Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Disconcerting Dream

"My belly doesn't seem big enough to be having a baby. It just looks like I've put on weight." I looked at my thick waist, only slightly extended in the center.
"But if you press it, you can feel the baby," my friend Anne said.
I pressed and the at first subtle impression of an infants shape became increasingly, weirdly evident.
"Oh my gosh, I can see it." The shape of a baby projected out from inside my belly. It was high, where one would expect my ribs to be.

Next thing I remember I was lying in bed, the room was dim and felt gray. Though I hadn't felt anything--no contractions, no labor, no birth--a baby was lying in my arms. My impression was that she had come through my stomach.
"Now that's a home delivery! No doctors, not even a midwife." I was mystified and pleased.

The charm soon degenerated. We were in the car. Mom was driving, not Anne, and I think some of my sisters were with us. I was in the back-seat and we stopped at a convenience store to pick something up. There was something strange about my baby that I couldn't identify. I lifted I tucked her under my shirt and pressed her to my breast to feed. Her mouth could not attach, because she did not have a mouth. She did not have a face. I realized what was wrong with my baby is that there were uncomfortably extended periods of time when she was a baby-sized, shapeless, relatively firm, brown mush, not unlike partially baked bread.

I don't remember much else. There was some moment of realization that indeed my stomach had not been big enough. This baby was not fully-formed. I don't remember if the final diagnosis was that it had died, or never really been born. I only know that by the end of the dream my baby was no mine. My baby was not. And I felt hollow.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Love mercy, do justly, walk humbly...

God of the garden,
God of the park,
God of growing things
and of wild spaces,
God who whispers in the leaves,
weeps through the clouds,
shouts with the sun;
you have my heart.
I am yours.

While waiting, I watched the dragonflies. I stood close to the green heart of a yellow fringed flower, watching a fuzzy-bodied bee sip its nectar. Birds watched me and danced among the tall stalks, and with each other. I laid on my back beside an artificial stream, coins shone on the tiled bottom. Clouds sketched whitely on the buoyantly blue sky glided slowly and showed their reflection in the skyscrapers that towered, lean and gleaming. M. Ward sang, “With my eyes on the prize, and my mind on you, I put my pride on the line, and my whole life too…” And I laid there, my phone on my belly, waiting for the call from friends who would be meeting me there at Millennium Park to hear Ray LaMontagne and David Gray roughly croon our hearts away.

That morning I had went to the park. I walked, mostly, did some yoga and climbed “sledding hill.” I listened to a podcast about Mohammed and Islam. The speaker helped me grow in understanding and respect for Muslim teaching, providing a more in depth perspective from that proliferated through daily news sound-bites and general assumptions. Its flaws, usually the result of misapplication are quite similar to ours [Christianity]—violence, prejudice—as are the qualities at its heart—liberation, compassion. Hearing though that Mohammed, the exemplar of Islamic teaching, was a military leader, I felt suddenly grateful for Jesus’ rejection of that role. I remembered a recent reading of Gandhi attempting to creatively interpret around a call to arms in the Gita. I thought about the fearful question that sometimes surfaces when I read the Law of the Prophets or even the poetry of canonized Hebrew scripture; “What if God was, what if God is really a tyrant?” Amid this pondering stood Jesus, the Christ; enduringly non-coercive, non-violent, consistently compassionate and critical of injustice. He did not force or connive but offered an invitation, “come and see,” and a Way.

The merciful, radical, insightful Jesus’ reverence for the God of history, the “God of Abraham,” encourages me to look beyond the apparently cruel exterior I am often presented with and to perceive the God, creative and compassionate, that holds my heart as I work in the garden or walk in the park. If they are indeed One, I will be one with them.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

West Coast Formation

A week has passed since I returned to Chicago after a three week sojourn in California. The trip impressed me deeply, causing events from earlier this summer to be all but lost in its shadow. I have to be intentional about recalling the first weeks of summer, the activities that felt so momentous at the time.

June began with the Catholics on Call conference, appropriately laying the groundwork for a formative summer with talks on discernment, vocation, prayer and community. A few days after I headed to Arizona where the boundary between the US and Mexico is lost in the Sonoran Desert. I went to participate in a humanitarian aid project, to educate myself about immigration and to be present with some of those who are in the thick of it. The two weeks I was back in Chicago are a blurred flurry of processing the previously mentioned experiences; entertaining out of town visitors; planning for a move away from my apartment and job as a nanny and into the White Rose Catholic Worker in West Rogers Park.

