Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Living Epistle

 Each week our Micah Fellow writes a short reflection on some experience or reading from her time with us at the chaplaincy or with St. James in Porter Square.
On Sunday I shared a testimony of my faith at my other site placement, St. James's church in Porter Square. The piece took the form of what they call the "Living Epistle", a monthly testimony from different parishioners, which replaces the epistle reading for that week. I wanted to share that piece with you all, as well. Here is the full text, and here is a recording of it, as well.

Three years ago, I attended an interfaith vigil and rally for immigrant rights at the Suffolk County House of Corrections in Boston. There, I joined a small group of ministers and other people of faith in marching around the prison, signs and bullhorns in hand. We wove our way around to the back of the facility, to a part of the prison that had been shut down because it was considered unfit and unsafe for citizen prisoners. That area was being used as a detention center for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
As we marched around the building, prisoners held up their hands to the windows, pressing their palms against the dirty glass.  In each new window we passed, hands would appear, palms turning white from the pressure. We circled around to the back of the building and climbed up onto the side of a highway overpass in order to see the immigrant detention center better. As we looked up, the immigrants who were being held in there began to stretch out their hands, too, pressing their palms against the windows. And then people started to make signs out of the few materials that were there, and hold them up to the windows for us to see on the outside, along with bright yellow t-shirts, emblazoned with the letters ICE across the chest—Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Through the foggy, dirty windows I could see women and men gathered inside. Their faces indistinguishable from where we stood on the bleak highway overpass, huddled in our thick coats, with our signs:

Justice for Immigrants
Stop the Deportations
Keep Immigrant Families Together

Our thin voices pierced the heavy grey sky as we shouted and sang:
Dona Nobis Pacem

I am still haunted by their captive hands
Hidden behind the thick somber walls
Of Empire, malice, indifference

In one of the prison windows a sign is painstakingly crafted from streamers of toilet paper—probably the only material they could access in there. The words form slowly as we stand there, singing: it says first just FREE, then FREE U, then FREE US.

As we all stretched our hands out towards them, and sang and shouted for justice and compassion, I felt almost as though for a split second, those big concrete walls came a-tumblin’ down, and that we were all free—Free You—Free Us--together for a moment--a moment of solidarity, of compassion, of recognition.

When I think about the lives we all lead, each in our own prisons of anxiety, fear, depression, poverty, poor health, loneliness and isolation, injustice, cruelty, I can’t imagine a more beautiful image of what God can do in our lives…God can free us, not alone, but together.

This is what God’s love can do for us. God’s love can fill our hearts, can free us from bondage, whether inflicted by others or by ourselves, or both. The Holy Spirit moves in mysterious ways, but especially through us as we live in holy solidarity with one another. As we respond to God’s call to be lights in this world, to liberate those who are imprisoned, we are facilitating the movement of the Holy Spirit—that mysterious force that releases captives and fills our hearts with love and our voices with song.

This is what I want most for the world. I want to liberate my own heart. I want my heart to beat with power and courage, that I might accompany my fellow human beings in bringing about healing and liberation in this broken and beautiful world.

It took me a long time to recognize how deeply personal this desire was. I am still discerning the complex contours of my interior landscape and the jagged edges of my life that make this plea for transformation so intimate. And that grappling, that emerging awareness of my own story within this narrative of social transformation is what makes my commitment to it that much more palpable, that much more grounded, that much more vulnerable.

The way I experience the Jesus story is that I see God walking with us, moving about in the muck and grime of daily human existence. For me, this story is about God’s presence in the ugly, in the quotidian, in the mundane, in the tragic—in the flesh. Jesus is called Emmanuel—God with us. The incarnation shows me that living as fully as possible into my complicated and messy humanity, into my fleshy, vulnerable body, is in fact the glory of God!

Jesus is called Emmanuel—God with us. God with us. How powerful that is for me. I want to know that I am not helpless, adrift in an unblinking universe. I want to know that God is indeed with me. I want to know that the captives will be released. That injustice and suffering will one day cease. I want so badly to see God’s face.  But sometimes the face of God is only refracted to me dimly through the tears I cry together with others, through the hands outstretched across cement walls and bars and highway overpasses. I feel God’s presence in the fragile hope and power of our witness as people of faith, as those who accept God’s call, to take seriously and boldly the task of healing ourselves and healing the world. That is what I most deeply desire of God. That is what I most deeply desire of myself. And I pray that this year in your midst, you will help me to do that work of transformation. In fact, I know you will.
Thank you, and Amen.

Related to the topics raised in my reflection, I also wanted to promote two upcoming events. 

This week is "National Welcoming Week": "a nationwide event that will promote meaningful connections and a spirit of unity between U.S. and foreign-born Americans by providing opportunities to learn about each other and work together for the greater good." More on the week's activities sponsored by the MIRA coalition in Massachusetts here

October 18-20 there is also a conference on mass incarceration, featuring Michelle Alexander, the author of The New Jim Crow. The conference is sponsored by Episcopal City Mission and the Boston Workers Alliance, among many other organizations. Lay leaders at St. James's are planning to attend, and are happy to sponsor registrations and give rides for students who are interested. For more information on that offer, contact me or Tom Tufts at thomastufts@comcast.net

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