Thursday, August 18, 2011

Love Itself

August 17, 2011

I’ve had a lot on my mind lately. Enough that my usual absent-mindedness has become amplified to an almost unmanageable degree. I forgot to turn off the crockpot of tomato sauce before leaving for a day of babysitting; forgot to bring my phone to the first place; forgot to bring my planner back from it; forgot to bring my bike key to my next babysitting gig—despite riding my bike there, and locking it in the parking lot—and also forgot to bring my wallet or cash or a CTA card, thus stranding myself in Lincoln Park at 10:00pm.

M graciously came to pick me up in spite of being “on house.” The drive was good and gave us time to share in some of what’s been crowding my mind and hers: the chaos of our community, the shabbiness of our hospitality, the divergent projects, the need for lines of separation (are we a house of hospitality? a farm? an activist commune?). Some of these pontifications surface in the haphazard article I’m attempting for the newsletter that shifts from “connecting the dots” to “not seeing the forest for the trees. I pose the question, “what is the forest?” and take a couple of grasping guesses.

While the kids were sleeping tonight I read some of Robert Ellsberg’s Saint’s Guide to Happiness and came across this bit about St. Therese of Lisieux:

“She confessed to feeling a call to every vocation, to be a warrior, a priest, a doctor of the church and a martyr. But ultimately she believed that her vocation was nothing less than to ‘love itself,’ a virtue embracing every calling without exception. ‘My vocation is love!’ she wrote” (94).

How well I can relate to “Little Flower” in her feeling of being called to everything and nothing! the latter being what “everything” tends to become when you try to do it all, except perhaps when instead on nothing one chooses love, which embraces all but is itself. I too have felt that sense of vocation to love, but have seldom had the courage to proclaim it with such conviction. When asked what I am aspiring towards, I only can say, “to love well.” That sounds so feeble in my ears. I’ve tried to bolster it with better answers, sprinkling in bits about “systemic injustice” and “simple living.” Flimsy words coming out of my mouth.

Love looked humble, weak even, and I plastered her with credentials—things I do care about, but things that belong in her, not over her. I began to bury love and have observed myself becoming increasingly less gentle, less kind, more irritable and more uncertain. I care about and believe in most of what I am doing, more often than not I enjoy it too. What I am beginning to wonder though is am I doing these things out of love, or instead of love? When I was reading St. Therese’s exclamation, “My vocation is Love!” the thought occurred to me, “The forest,” (the one we are blinded from because of attentiveness to the many trees) “is love.” And I’m afraid I’ve lost sight of it.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Sea 'n Me

Sun, in her abundance, poured light deep into the apparently endless water, scattered heaping handfuls across the surface, and allowed the leftovers to melt, dripping over the sky and into the sand. This was not Lake Michigan, but the Atlantic Ocean. That’s a lot of light. Heat was heavily present already, at 9 a.m. I mindfully embraced the warmth as affection, barring the perception of oppressive uncomfortability that I normally receive high temperatures with. I stepped through thin slips of water, into soaked yielding sand, around golden clumps of seaweed that my sisters and I had been dodging in the water the day before, tossing it on Rachel so she could have “mermaid hair.” My thoughts were lapping and overlapping, belying a less than disciplined mind, a mind cradled fondly nonetheless.

I thought about the impromptu speech made the night before at the wedding of a dear friend. She is the one that brought me here, that instigated my spending more time in South Florida than I ever have in all my years living in the center of this state. I hadn’t planned to say anything and wasn’t expected to, but how could I not? She has consistently, insistently loved me and allowed me to participate in her struggles and triumphs for nearly two decades. The words I selected weren’t too shabby; they also weren’t enough. I mulled over amendments while moving through dense, salt-infused air, occasionally distracted by refracted light, so sharp, such a contrast to the immensely soft, mammoth clouds that floated by, flat bottomed and erupting from above. Words never can be enough to sum up a life, let alone the melding of two lives and all the interlocking lives influenced by their connection. Words can never be enough, but I am compelled to forever work at crafting them, and risk exposing them.

I thought about the expansive beauty, the majesty really, of the ocean and how in it’s vastness, it envelopes the nuances of the world; sparking wildly during dazzling day, melancholy and absorbing in moonlit night. Tumultuous and roiling, placid and absorbing, expressive and secretive; the sea is everything at all times, yet we receive only a little, one moment at a time. I admire the ocean and appreciate its expansive yet intimate embrace, though I don’t feel a belonging to it as I’ve heard some articulate. Nor do I feel that sense of belonging to a city that winks and sparkles with light generated from more mutable sources. My ego finds her cradle amidst the trees, in earthy depths, mounded into mountains. But there is neither one nor the other that offers completion. All are part of the whole.

My attention was drawn to a shell, bleached white, porous. A shell? No, I think not, but I haven’t the knowledge to identify it confidently. Fossilized coral, perhaps? Honeycomb from the ocean, an abandoned nest of sea-bees. It is astounding, the mirror world that exists below the surface, so alien and yet we belong to one another. I began to watch the sand more than the sea and scooped up a couple more curiosities. Studying the articulate veins of a creamy crimped shell, I arrived back where I had started. Standing on a mound of seaweed, directly in my path was an incongruous couple: a black pigeon and a white seagull. The pigeon’s presence startled me. What are you doing here? I asked. They both just stared. Representatives of my two lives, I surmised. And wouldn’t you know it, just as the thought made itself known, the seagull walked several feet away and then turned to look back at me from the distance. The pigeon remained, unmoving except to blink his blank, orange eyes.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Moses the Migrant

Once upon a time, long ago, in a place far from here, a familiar story unfolded. In this place there was a Ruler and this Ruler’s land was inhabited by people of varying ethnicity. There were those who named themselves “the People” and there were those named “the Others.” The Others were a strong-bodied people who worked hard, bore children and established themselves in the land. In fact, they became so abundant, that the People began to fear they would be overrun by the Others. The fear was so great that the Ruler began to look at the Others as invaders, though they had lived amongst the people for generations. They had, in fact, lived amongst the People so long that the Ruler—who was not a diligent student of history—had forgotten, or perhaps never learned that the Others had actually been invited to the land by a ruler from the past. They had helped sustain the land during a time of need. Now, they were not perceived as an asset but a threat.

