Tuesday, April 3, 2012

On Love & Trust

Because I did not get my act together enough to create a blog post for this week I thought I would simply do a reprint of the article I wrote for the last White Rose Catholic Worker newsletter (just got it yesterday Rosies and it looks great!).

Outside, in the icy drizzle, a man rummaged through trash cans on the street corner. He pulled out paper cups of old, cold coffee that he quickly drained. I sat on the other side of a plate glass window, hands encircling a ceramic mug, sipping the same beverage, fresh and warm. I imagined going out to him – “Hey, want to come in for a coffee?” but only sat and stared. That clear glass was an impenetrable force field, separating us from each other. He walked on, and I walked to the bathroom; weaving between crowded tables wondering, what held me back? Why didn’t I cross that line?

Above the bathroom sink, I noticed a sign about taking responsibility for your belongings. “It is extremely unfortunate that there are those who exploit our sense of trust and community…” This sign implied that a sense of trust and community enables us to feel safe, to feel free to be unguarded. A sense of togetherness, and the trust that this is mutual, allows us to be vulnerable with what we value, whether that is our property or our selves. Where does that trust and togetherness come from, and how to function if it is not present, or if it is betrayed?

Responding to the imminent G8 and NATO summits, Marie posed the following question to our community, “What makes us feel safe?” What came immediately to mind was trust and mutual care, with the sense that the two are closely joined. But what do these terms mean? How are they embodied? Where are they seen? Trying to pick out thematic threads of trust I found it interwoven everywhere. So much is bound or rent by either its presence or absence. The following is an aphoristic endeavor to begin expressing some of my questions and theories on trust and love.

* * *

Loving relationship makes us strong and loving relationship is built on trust. Destroy a person’s trust and you can break her into pieces that no longer know how to come together, to togetherness. There is perhaps no practice as vicious as the intentional dismantling of trust, the violation of vulnerability.

Trust is dismantled systematically in acts of violence like torture, which takes advantage of the ensuing precarity to assault the victims’ memory and identity, planting a perpetual seed of doubt in the process, inhibiting future trust → relationship → healing.

In the absence of trust, it is easy to think everyone is ‘enemy’, to feel endangered, to react either in attack or defense.

Even when spared torture, we are not spared from the doctrine of enemy which is often subliminally or explicitly, inadvertently or intentionally, injected into cultural rhetoric and reinforced through divisive social systems. Trust is assumed present among like circles, absent among unlike circles. Social contracts are developed on these assumptions, privileging those presumed trustworthy and suspecting or outright rejecting those presumed unworthy.

Reliance on war for “national security” belies a lack of trust in the human dignity of those with opposing interests or disparate grouping. It implies a belief that trust is impossible; a belief that, when acted upon, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Belief in human dignity is foundational – trust in the value, the goodness, of beings and Being Itself. This allows the development of a subsequent trust – that it is worthwhile to put love even where love is not found, and trust to find it. A belief in human dignity (indeed, a reverence for all life) makes love of enemy, of victim, of stranger, of self, worth the risk.

Trust in human dignity, human goodness, is a troubling task. Humanity’s capacity for cruelty and destruction is far from ‘dignified.’ Perhaps this is why the church is so careful to reiterate it, to remind us that against all appearances it is so. If we are able to trust in this foundational principle, might we find that acts of violence are a chain of reactions, not essence-based actions? That what is inhumane is actually inhuman?

Trusting beyond the reactive logic of reciprocity – trusting in an abiding potential for good that attributes dignity even to the undeserving – allows us to care for each other even when the other seems unworthy, unlike, suspect, or when we ourselves feel inadequate.

