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.