In one version of this story, the Ruler is called Pharaoh; the People, Egyptians; the Others, Hebrew. Pharaoh responded to the Hebrew threat by summoning their midwives. “When you are preparing to deliver the babies of Hebrew women,” he commanded them, “you must abort them as they are being born.” The women did not argue. They also did not obey. Noticing that Hebrew babies continued to be born, Pharaoh summoned the midwives once again, “how is it that I continue to see my land overrun by newborn Hebrews?” he demanded. The clever women played helpless, “These Hebrew women, they are so hardy and energetic, they give birth before we even arrive in their homes!” Though the midwives civil disobedience delayed deaths, it did not prevent them. In his desperation, Pharaoh ordered that all male children be killed, even after being born.

Perhaps there were many families whose love and ingenuity compelled them to find ways to preserve the lives of their children. Ancient texts direct our attention to one particular family. And isn’t it often the way that our best education about broad truths comes through a narrow focus, from an individual encounter? The family was of the Levite clan. Though she already had two children, the mother of this family was struck by the beauty of her new child, a son, and she could not bear to see him lose his life even if that meant she could not share in that life with him. This child’s mother and father and brother and sister conspired together. They crafted a basket, carefully waterproofed and padded it. They placed within it this child, one of many born in the land but to them a unique marvel and mystery of creation to whom their hearts were bound. Reverently, with prayers and petitions, they placed the baby-filled basket in the river and hoped for salvation. His sister, Miriam, followed the flow of the river from the bank.

Almost of another world, another daughter ventured along the river bank. Pharaoh’s daughter, she shared the same land with Miriam and the other Hebrew daughters and sons, but knew little of their life. She lived life in a bubble of security. Even now, as she ventured to cool herself in the water of the Nile, a band of attendants followed around her; their presence both an irritation and an expectation, for she knew no life but a sheltered one. Immersing herself in the water this daughter heard a cry. She saw the unusual craft and could guess at its cargo—but how could this be? “Go fetch that basket,” she commanded an attendant. And her attendant obeyed. Opening the lid of the basket, Pharaoh’s daughter caught the spell of wonder that had been laid in the basket with this baby. She recognized love in him and wanted to share it. “I’m going to adopt him,” she said. And she named him Moses.

I imagine this encounter affecting the daughter of Pharaoh not only with compassion, but with curiosity. How did it come to be that this child was set afloat? Perhaps she learned more about the policies directed toward the people inhabiting the land she lived within. I noticed that when Moses grew to adulthood, there were still Hebrew people of his generation—they were not destroyed. Can it be that Pharaoh’s commandment was rescinded? I wonder if that had anything to do with his daughter finding her heart captivated by one Hebrew that led her to advocate, if even in only one small way, for the lives of his people. I wonder if the thought of each Hebrew baby’s death tore at her as though it were the murder of her own child?

The timelessness of this story occurred to me in a new way as I revisited it this week. Experience has a way of tinting the lens through which we look at the world. Where I stand in my interior landscape effects the perspective I have of the exterior, even when I am unaware. This time I was aware that I was reading with a mind toward the immigrants that share the land where I live. Aware that whatever people group we come from, we were all sojourners once. “My people” were primarily Dutch and Irish, welcomed when extra hands were needed, rejected when we became too many and were no longer seen as a resource but as burden on resources that were limited. A threat to familiar ways of being and looking and sounding. I thought of the South and Central American migrants who I’d never given much mind to until I encountered their belongings, abandoned during their troubled sojourn in the Sonoran Desert; until I met them, broken on the border.

Now they people my thoughts and influence my reflections. I have been reading Steinbeck’s account of his journey across America with his dog Charley. There I found that his reflection on the Bad Lands stirred in me reflections similar to those that had been awakened by a tale from ancient Egypt. Once upon a time, not long ago, very close to home…Steinbeck’s experience of the Bad Lands brought back my memories of the contradictory nature of the desert in Arizona that divides the United States and Mexico. Such a monster in the day, so majestic in the evenings. Though I tried to describe it, he says it better:

…the late afternoon changed everything. As the sun angled…the cliffs and sculptured hills and ravines lost their burned and dreadful look and glowed with yellow and rich brown and a hundred variations of red and silver gray, all picked out by streaks of coal black…once stopped I was caught, trapped in color and dazzled by the clarity of the light. Against the descending sun the battlements were dark and clean-lined, while to the east, where the uninhibited light poured slantwise, the strange landscape shouted with color. And the night, far from being frightful, was lovely beyond thought, for the stars were close, and although there was no moon the starlight made a silver glow in the sky. The air cut the nostrils with dry frost…this is one of the few place I have ever seen where the night was friendlier than the day (Travels with Charley, pg. 120).

I found it confounding, trying to reconcile the splendor of the evenings with the treacherous conditions of the day. Similarly, I find it confounding trying to reconcile the juxtaposition of beauty and cruelty in people when we choose, sometimes so arbitrarily who will be bequeathed with our favor, and who will be subject to our wrath. Unlike Moses, the rulers of this land don’t directly threaten migrants with death, but with deportation. Though, considering the hundreds of deaths that occur each year in the desert by those restricted, or returning after being sent back—considering how separation of mothers from children and husbands from wives causes life to leak out from rent hearts—the difference between death and deportation becomes blurry at best.

Who will be the fairytale-type princess in this version of the story? Who will be the unlikely one that bridges the gap between the outcast people and the obstinate ruler? “Encounter” seems to me to be the magic word that breaks the spell of blindness. I think of my own life’s experience; I began to care when my senses and feelings were engaged. I cared about the migrants because I walked their trails and heard their stories. I cared about men in Guantanamo who I’d barely given a second thought to because I saw their picture and heard their stories and read their poems. I was touched by our common humanity. Their pain hurt me. If those of us who are sheltered by the rulers of the land could learn the stories of those who are persecuted, if we would take a few steps beyond our comfort zone, perhaps their cries could stir our heart like the cries of a baby in a basket. Perhaps, if we wade in the water, God will trouble us toward compassion and we will learn the abundance of an interwoven life.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Good Morning

Last night I left the blinds pulled up halfway so that the light of morning would wake me. It worked. I stirred and in my mind it was still dark—where am I? "Sister Julia’s, 'room-sitting' while she’s away." What time is it? "Day break." Do I have anything I need to do today? "Only what you want"—I opened my eyes to find that light had already filled the room. The clock read three minutes to six. The sun was slowly ascending, blazing orange light that melted over the lake and into the city. Immediately I pulled on shorts and a t-shirt and went outside.