Trust is initiated through threads of fragile fibers sent out by one to connect with another. If received, an additional thread is sent, and then another, weaving together, forming a strong chord of connection. If broken, one must trust in something beyond the worthiness of the other or the ability of the self to send it out again. There is no hope for strong ties without a willingness to expose oneself to this risk, whether with friends or enemies. Strength comes in relationship, relationship requires trust and trust is always a risk. This is the paradox of vulnerability: exposure, or the risk of it, causes one to feel the need for defense; conversely, exposure to others opens one to authentic relationship which frees from the need to defend.

When we trust in our own needs being met, the rigid wariness of risk disintegrates, the walls of self-preservation crumble, we are open to love. Trust is easily taken for granted in loving community. It is almost invisible, quietly making rough places smooth and weaving unlikely relationships, even between like and unlike, friend and enemy.

* * *

“Love casts out fear,” Dorothy Day wrote, “but we have to get over the fear in order to get close enough to love.” We need a trust in something that overrides, that exceeds the fear so seeds of love can be planted. I believe the Christian ideal is one built on trust - trust that supersedes the fumbling fallibility of humankind - trust in the system that God established, articulated by the prophets, reiterated through the gospels: give drink to the thirsty, invite the homeless poor into your house, share your bread with the hungry, cloth the naked as though their body was your own, attend to the sick and break all yokes of oppression.

G.K. Chesterton said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” It is difficult and often untried because to welcome a stranger and to share from our closet or pantry, to eschew bondage, means loss of privacy, of property, of power. Or does it? Practicing these behaviors – the Works of Mercy – breaks the law of trustworthy like and suspicious unlike, breaks the glass between those drinking coffee in a café and those drinking it from a trash can. Trusting in this ideal, living as if it were so, creates an opportunity for individual and social healing. Security that comes when we offer goods instead of guarding them. Freedom that is gained by being given. Community that comes through being a neighbor. Peace that is created when we see enemies as neighbors and love them as ourselves. A strong chord is woven, a garment of trust and mutual care that envelopes the world, makes us safe, sets us free.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Living of Love: A 3-Part Reflection

“Where there is no love, put love, and you will find love.”
- St. John of the Cross

Faith Sharing

“Where have you seen God lately…or, where have you seen love?” Regina asked, opening up the first of our long-delayed Tuesday night faith-sharing gatherings at the White Rose.
“Bah,” I thought, “I don’t want to answer these questions!” All I could think of, actually, was how I have not been attentive to God, how I’ve felt almost resistant to prayer. What do I have to offer this time of spirit-filled sharing that is genuine? Nothing!
“But,” I reasoned with myself, “I am here. And what good is it to be here in body with mind and spirit withheld? I will be open.” The answer to the question came in flashes:

- White crystal flakes, vertically clinging to trunks of trees, to my green sleeves,
as I walked, watching, through the park.
- Wild-haired, wide-eyed, effusively-emotive, two-year-old, love-of-my-heart, Seneca…
- Washing dishes hearing Daniel Johnston quaveringly croon, “True love will find you
in the end…” from a mix Ted made.

In all these things I found love, or rather love found me and captured my attention, appreciation and awe.

Blessed Among Women

The day of the snowy walk was densely gray in a series of densely gray days. The heavy white flakes falling beckoned me to come out and appreciate what wonder those dark clouds contained. I had much on my mind when I set out, and an iPod for further distraction if that wasn’t enough. A seemingly incongruent memory slipped in, driving a winding road in Kentucky, flanked with fall trees trembling with embodied mystery of life and death. I was asking of God, “Are you? And if so, who are you?" In response I heard, “look and listen.” So I looked at the trees and the sky and they followed me all the way here to this cement path in a park, in Chicago, in the snow. I looked at how the delicate flakes brazenly bucked gravity, catching hold of limbs and leaves, barely protruding bark; me. How these single, exquisitely unique crystals clung too to one another, forming heaps and drifts, fine lines along fences. How laced together they’d survive far longer than those that drifted apart and disappeared.