I hadn’t been to LA since I helped my brother Adam move there four years ago. Since then my oldest brother, Aaron, headed west as well with his wife and two children. I’ve been promising a visit for at least two years and this summer I finally made good. My original plan was to stay for ten days; that later extended to three weeks as I decided to take this opportunity to spend some time learning from and working with the Los Angeles Catholic Worker. The LACW has been living out the gospel with intensity and integrity for forty years (they celebrated their anniversary the week before I showed up). Those who comprise the community structure their days around performing works of mercy. These include feeding the poor, clothing the naked and giving shelter to the homeless.

Roughly twenty-five men and women reside at the LACW. Only eight of these are seasoned workers. The rest of the house is comprised of a handful of summer-interns--discerning whether this is a way of life that they can get behind—and “guests.” Some guests have lived in house for as long as or longer than some of the workers. All of them are men and women the workers met through the “Hippie Kitchen.” The heart of the LACW is this soup kitchen that beats out its life giving rhythm in downtown LA’s “skid row.” If you have never been to skid row it is a difficult place to imagine. I’ve lived in and visited major cities across the country—Orlando, Manhattan, Louisville, Nashville, San Francisco—never have I encountered homelessness and hunger like there is in downtown Los Angeles. Driving at night I saw blocks of sidewalks lined with tents, make-shift shanties of boxes and debris, church parking lots with bodies parked in every available space.

One of my favorite things from the five days I spent there was the picnic. Three weeks out of the summer, the LACW rents a bus, fills it with their friends who regularly eat at the Kitchen, and drives to a lovely lakeside park. The community prepares food early and is there to meet the bus load of skid row residents with chips and salsa and fruit. Grills are ignited and before long servers and those served share a meal, play Frisbee, take a stroll or simple rest in the grass beneath a shade tree. Here I had the opportunity to say more than “good morning” while quickly scooping salad onto a plate or sticking a spoon into a bowl of oatmeal. More importantly, I had the opportunity to listen, to hear the stories of my brothers and sisters who so readily welcomed me though I was a stranger.

The person who remains most present in my memory is a man who called himself “Black Jesus.” He took the name as a testament to his faith and a challenge to live an exemplary life. Black Jesus was sinewy and tall. He stood stopped and laughed soft and high like a little child. Thinking of him invariably brings to mind Jesus’ words recorded in the book of Matthew:

Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. 6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. (KJV)

Before the day was over Black Jesus had a “spiritual name” to offer me and a poem to accompany it:

Unto your eyes;
Your spiritual name, is Heaven Hi.
You are a blessing unto this world,
you are a spiritual woman, within a spiritual girl.
May this poem bless you always with Jesus Holy Love,
Heaven Hi, got Jesus Blood.
Heaven Hi, is Jesus, satan is hel-lo;
Jesus is your foundation, unto your mind, body, and soul.
We are children of the living Jesus Christ,
look within, you will see Jesus mercy, grace and glory unto your life.

Black Jesus is one example of the many men and women who fellowship with the LACW on a regular basis and they are only a fraction of the millions of men and women throughout our country who experience homelessness and hardship and who are rejected by the mainstream. These are the least Jesus referred to when he said, “as much as you did to the least of these, you did it to me…and as much as you did not do it to the least of these, you did not do it to me” (Mat. 25:40). These are the face of Christ; thirsty, hungry, naked, homeless, [often] imprisoned. When we avert our eyes, or cross the street, it is Christ we turn from. When we wait for someone else to meet the need we find overwhelming or outside of our responsibility, it is Christ’s need we neglect. As a Catholic woman I am confronted with the responsibility to respond. What is required? Interacting with these men and women, I did not get the sense that their need would be satisfied by having the gospel preached to them. What was required for them, what is required from me, is that the gospel be practiced for them.

I met with many people and situations during my time in Los Angeles and Northern California that challenged my ideas of who I am and who I want to be. I think the greatest challenge though is engaging in the process of continually becoming a woman worthy of the friendships so readily offered to me, to be a woman with the humble audacity to take on the name “Jesus” with the understanding that doing so does not mean I will merely speak of him, but that I will be him; no matter where I am; no matter who I’m with.