I did not examine my good mood, I floated on it. Contradictions surfaced. As I entered the park I saw man sleeping on a bench. He had pulled his white shirt over his head. A sign of surrender, or of defiance? Crossing the bridge over the highway, I saw a crumpled guard-rail, a sure sign of disaster. I inhaled these indications of turmoil soberly, mindfully, but joy remained, unvanquished.

It is common to see the reflection of trees in water. In the park, on a path between a small pond and a row of trees, I discovered an uncommon reversal. Wobbling waves of light, the water's reflection, danced low between the branches. Invisible, except by motion, like wind; only it didn’t rustle or whisper, it laughed.

I made my way to the lakeshore and hopped down a series of giant-sized steps, offering a sun salutation to that great golden orb once I reached the bottom. The lip of the lake curled and I winked back. Sunbeams forged a wide path from the horizon to the waters edge; a few small, bold beams climbing up on my shoulder, warming and glowing. This is how I learned that the sun is a jealous star, protective of her offspring. As I walked, she followed and every time I turned toward the east, there she was, glaring.

Duck! A speckled brown mother and her fuzzy, fresh flock. Choppy water scattered their tiny buoyant bodies, but they always bobbed back together. The water was lively and I wondered at the life within it. The beam on my shoulder began to murmur about the magic of the things we call common and suddenly I remembered the dream I lived before waking. A sweet dream in which affection was shared with someone who does not offer it to me in waking life.

Colors were bold—green against brown against blue intercepted by white—shadows long, wind rallying the leaves, trying to out-sing the sound of on-coming traffic. By the time I had looped back to where I had begun, little more than an hour had passed but already things were different. I lingered by the trees that had held the waters reflection; they were empty. The man on the bench was upright now, scowling. My back was to the lake and the sun and I could feel something shifting, slipping. While waiting at a crosswalk I tried to pour the morning’s images into a bucket to carry with me. All that I had was a sieve. I watched the trickling escape of what was and willed myself to release it, redirecting my gaze to what is. The light changed and I walked forward. It was not until I was unlocking the door to Julia’s room that I realized the blazon little sunbeam had absconded with its warmth, leaving me a cold shoulder, still blushing pink.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

In Transition: Part 2

June 16

A new journal is always a reminder of the newness of each day and the possibilities to come.

I put off writing again and surrendered my time and attention to celebrating Regina's birthday, immersing myself in a day of crafting, prayer, and sharing meals. I am sad that I keep putting off intentional contemplation but am grateful for and greatly enjoyed this time of connection and creativity...

June 18

Marie, Jerica, Josie and I spent the night in Maloy, Iowa. We left Chicago shortly after yesterday's Loyola class on energy...Our drive was filled with lovely chats and an exchange of unsound "scientific facts"--underwire bras cause cancer, every night you unconsciously eat 5 to 10 spiders...

The morning light is being crowded out by dark clouds. The occasional rumble of thunder, though, is not nearly enough to drown out the dissonant medley of songbirds and the occasional crow of the rooster.

There is such spaciousness here. It started before we came, inside. Half the WRCW was out of town and there was room for my being to spread. Breathing and being; cleaning and cooking in empty rooms or talking quietly or laughing loudly or crying just a little with women content in themselves. "May this interior space remain whatever happens outside me," I prayed. And, thanks be to God, what has happened outside me is an ever widening.

I watched the storm roll in, first from the window, then the porch. First alone, then with Brian, hardly talking. I watched Frankie and Betsy milk the goats and walked the garden with B when the rain had reduced from a rush to a trickle, sprinkling my clothes and hair, settling in between my toes. Yesterday, in the car, I started reading Holy the Firm, one of the Dillard books Ted gave me. It is the perfect accompaniment; transcendant and grounding, like the farm. The natural space reminds me that there is more to earth than human activity. Yet, whether or not present, whether or not aware, we touch it all, and we all are touched.

Dillard's many musings on God and days as gods--from reckless to helpless to cruel to doting--remind me of an OnBeing interview about nurturing that brought up the idea of God as parent and of parenthood as "excruciating loss of control and vulnerability," drowning in a sea of love that swims with pain, the horizons beginning and end blurred into the indefinite edges of sky and water.

June 22

This past week has been one of what John calls "real Catholic Worker" days. We've had PeaceBuilder students at the house all week--educating them about consumerism, food, energy use, wast--offering opportunities for hands on work--gardening, crafting and canning, etc. Today they'll be at the farm. I am with Seneca who has been amusing herself by plucking the sunny head off every dandelion she can find and drinking muffin crumbs from a cleaned our baby food jar and crawling on me, speaking her myseterious language, while I try to write.

Yesterday, before the students came, we had an early morning vigil downtown, a prayerful presence for an end to torture and teh closure of Guantanamo. It was the first time I'd worn the hood since D.C. I hadn't given any thought to that being of any consequence. the moment I pulled it over my head the words, "God, have mercy" sprung involuntarily to my consciousness. God have mercy; on me, on us, on them.

Suddenly, I remember the men and their suffering. I was transported back to January in D.C., only now, instead of shivering in the jumpsuit, I was sweating. We processed and prayed together. Chantal led us in, "Courage, brothers..." and I read a transcript of the testimony of Omar Deghayes. After the vigil, the WRCW met with Joe S. and Mary D. to plan for our July 4 action. I started wishing I could meet up with our friends in Washington for the action this week but am glad, at least, that we are finding creative ways to bring education and awareness here.

The afternoon proceeded with students, and much harvesting of food from the garden; cutting, processing, and canning of food we picked up from Morse Market before they disposed of it. There was a break in food management for a lovely open meal with friends, the house meeting, then back to salsas and sauces...