It occurred to me that I always new the snow would stir my spirit, but as a child who grew up in Florida, never travelling except to take a family road trip to Illinois (almost always in the summer!), developing a relationship with snow was improbable at best. Yet, here I was getting just what I’d dreamed of, and I almost missed the wonder of that. Another Kentucky memory was called to mind, running through the woods, chasing after my dog, Sheila, suddenly having a sense of déjà vu. Not because this moment was crossing over one that had already happened, but because it was the living of a dream, as so many moments of wandering in the oh-so-accessible woods were in those days. It was something that when I dreamed it, I didn’t really believe it would happen. I didn’t intentionally try to make it happen even, yet here I was.

A desire to practice the art of loving, along with an unshakeable, restless, curiosity has propelled me. Wanting to know and serve Jesus led me to Kentucky. Wanting to know myself and serve others led me to Chicago. Little did I know the things I never dared ask for would be added unto me. All these things...even something as small as a good mix CD. I do so love a good mix, though it’s not something I would ever ask for or expect. Such a small, frivolous thing. Yet, hearing this one touched me at my core. “Even this? I even get this?” Truly a grace. Why am I so fortunate? Why do I ever doubt it? What am I paying attention to instead that I almost (often) miss these small good things?

Beloved, Let Us Love

I remember noticing at a very early stage; perhaps even within the first year of her living, all that it took to keep Seneca on the sunny side of her tempestuous disposition was to give her attention. She shines with it. But even her disappointment, her hurt, her anger, amaze me. There is no veil over her emotions, she feels them loud, forces them out – sometimes to a point of exhaustion, sometimes to fresh new beaming, but always with absolute authenticity. I cannot maintain a dark mood in her presence. The frivolity of things that distract me from basic interacting are quickly dissolved by her boisterous laugh, her spontaneous hugs, her frequent exclamations, “Oh, Mimi!” “I love you ‘Mimi’!”

My experience of Seneca was reflected in Regina’s story of B., this little girl who barely knows her, running into her arms and proclaiming, “I love you so much!” This was a revelation of God. As she told it my mind moved to the phrase, “unassuming love.” But no, I don’t think so; I suspect this love B expressed was given with the assumption it would be received, with the expectation even, that it would be reciprocated. I am not beyond believing this is true too of capital “L” Love, which we might also call, “God’s Love.” Unconditional, perhaps, but not unassuming. Where did I get the idea that I could interchange those words?

Is it defensiveness that leads some to think otherwise? To pretend that people are capable of offering love without at least desiring it be appreciated – it is less frightening to risk giving it if I can imagine not expecting a return or receiving it if I can imagine a return is not desired. Can it be, even, that belief in unremitting Divine Love is needed simple to survive human love’s inadequacy?

In any case, it seems evident that God wanted, demanded even, that love be recognized and responded to. God, like Seneca, wants attention, as all of us little images of God do. It does seem though, that God’s love is able – whether through grace, or mercy, or some other spiritual gift – to love beyond the seemingly inevitable let down. This Divine Love, too, is willing and able to proffer itself without first having been given evidence that it will be received, or that the recipient is deserving. It defies the assumption that trust must be preceded by trustworthiness. So, perhaps that chord of assumption and expectation is superseded by a resonant note of hope, faith. This is the miracle of B’s embrace. This is a challenge to us all.

Oh me of little faith! How often I fall short of that call. Among other things, it was noted in the reflections of others that I have a tendency to be cutting, condescending, pessimistic. I am putting more emphasis on these words than the speakers did because they affirmed my suspicion that as I experience a lack of abundance in my surroundings, I become stingy with my self. In other words, I adhere to a reciprocal model, relating reactively rather drawing from a deeper source that recognizes I am all but drowning in an ocean of abundance if I’d only pay attention.

