In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus asks the Twelve, “Who do people say that I am?” It reminds me of the talk we heard John Philip Newell give recently. He recounted
meeting an elderly Hindu Gentleman who asked him, “Who are you?” Newell thought to himself: “he clearly is not asking what my name is.” So Newell contemplatively answered, “I come from the same One you come from.” What a wonderful answer—it spoke of the source of all life/all being as One and the same for all of us. It reminds me of Thich Nhat Hahn’s concept of “Interbeing:” our lives are interwoven with those of all other people, all other beings. The implications of this are that when violence happens in Charlottesville, or Hurricane Harvey happens to the people of Texas, or one close to us undergoes a health crisis and/or surgery, you and I are suffer as well. Likewise….when 40,000 walk for peace, or prayers for well-being are answered…we too feel touched and in some measure healed.
This question of “who are you” is a question about what do you value, what matters to you? Further reading in John Philip Newell gave me the inspiration: what if I (Ron) used the beatitudes to answer the question “who are you?” Newell uses these translations for “The Blessings of Jesus:” “Blessed are those who know their need for theirs is the grace of heaven.” I know that I cannot do it alone: I need God’s help, I need your help. “Blessed are the humble for they are close to the sacred earth.” That is my prayer, that I may cultivate gratitude: I have been so blessed—and thus come to see all the sacred earth and all the sacred people on it as gifts from God to be cared for and that my every breath might be a thank you for all these blessings God has showered on me. “Blessed are the clear in heart for they see the Living Presence.” Oh to be clear of heart, single-hearted and see traces of God everywhere—every bush is burning for those who have eyes to see—another growing edge. “Blessed are the peacemakers for they are born of God.” Another growing edge—at the heart of peacemaking is “Blessed are the forgiving, for they are free.” Again a growing edge to forgive the driver who cuts me off, or the person who demeans me or others—all works in progress. How would you answer the question “who are you?”
Kathleen Kelleher has joined us in prayer at The Spirit of Life from time to time, and has been with us for several Spirit of Life retreats. We were deeply inspired by a letter that she sent this week and upon reflection it seems to us that Kathleen’s presence in Charlottesville is one way she might answer the question “who are you?” In her letter below, Kathleen speaks of her growing conviction (nourished on our Advent retreat last year) that prompted her to take a stand in Charlottesville. With her permission, we share this with you.
Why I Went to Charlottesville
God works in mysterious ways. At an Advent retreat last December I listened to an older woman struggle to make sense of the U.S. Presidential election. She said, “I don’t want to be a good person who does nothing.” I nodded, wondering what I would do with my own disbelief and foreboding. Fast forward to Lent; I was invited to offer a reflection at a Good Friday service. My station of the cross was Jesus is crucified. I began by singing the refrain from the African-American slave spiritual…Were You There When They Crucified My Lord? I then reflected the following.
I wonder where I would have been? Would I have stayed to witness Jesus’ last moments of being one of us? Could I have functioned through the shock and trauma to comfort anyone else, or would fear and survival have ruled me? I am grateful that I have not been tested, or, are we all called to witness the crucifixions of today? Can I still tremble or am I numb to new atrocities? Some ask, “How can a loving and merciful God allow it all”? But I do not blame God, then or now. I ask myself how am I crucifying Jesus today? When I reject another and turn away, when I judge and don’t make room in my heart or home, when I’m too tired to make an effort? When will my love and courage rise, when and where will I stand for something? I tell myself that small gestures matter, that practicing small gestures will prepare me for when a larger action is demanded. (April 2017 excerpt)
Fast forward again to the end of July. A colleague forwarded an email to me from a resident of Charlottesville; the city’s faith community was calling for a 1,000 clergy, Catholics in particular, to come stand against a planned Alt-Right/white supremacist rally. At first I thought the best use of my time would be to pass the information and request along to faith and social justice networks I knew in Washington, D.C. However, as the days moved closer to the rally, the information coming out of Charlottesville was sobering if not frightening; violence was not only threatened but promised. I backed off organizing others to go, and I discerned that I needed to go myself. My resolve grew as I considered the logistics and meaning of making the trip south. My courage was bolstered by a friend in faith who is no stranger to putting right faith into right action. We would journey together and, in word and deed, join with the Body of Christ that is once again being crucified by the coalescing of hearts and minds that have turned away from God. As the Irish political philosopher Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” So we two Catholic women went to be a prayerful presence, witness, and opposition to free speech that is hateful, false, and inciting. We carried signs that read, “The Body of Christ is present” and “Who is my sister, my brother?”
We went because we were asked, because we could, and because it was important to say, “This is not who we are.” We went for those who could not go, for those told to stay home or to go back home for their own safety. For those who fought this fight in the 1860s, 1940s, 1960s and for those who never stopped fighting because racism and anti-Semitism never stopped. For all people who are hated for who they are, for where they come from, for whom they love, and how they worship. For the Jewish woman who hasn’t gone home since July when her Charlottesville address was chanted outside her place of work, because nooses are being left in public places, because black men, innocent or not, are being shot dead in American streets. For my friend Harry from South Chicago, whose mother was on the bridge at Selma, for the memory of my friend Dave who labored on a chain-gang for registering blacks to vote. For friends and co-workers who could still be lynched, shot, fired, not hired, or denied housing because they do not look like me. For my father who believed this country’s freedoms were worth fighting for. For the University of Virginia student who screamed in panic, “Where are you America?” while tiki-torch bearing white supremacists marched through his campus. For Heather Heyer, whose last public posting read, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”
We went because it was the right stand to take at this time of national confusion, rage, false narratives and empty promises. We were told that it was not smart to go, but we did not go because it was smart. Is this a new moment in our American experiment? Can we be outraged and pay attention long enough to finally debride the wounds of racism and anti-Semitism, which only survive as long as they are taught and learned? America seems broken at this moment in time, and it is up to all who call her home to stand up and heal her.
At The Spirit of Life, we work together in prayer and companionship to loosen the attitudes and brokenness which can hold us bound. We believe that God’s desire for us is that we be “Whole” and thus “Holy”… full of life , unfettered by life-destroying prejudices and free to move openly as the Spirit calls us.
Our belief in the sacredness of all created beings and loving relationships compels us to respond with care and compassion to all who are marginalized in our church and world. We invite you to come and to pray with us as we “do our own work” in growing into a deeper awareness of our own gifts and ‘growing edges’ and together create a community that invites diversity and honors the uniqueness of each individual and every journey. We are confident that you will feel welcome in the “home” of The Spirit of Life.
Ron & Jean