In Transition: Part 1

I tend to feel a sense of sacred transition when completing the pages of one journal and beginning to mark the pages of a new one. It's similar to the feeling I have in an airport or train station, or when the wind is blowing steady and strong as it is right now; the feeling that there is something epic in the ordinary. Because this has just happened (the transition from on journal to the next), and because I have not posted in a while, I thought I would include a excerpts of the end of one and the beginning of another here:

June 6

Thanks to a combination of garden/chicken responsibilities, poor planning, zero cash and a broken ATM at the Loyola redline, I am now reclining beneath a willow tree by the lakeshore instead of listening to Iron & Wine at Millenium Park. I was feeling very frustrated and sad to miss the opportunity to hear their lovely tunes live and to visit with friends, but I am happy to be here. I have been feeling the need to find a little space in time to reflect and write. Finding that naturally had to mean losing something else.

Walking up to the lake, it was as though I'd come here for the first time again. I was filled with that aching love and wonder that feels almost like mourning. Holding up my long skirt with one hand, I waded in the water, wonderfully icy, and watched--two young boys playing, splash and chase; an attractive triad of sparsely tattooed young adults, waist deep; soft bodied parents quietly keeping an eye out; a dark brown woman in a bright orange shirt rowing a white boat. There was a man leaning against the sand behind me. He wore office clothes and had a computer bag by his side. In contrast with his environment but seeming very much a part of it, he watched only the horizon. It almost appeared as though he were not really watching anything at all, only letting the everything roll over and through him. I admired his just being. After relocating to this tree--where the sand is interrupted by lanky green grass blades, striped by shadows and bent by breeze--I continued to glance over and admire his ability to create a time for holy sabbath in the midst of this ordinary day.

"Everyday, do something that does not compute." Use "spare time" (if such a thing can be said to exist) not to catch up on phone calls or e-mails, or reading, but to be at rest--in mind and body--and immersed in your surroundings.

We read that poem, The Mad Farmers Liberation Front, of Wendell Berry's as part of the liturgy we held on the farm this morning. It felt profound and poignant to hear it read beneath the trees, with the sound of wind and of birds coming from the trees. One line in particular came to sit with me, not heavy, but awkwardly boney; "Love someone who doesn't deserve it." I thought about all the times I unintentionally (or otherwise) am sizing people up to assess whether or not they are worthy of my love. And I thought about aching Earth who continues to provide enough to meet all our needs despite our persistant negligence and abuse. Despite our unworthiness to be so loved.

Things are changing again, in me and around me and I'm not quite sure of where to look for center. Jerica and I were sitting on the bee bench, she was carving wedges into stakes to mark the herb bed and I was taking a break and trying to make plans for leaving. J. shared her desire for commitment from the significant people in her life--to her and each other and place and way of being--for a rooted life and a long view. I want that too and wish that I could offer it. I felt sad that my own mind has more been wandering to new or old places I could go. I spent much of the car ride out there envisioning what a life in California might look like and i've been doing that same thing with Florida lately, as well as imagining long distance adventures over seas. But these daydreams do not satisfy because I am continually reminded of how well connected I am here, how full my dys are of projects I enjoy and of people that I love...

June 9

...Overnight chicago experienced another dramatic climate shift from broiling, clear days in the 90s to torrential rain and cloudy days in the 60s and below...

I feel like there's a lot going on internally that I'm not giving access to. Almost everyday I can feel it kicking and shifting, like a growing baby not yet ready to be born...I feel torn by my tugging loyalties--how does one order her loves when they are many and widespread (Dorothy, I'd love to hear the wisdom of your experience)? I want to be attached, intertwined, but I keep pulling away...

While folding newsletters something came up again that I've been thinking about a lot regarding food 1) how do we connect the people who have it with the people who need it? 2) how do we help the people who need it become comfortable and confident with fresh foods and how to utilize them? I started thinking about having a CSA-type thing where you pay a nominal sum for the food box, then, when you come to pick it up each week, there is a free cooking class and a shared meal with the same types of food you would be getting--alternative food economy + education + building community = can't be bad.

I've also beeng thinking about both nonviolence and environmental care and how really brining them into consciousness will mean talking about them and living them everywhere. I am often afraid of seeming arrogant or ignorant or demoralizing. I am coming to believe in these things more and more and that if everyone doesn't bring them into everyday life, we are lost. Both in body and spirit. But I also want to keep withholding myself from internalizing them completely because I am afraid of the losses in relationship and lifestyle that would undoubtedly follow.

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Holy Thursday

Spirits were high around the table that night. Sharing the story about that ass--not Peter, though he could be so maddening, believing everything he said was absolutely right even if it exactly contradicted what he’d said the day before--I mean the donkey’s colt they’d absconded with. Leading up to the moment they felt frightened, but once the words, “because the Lord has need of it,” came tumbling from their mouths it was all they could do to keep from laughing. So insane, and yet, it worked! Now, they didn’t try to stop the laughter, it flashed golden in their faces, waving warmly through the room.

Holy Thursday mass. My mind settles back into my body, resting on a smooth wood pew, luminously candlelit. This is a feast day, I’ve been told. It is also my birthday. I was going to conveniently dismiss the latter. There was enough happening already without having to draw attention to myself. But a friend came to town and insisted on full, extravagant, celebration. The day was spent surrounded by friends, food, a glowing positive energy--no thought of tomorrow. The night before we’d tried to sleep but couldn’t stop laughing, not that we really tried. Our bodies bucked the propriety of bedtime knowing the laughter would be stilled by morning, no matter what we did that night. Let it roll, while the momentum is good.

Somehow the Beloved saw that shadow of what was to come. When Jesus rose his friend said, “Stay awhile. Can’t we just stay here a little longer. Stay with me.” He felt an impulse to grasp at Jesus, to pin him to that place, to that feeling, to that moment, knowing once they moved from the table a spell would be broken. They would walk out the door and into the looking glass where wine becomes blood and bread, a body broken. Can’t we just stay here and hold on?