The critique of the speakers, along with thoughts that began to rise to the surface as I cleared off space by sharing, affirmed my suspicion that I am continually, subconsciously, responding to a fear of becoming “too close.” These defensive reactions – irritability, avoidance, sarcasm, silence, critique, embarrassment, dismissal – develop because I sense my territory is being encroached upon. Can I trust the invaders? Almost in direct opposition to the Divine Love illuminated earlier, that trusts even without evidence, I continue to live out a love that often takes shelter in the shadow of suspicion, even without evidence. The Pygmalion effect comes into play: fearful that intimacy will reveal my inadequacy, I distance myself from those who’ve become “too close” by becoming unlovable, proving myself right; I’m not fit for this.

Here is the crazy catch, in the midst of all my masochistic machinations, I continue to be loved. Beloved. This is the miracle of Love’s embrace. This is a challenge to me. I want to be worthy of this name, Amy, Beloved, that I have been given. Worthy of all those who speak it, and of those who crave to be called by it too. I don’t know if I ever will be. I do know I can practice giving attention; offering and receiving appreciation and affection; allowing others to be who and what they are; hoping always; believing that Love Itself is worth the risk, whatever the results.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Incomplete Thoughts - Fasting Blog Pt. 2

Trust has been a recurring them for me during this trip, trust, and also language. As I begin writing, I am not sure of how these themes are related, only that both seem to intercept and underlie everything happening around me. It struck me, yesterday afternoon as I was drifting through the kitchen in a haze, preparing V8 with cayenne pepper for me, hot water with lemon/honey/cinnamon for Ted, how much we all have to trust each other in this space. Many of us are meeting for the first time, are belongings are in a shared space, as are our beds. We are putting ourselves into vulnerable positions, wearing black hoods and walking outside, inciting enmity or approbation or intentional ignoring from those confronted with our message (“torture is terrorism,” “indefinite detention is unlawful,” “shut down Guantanamo”), weary and at times befuddled from lack of sleep and fasting. Somehow this community creates a space that allows us to exist outside of conventional defenses, as though we are so aware of our mutual reliance that we hardly ever think twice about it. “there is no question that we need each other,” Carmen said during a reflection a few nights ago. It is community that enables us to continue and it is community that compelled me to come.

* * *
Why was I thinking the other day about Hannah’s vision of the web? I was on a Skype call with my older sister, Hannah, recently and she recounted a memory from when she was six years old, standing in the kitchen and seeing a vision – an intricate web of interlaced parts, all things connected – “this means something,” she said to herself. I don’t remember her ever telling me that before, but the same idea, this notion of interconnectedness, has become a kind weltanschauung the vantage from which I view and engage with life.
* * *

This morning’s gospel reading was Mark 1:7-11. Jesus is baptized by John after which the “heavens are torn open” and God’s spirit descends upon Jesus, “like a dove.” Bill S. observed that, in theological studies the assumption is made that this is not something that visibly happened, that people standing around did not see this rending of the heavens, this descending dove, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. “Scripture is calling us to look deeper,” to look toward what is unseen, to see through illusions. Illusion blurs so much of our sense of reality, sometimes created with great intentionality, through manipulation, for the sake of power – sometimes created inadvertently, through carelessness, ignorance – it is our responsibility to call one another to look deeper, to really see. And to know too that what we look to leads us. Chantal closed the morning circle leading us in a song, “woke up this morning with my mind stayed on freedom.” A mind stayed on freedom aims toward it, eyes looking for humanity, recognize it, hearts hungering for justice are filled by it.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

How Then Shall We Live? Fasting notes, Day One

See what kind of love God has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know God. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been appeared…
-1 John 3:1-2

We are fasting again, refraining from food and engaging in action to advocate for honoring human dignity. In this frame of mind I heard the above reading as a handful of us rose early to begin the day with the Daily Office. I heard the reading as though it were being spoken by a Guantanamo detainee, “we should be called children of God…” Does the world not name them as such because they do not know God? Or do we not care so much as we imagine whether or not one is the progeny of this Divine Being?

