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.
*http://www.amnesty.org.uk/books_details.asp?BookID=89. 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.