I remembered a night that had been buried in a decade of days. A young woman, with legs like toothpicks stuck in a potato, wearing a child’s red t-shirt with the number 3, boldly white, and a a delivery man’s brown pants with a black stripe down the side. She had her arms wrapped around her beloved, his wrapped around her, fingers hooked in the belt loops of the brown pants, lest she disappear. She was so small, he tried to put her in his pocket but they found she didn’t fit, her fat heart not yet leaned by living. Internally she battled between going responsibly to bed and never, never leaving this spot, never releasing this man or this moment because she knew in the morning nothing would be the same. Better to stay awake for one more hour, better wakeful weeping in the garden than to sleep and say “I never knew you.”

Stay. The disciple whispered. Candles lighting the sanctuary where extinguished and the darkness laid it’s weight on my spirit. Stay. My heart whispered. I imagined the disciples, what would they do without him? How could the energy that had drawn them together and inspired them to live that new abundant life be sustained without the presence that had brought it in the first place? How can any of us press on with hollow Absence holding the space of Love’s presence? “Can’t we just stay here?” I plead, leaning toward the lighted room and laughter. Then the communion song came, “Stay with me,” the choir sang Christ’s words, “remain with me,” asking the same thing, but differently. The almost identical opposite. “If you want to be with me, stay with me, come along--can you drink from this cup?” He moved on, to the garden, the trial, the cross, the tomb. And I wished he could put me in his pocket so I didn’t have to choose.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

looking at little things

I cancelled plans that would have me rushing between work and reconciliation service and went instead to the lakeshore seeking serenity and sight. I walked along the waters edge, little hills of washed up rocks shifting beneath my shoes. The rock piles roll into, are an extension of, the lake floor that, a few feet out, descends sharply and escapes my sight. Sea glass gives a green whistle calling attention to itself amidst the water slick browns and tans and sandy whites. The glass puts me in mind of Brother Josh's poem and my own old habits. I stoop to pick up every one I see, fingering the edges, tossing in those still bearing the sharp shine of their broken bottle past. They slip neatly into the wide water that somehow consistently creeps forward without ever submerging the shore.

I walked over the sand to the park that wraps the bare shoulders of the beach like a grassy green shawl. A big woman with bleached blond hair and a gray hoodie was shouting so loud her voice became a hoarse growl, a roar of profanities directed to a feather-light, steel-haired, woman who was walking her dogs and apparently failed to pick up their poop. Every unclean words for woman and excrement was hurled at the mute offender, interspersed with threats of violence. I looked and listened and walked closer incase the conflict escalated from verbal to physical. But violence was already occurring. I hovered in between, still at a distance from both, should I say something? Who do I move toward? I waited and when the lioness stalked away, still rumbling, prayed that the women's jagged, brittle edges would not be broken, but rubbed smooth.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

WAT Journals--Jan 20

Despite a limited dose of sleep last night—due to our overnight vigil, taken in shifts, at the DoJ last night--I hadn't heard about the article. Mary told me as we were preparing to process from our gathering circle at the Navy Memorial to the DoJ where we would be reunited with the last shift of overnight vigil-ers.

Carmen spoke the gist of it over the sound system as we stood once again before the Department of “Justice.” A report was issued in the New York Times that Attorney General Holder, glaringly absent from our invitation to break bread, will be re-instituting military tribunals for the prosecuting of Guantanamo detainees. It appears that “hearsay evidence” will be incorporated into the cases (since no solid evidence exists), meaning information derived by torture will be used. A devastating development on a number of levels.

The news sunk like a bitter lump in my stomach and my shoulders slumped. Warm tears welled. My grief was hidden beneath a black hood. I thought of how the grief of the detained men is hidden away from the American people and the world. I thought of the hidden grief of their wives, their children, their fathers and mothers and friends. I want to believe that we are better than this.

Today has been rough for me, emotionally. The absence of solid sleep and food has left me exposed to feelings I'd successfully held at bay up to this point. Much of what has been brewing in me was released as I sat in the middle of the floor of the auditorium. A meeting had just closed and Chantal took my hand and asked, “are you okay?” Though I first said I was, her follow up questions led me to tears and disclosure.

One of the things weighing heaviest on my heart registered as I was watching portions of Taxi to the Darkside (an intense and worthwhile documentary about Bagram and Guantanamo). There was a clip from a post 911 news interview with then vice president Dick Cheney. He was talking about the need to move into the shadows, to use harsher tactics, because of who we are dealing with...these are paraphrases that actually tame what he was saying. I can't remember at the moment or find the video (day ten of fasting, remember, and sleepy). Were we not listening or did we just not care? The thought that people watched this and accepted his words, that people watched this and didn't rise up from their seats in horror and challenge him and the administration was heart-breaking. Especially in the context of having just watched footage of interviews with soldiers about and images of torture and “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The realization that I had never seen this interview with Cheney, that for most of my life I've essentially ignored the news, ignored my responsibility and complicity was devastating. Especially when accompanied by the impression that my negligence and apathy are fairly representative of the general population.

My grief infiltrates me on multiple levels and there have been other factors to my general sense of desolation today. But I am thankful for this community that I have such respect and affection for (though tonight I thought I'd go mad if I had to sit in one more circle for one more meeting!), I am thankful for my already sweet and still deepening friendships with Jerica and Chantal who sat on the floor of the auditorium with me as my facade of well-being crumbled. I am so thankful for Chantal's beautiful gift for playing guitar and singing that smoothed my wrinkled spirit. And I am thankful for the makeshift bed I am about to crawl into.

WAT Journals--Jan. 19

Risking arrest can be a comical process. Monday night about a dozen from our group stayed up late to clarify an action plan that had begun being formed in the large circle. After the clarifying group came up with a rough proposal another fragment continued the conversation as to what details would be included. Tuesday the conversation continued in the large group with further questions, suggestions, amendments. Then into the night the chosen few hashed out speaking points and alternatives in case things did not go according to plan (which they seldom do).