But then, not only do we not name these men as children of God; we seldom even name them as individual persons, as people. “They have no faces.” “You can’t see their faces.” I heard from passersby. They were commenting on a group of us, maybe fifteen or so, wearing jumpsuits that distorted the shapes of our bodies and hoods that veiled our faces. What they said was true as well of those we don this garb to represent. We, as a nation, have hidden their faces. We have, as some mentioned in our morning circle, “disappeared the poets.”

Several friends and I have been preparing for this fast by studying a JustFaith module on torture and reading the autobiography of Sr. Dianna Ortiz who was kidnapped and tortured in Guatemala. What is continually reiterated is that the intent of torture, along with acquiring information, is to obliterate the person. Though friends and family easily recognized Sr. Dianna after her intense experience of torture, she no longer had a sense of her self that she could trust, nor any person outside herself that she could trust to speak the truth. Healthy relationship, even with oneself, is shattered.

Walking from Trinity Lutheran Church to the Superior Court House with my senses blurred by a black hood and an empty belly, I relied on the words of our guide – we’re crossing a street now, there’s an incline here, the path is about to get narrow – and the measured steps of the person before me to which I matched my own pace, I was suddenly aware of how effortlessly I was relying on trust in order to keep moving forward. I was vulnerable and took that trust being honored for granted. I was vulnerable and took the care that was gifted me for granted. What happens when that trust is betrayed? What happens when that care is crushed?

We opened our circle this morning with the following poem by Shaikh Abdurraheem Muslim Dost:

They Cannot Help

Those who are charitable
Cannot help but sacrifice for others.

They cannot help but face danger
if they wish to remain true.

When they face injustice, dishonesty, and iniquity,
They cannot help but be under the power of traitors and the notorious.

Consider what might compel a man
To kill himself or another.

Does oppression not demand
Some reaction against the oppressor?

It is natural that a man is driven to invention
And to creation in times of duress.

The evildoer will be punished,
He cannot avoid making amends, and must apologize eventually.

Those who foolishly dispute with Dost the Poet
Cannot help but surrender, or else run away.

Oppression demands response – creative, inventive – the question is, what will that response be and when will the consequences be made manifest? Today, in his opening statement as a defendant in today’s trial*, Carmen Trotta enumerated on the ways that we as Witness Against Torture have tried to confront the injustice of indefinite detention and torture of prisoners at Guantanamo and Bagram. The judge kept saying that mentioning Guantanamo, legislation, U.S. policies, even the name Obama in the courtroom was inappropriate. Also trying to start a discussion at the House of Representatives was, apparently, inappropriate (hence the trial for alleged “disorderly and disruptive conduct”). I began to wonder, when every other route to communicate “appropriately” has been tried, when creative alternatives have been rebuffed – what remains? One is pressed toward desperation which so often tends toward despair and despair, I do believe, is the greatest temptation toward violence.

Oppression does demand some reaction, as every action does. Yet somehow, as we went around the circle, folks sharing their feelings, though there was some weariness, some anxiety, there was no rage, no depression, no threats of violent uprising. Amazingly, the most frequently used word was “excitement.” Hope was there and even mysterious joy. Because, because, we continue to believe there is another way. As one woman shared, quoting Camus, “we must be neither victims nor executioners,” we must find that 3rd place. And we find that way with one another.

The Psalm for today was Psalm 98. One that makes the outlandish claim that “All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.” A psalm that tumults into praise being solicited of all things, calling even the rivers to “clap their hands.” It’s a ridiculous kind of hope, in a way, that such salvation as promised by the prophets and the Christ – prisoners set free, hungry fed, the kiss of justice and peace – is possible, is promised even. Yet, I prefer it to any other way. It is, if one has eyes to see, evidenced in life and it allows me to live. But it is a hope, a joy that requires eyes and arms wide open also to sorrow. Somehow we cannot really live without linking arms with the dying, perhaps because we are all among that number. And so here we are again, fasting, vigiling, mourning, visioning, sharing, loving. Here we are learning again and again how to be among the living.