal space, Pauline.”
Hmm. Liminal space. I’d heard that term before.
Having read many books and reflections by Richard Rohr — a Franciscan and contemporary spiritual writer — I knew that liminal space meant that inbetween place where you feel like you’re teetering on the edge of a threshold, about to cross over into something yet unknown and unforeseen.
When I got back to San Antonio on Monday, I looked up Richard Rohr’s explanation of liminal space:
…a unique spiritual position where human beings hate to be but where the biblical God is always leading them. It is when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are finally out of the way. It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run…anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing.
I’ve certainly lived through stages like that in my life. But this one feels different. It challenges me from a tougher place. Something in me knows that I will experience deeper spiritual growth and maturity. That is, if I can hang out long enough with the discomfort and the questions, not to mention my aversion to finding myself in this position. To be honest, I don’t like this version of living in liminal space.
To help me manage living here for a while, I’ve set some goals for myself:
- Focus on the healing work of Capacitar
- Learn Spanish while hanging out
- Be open to the surprises, to whatever comes
- Trust that God is with me in this
- Look for the little graces every day —
Graces like this opportunity to participate in Capacitar. And the gift of being able to return to El Paso — at least every now and then.