The gist of what we came up with is this. We would once more converge upon the premises of the DoJ. An announcement would be made over the sound system, explaining our presence, outlining the steps that have been taken to date; namely, our attempts at more conventional routes of communication -- letters, meetings, phone calls—that have been rebuffed. Then, an invitation is made to invite Attorney General Eric Holder or the highest official present for the day, to come outside and speak with us. We offered to break our fast (9 days and counting) and to break bread with him, offering him the opportunity to justify present policies and us to express our dismay at the injustices we have seen committed by U.S. representatives and supported and enforced by U.S. policy makers. At this announcement a loaf of bread was presented (cardboard Budweiser box covered by a lovely decorative rug) along with a bouquet of white roses. The roses were explained to be symbolic of the White Rose Society, a movement that arose within Nazi Germany famous for their pronouncement, “we will not be silent,” who would not be deterred from speaking out against the evils being committed by those in power even to the point of death (they were captured and beheaded).

While we waited for Mr. Holder or another representative from the DoJ to accept our invitation, a program began with alternating speakers that presented stories from Guantanamo; stories of the detainees, of the policies and practices of the military, of the types of torture, of the infamous beginnings that involved buying men with bounties with no evidence of wrong doing, extraordinary rendition, etc. After the first hour those willing to risk arrest removed their hoods, in effect, releasing themselves from representing Guantanamo detainees and reasserting their identity as American citizens come to make use of the alleged power we have as citizens of a democratic republic. Reiterating our attempts at more conventional approaches to communication, it was announced that we would block the entrance to the DoJ.

There were two instances during which those of us risking arrest “put our bodies on the line” so to speak. The first began as the first hour after our invitation to Eric Holder to break bread with us drew to a close. Carmen invited those of us dressed as detainees to remove our hoods and reveal our identity as “dismayed citizens” here to address the injustices being committed and sanctioned by the U.S. Government. We were then called upon to step forward. Previously when blocking the entrances to the DoJ we had turned to face the street, the public, with our backs to the building and the officers guarding it. This time we stepped forward, face to face with those opposing us, both symbolically (the employees and policy makers represented by the DoJ) and literally (the officers that barred our way). It felt strange to walk forward toward these resolute, stony faced men. My body resisted but my will and the presence of those beside me surpassed that inhibition. We kneeled and sang, “woke up this morning with my mind, stayed on freedom,” and the song and the voices of those around me and the hidden voices of the men we had come out for, buoyed my spirit and my resolve. We waited until our knees ached and our feet fell asleep, mindful of how minor this discomfort was as the program continued behind us and we heard story after story of the abusive, inhuman treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo. I listened to the stories and wondered how much if any was being absorbed by the guards that stood before us and looked past us. I wondered how much if any was being absorbed by the employees who more than anything seemed perturbed by this interruption of their usual routines. I wondered what I would think of us if I was on the outside looking in at this odd assortment of men and women in orange jumpsuits, kneeling before the blocked doors of the Department of Justice.

After the predetermined time for our presence at this entrance drew to a close. We rose and processed to the car port where we once again assembled and kneeled, once again facing the officers on duty and the wrought iron gates of the DoJ that opened to a lovely courtyard beyond which towering offices loomed large. The program continued and I resumed alternating attentiveness to the words being spoken by the people in our group and to the unspoken messages of those not associated with us. Time and again employees and officers were invited to state their case, none came forward, nor did they speak from where they stood. I noticed that the prevailing response from employees (at this point, those not in cars were able to come and go through a rotating door to our left) most commonly responded to our presence either by averting their gaze or smirking. A sad example of how so many choose to respond to being confronted with the discomfort of a tragic truth in which we all are implicated. I don't know if those behind me or otherwise beyond view accepted fliers or listened to the speakers.

After sometime, an hour maybe—my sense of time was severely skewed so it's hard to say—we could hear sirens and see lights flashing, blue and red, as police cars and paddy wagons converged on the street behind us. A yellow crime scene tape was drawn around us and those from the support group quickly placed bottles of juice before us in anticipation of imminent arrest. More time passed and the tape was removed. More passed still and still we waited. The police cars and paddy wagon remained, the clusters of officers remained, we trespassing vigilers remained and it began to be evident that all parties involved were attempting to wait each other out. Our minds and bodies had spent the day in preparation and anticipation all the while knowing that we did not know what would transpire. As we continued to remain unshackled, we circled up and for the next 30 minutes had a kind of impromptu hootenanny, holding hands and swaying as we sang out peace songs and continued to block the the entrance. It was surreal. A soft-hued sunset came and went and darkness embraced us. Finally we began to process away, singing “Courage, Muslim brothers...” But our vigil did not end, it took it's third form. A small group remained for what will continue as an overnight presence, some staying continuously through the night to represent the torture technique of sleep deprivation, others taking a few hours at a time in shifts indicating the seriousness of our intentions. We are determined to be heard, to be a voice for the voiceless, to put an end to this madness.

Monday, January 17, 2011

WAT Journals--Jan. 16

We are at the “Peace Oasis” now and I have stolen someone else's pen to write this because I cannot find my own. The PO is a large lovely home in the woods that was built primarily as a retreat place to acquaint city children with natural spaces. It is offered to WAT for a day and night of rest, reflection, and planning. It's a beautiful place and I am looking forward to a walk amidst the trees this afternoon.

Yesterday was very full with many of us being away from the home base for a good twelve hours. Mass was how the day began at a church about a block away. Bishop Gumbleton presided. I loved the songs but found the homily lackluster, hence the sketching of tangential ideas—I hope to explore them more later—during that time.

From there we joined with other groups on a march to the White House in commemoration both of MLK weekend and of the 20th anniversary of the war on Iraq. At the WH there was a service of songs, speakers, and prayers. I had a part, calling out a liturgy with the group response “we will not comply.” It was an empowering experience for me, proclaiming this to and along with such a large gathering. This was followed by an arduous teach-in (4 ½ hours of speakers, interspersed with songs) that had many informative and and tremendously moving speeches. I took a lot of notes and will try to compile them in the not too distant future.

Back at St. Stephens. I was feeling good energy earlier but feel like I'm crashing now. Some folks are talking about going to a bar which sounds fun, but I'm afraid I lack the stamina...I want to write in a way that is exploring thoughts and ideas but am finding it difficult to focus. The following tangential pieces are based on the notes I took during and after mass:

> “Tax collector and sinners” – I don't think that we “peace activists” (for lack of a better term) have the ownership of this categorization that I often see assumed. I think it reveals Jesus' ministry to and relationship with a spectrum. He met with all and spoke to all with the same candor.
Lumping ourselves into the broad category of sinners is reasonable enough, but tax collectors? This representation is more appropriately pointed toward those we oppose, those we ridicule, those we dismiss as soulless oppressors of the people, just as Jesus' followers did with the tax collectors of their time.
The movement I feel in response to these readings is not toward congratulating myself for being among the crew Jesus called friend. The call I hear is toward transparency and an invitational spirit toward all—including authorities, including those with whom we disagree—even those who do evil.

> This afternoon we came across three horses. Without a second thought, I called to them, fed them, coaxed them to come near so that I could stroke and caress them. These animals had done nothing to win my affection. I knew nothing about them except that they were beautiful creatures.

> During Saturday morning's reflection I shared some thoughts about simultaneously holding feelings of hope and despair, of sorrow and joy—the fullness of that, the full humanness, the way it binds me to what diverse people are experiencing—that's a good feeling, though it is heavy.

>For some reason this line keeps coming to mind as something important to remember: “Jesus Christ did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped...” It's from Paul's letter to the Philippians.

> During the liturgy on Sunday morning a conversation developed around sin/forgiveness/redemption. It began when Joe, a self-proclaimed skeptic, asked why we would need a God who forgave sin or for Jesus to take on the role of redeemer. Are we not responsible for ourselves? Is that just a way to shirk personal responsibility? Many interesting responses were sparked. I started thinking about KY, as I often do. I remember the sharpening awareness of the weight of history and how the interconnectedness of life which is so beautiful is also treacherous. That is, that everything we say and do has both direct effect and a rippling influence; these build, creating habits, processes, systems, to the point that we don't even see or understand or remember anymore how it began. These things can't be undone. They can only be redeemed.

Friday, January 14, 2011

WAT Journals--Jan 14

Day four of the fast is nearly complete. The day was so full; it’s difficult to know where to begin. After our morning meeting we waited for a nurse who didn’t come and then left to vigil at the White House. That seems like such a long time ago. I don’t remember what I was thinking. Mostly, I was listening. More poems were read as well as our reasons for being there. This was followed by a march to the DOJ which we processed around and then vigiled in front of for about twenty minutes. From there we went to the Senate Hart building for a “ghost walk.” This involves several people in orange jumpsuits walking meditatively through the building, not interacting with those around them, specters of those whose lives are hidden from view. During and before this time others had been lobbying in their Senators offices, now we were “lobbying” in the halls, with a point person to drop off letters and share information with those who asked.

At the DOJ vigil I had held a placard with the image of a man in a pointed black hood and sackcloth being tortured by electric shock. It was a photo from a U.S. detention center. I thought about this man, about his captors; what would it take for each of them to be healed? It seems so impossible. Yet, I continued to make my small, shuffling, steps of hope. I also kept returning to what Carmen had said about Jesus and Moses during our morning reflection. Their key parallel, he believes, is that both argue with God on behalf of humanity. There’s something so penetrating and stunning about this idea to me. I’ve yet to fully process it. But I considered the rag tag tribes Moses was shepherding, and I considered the masses of mixed up humans on the earth presently. I considered how far astray all of us are from righteousness, from love—still more ready for sacrifice than mercy, and usually the sacrificing of another before ourselves. I wondered if Jesus feels a sickening sense of disappointment, of betrayal. Is he wounded repeatedly? No longer from physical beating but a broken heart? Is he dismayed by the behavior of those for whom he intervened?

The gospel reading this morning was the story of the friends who bring their paralytic companion to Jesus for healing. I am struck in this passage by the audacity of these friends. There is despair in the circumstances of their life—a friend crippled, a crowd that will not be moved, a Healer who is inaccessible, not to mention political and social upheaval. Hope is delivered to the scene by attitudes and actions that defy resignation to the situation. These friends display a willingness to confront an obdurate mass, to dismantle obstacles (in the form of a roof) that separates them from their goal, to release their friend to the unknown with hope and faith that the impossible will be made manifest. In this story I find cause for hope in what humans are capable of when compelled by compassion. I want to believe that our unconventional acts, our disruption of the status quo that envelopes the majority; our attempts at dismantling borders that block us from recognizing that we are also “them,” are acts of compassion that lead to healing.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

WAT Journals -- JAN 13

I’m feeling very hungry this afternoon with lots of aches and pains. Woke up with a sore throat and absent voice this morning but I seem to be growing more audible as the day progresses.

During our vigil at the DOJ (Department of Justice) today I wasn’t sure that I would be able to continue standing. We had already been holding vigil outside the courthouse as the ACLU argued the case of Ali vs. Rumsfeld (on behalf of families of men who had been captured and tortured in Iraq). There I began feeling weak and distracted and very cold. I stepped out of line a moment to warm my hands and drink some juice. Returning to standing I centered myself by watching the trees that stood at attention in a line parallel to ours across the street. It felt as though they were gazing on the court proceedings, or us, or seeing past it all. As the day was windy, they were perpetually, gently, dancing. Afterward we had a short break to get warm and use the bathrooms at the Art Museum across the street before reconvening to don our jumpsuits and hoods and process to and around the DOJ. There, ten representatives of detainees kneeled, facing the building while those remaining, roughly forty, faced the street holding up a massive black banner with white lettering, “SHUT DOWN GUANTANMO.”

Two things sustained me during that second vigil. We were standing along the curb, facing a busy street, lining the block with our bodies. I was near to center and the sun seemed to be reaching its rays directly toward me. This was a comfort in that it helped to warm me, soaking into my black gloves and hood. It also created a mesmerizing optical effect. My hood became filled with fragments of rainbows—sometimes in circles, intricately laced, like snowflakes; sometimes in interwoven patterns that spread like veins. Though from the outside I appeared to be hooded by a macabre shroud, from within it was as though I was cloaked in prisms.

Even so, I was waning. I began to meditate on one of my favorite prayers: “Creator, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love…” Then Carmen’s voice came over the microphone to speak our case and introduce the reading of poems composed by Guantanamo detainees. Those poems lent me strength and perseverance.* My empty stomach was filled with the bittersweet words; my wandering mind was focused on the men who wrote them and on those for whom they wrote.

Writing this reminds me of yesterday when we were processing around the DOJ three times before standing vigil. As my body plodded, my mind leapt from one tangent to another. I drew close to center by praying repeated “Hail Mary’s.” This prayer led me to contemplate the prayer life of the detainees, who are predominantly Muslim. Though they are persecuted for their faith, they are unabashed in proclaiming it in word, action and writing. I, who try so hard to make controversial Christ palatable to all, am convicted by this. In the midst of abuse they find solace in Allah and are not so cynical as to cease to trust in their God. I, who question God’s love because of hardship only heard of, am convicted by this. Despite being treated with unspeakable malice and cruelty, those interviewed, while desiring justice, speak no ill will to their persecutors. I, who judge others for even imagined offenses, am convicted by this.

As Luke Nephew says in his powerful poem, “Man Under the Hood,” we do not attempt to make angels of these men, but to remember at least that they are men: deep and mysterious, feeling and thinking, intricately nuanced as we all are. Don’t forget them. Don’t drape a curtain over their cage. Don’t validate the injustice that our nation is ignoring. Don’t allow yourself to become so accustomed to bad news that you find it acceptable.

This morning in prayer we read one of my favorite verses: “Today, if you hear God’s voice, do not harden your heart.” It put me in mind of a quote from Abraham Joshua Heschel:

"An individual dies when they cease to be surprised. I am surprised every morning when I see the sunshine again. When I see an act of evil I don't accommodate, I don't accommodate myself to the violence that goes on everywhere. I am still so surprised! That is why I am against it. We must learn to be surprised."

Let us look with wonder and reverence on our brothers and sisters and on this earth. Let us be so amazed whenever they are treated as less than magnificent. Let that amazement compel us to move, to speak, to love with all our being.

* There is only one copy of this book here that I know of, and it is in high demand. If I am able to get a hold of both it and a computer, I will transcribe the powerful poems that were read. In my next post I also hope to transcribe notes from speakers we heard on a panel at American University, including Andy Worthington, author of Outside the Law: Stories from Guantanamo (a book and documentary film) and representatives from the UN and from Center for Constitutional Rights.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

WAT Journals--Jan. 11

WAT Journals: Jan. 11

A little past midnight now so the fast has begun…a series of meetings and I am feeling clarified and confident. Also developing affection and respect already for several folks…I feel good. whole. loved. alive.


The first time I saw the White House was from behind a veil. I was standing front and center in formation with roughly 120 others in orange jumpsuits and black hoods representing the 173 men still being indefinitely detained at Guantanamo Bay. I learned, during the press conference transpiring in front of the White House, that only three of those 173 men have convictions against them. Three. And of the remaining, approximately 90 have been cleared by U.S. task forces as not presenting any danger nor having any cause for incarceration. Yet, they remain. Some have been there from the very beginning, nine years.
With our hoods on we could still see, though dimly. Even so, there were people from the community to guide us, “tree to your left—loose tiles ahead—there’s a downward step there—“ I thought about the men we represented whose hoods truly shrouded them in darkness; who were taken by strangers who did not guide them but systematically abused them physically and emotionally and psychologically. One of the things I heard that stung the most was that many of these men said that when they first learned they were in U.S. custody they were glad. They believed that in U.S. hands they would be treated with dignity. Then they were taken to Abu Ghraib. Then to Guantanamo.

At the end of the day we were not arrested. We did stand in front of the Departments of Justice, shivering in our boots as lovely large flakes of snow fell on and around us, standing solidly together nonetheless. We read the names of those still detained and spoke in unison, “We remember you.” This is a particularly poignant ritual to me as I imagine it is a devastating feeling to be forgotten in your suffering. How agonizing it must be to know that you are innocent, to know that your captors know you are innocent and yet you remain hidden from view, no just end in sight.

…This morning I woke up early after a scant night of sleep to be present for morning prayer. We ended with the Our Father (speaking it instead as “Our Creator” which I found quite lovely). Since last year’s fast two lines from that prayer have become increasingly poignant for me. I will share one here:

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

When I say those words it is with great humility and an accompanying prayer beseeching mercy. I am achingly aware that we have not forgiven those who’ve trespassed against us and deserve no such forgiveness. We have, instead, heaped trespass upon trespass. We have stolen lives, hidden humans away to be tortured and tormented in secret and then, instead of begging forgiveness, we have tried to justify our actions. This is a hard truth.

Monday, January 10, 2011

DC--Day One

The following is an excerpt from the diaries of Amy Nee:

A terrific snowstorm tried to stop us, but thanks to John & Chantal's driving prowess we made it to Christina's parents in Geneva, Ohio. The heavy snow was beautiful but treacherous. I kept wishing I could be home with that snow and build a snowman and sled...

...We are at Dorothy Day House now, in or just outside of DC. I'm a little disoriented. We just had our first "check-in" of sorts with the NY crew who rolled in about an hour after us. I'm glad to be here but feeling very out of place and wondering what I am doing here--how to respond to this environment--how it even came to be that I am in a place and situation like this.

During the long, cramped drive (five of us in a Honda Civic plus two weeks worth of baggage, and we are not small!), I reflected briefly on some of my life stages; moments of awareness of my weakness, moments of empowerment. I thought about living on New England Ave in Florida and avoiding acknowledging my acquaintances sitting on the balcony as I walked below--aware and ashamed of my impulse to ignore those around me because I did not know what to say or how to act. I remember one night in KY when I decided to go visit the community where my roommate Maureen's dad lived. I was filled with anxiety. I stood in front of the bathroom mirror and confronted myself in an utterly cliche but effective way. "You are lovely," I told this reflection, "and I like who you are and who you are becoming; why are you still afraid of people?" What is it that I am afraid of?

This inhibition and anxiety and self-doubt cannot be left unchecked. That is a large part of why I am here, to continue along the road of recovery. Also, because of compassion bound together with a believing/unbelieving hope. A terrible injustice is occuring to a large group of men and we just might be able to do something about it. So how could I not try? How could I not join with those who are trying? What does love require?

My dear sister Hannah, familiar with aspects of me that no one here knows, has promised prayer, "like a blanket." I will wrap that blanket around me, when I wake and when I sleep.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. -Joshua 1:9