Sunday, April 10, 2011

How DHS and ICE Drove Me to Prayer

I have to admit, I am anything but a contemplative. I have a restless mind that does not stop. That can be creatively helpful on projects and ideas, but it can also be maddening (as those who work with me can attest).

I have a very hard time identifying with the monastic life. Though I respect those who choose this calling, I must confess, it just doesn't fit me. In seminary, I took a class that looked somewhat at the lives of some of the saints and while my respect for some of them increased, I honestly never really fully understood how they could spend so much of their lives in silent prayer before God. I can get restless just watching a commercial.

I do not discount the need for prayer at all, but I like to go as fast as I can, 150 miles an hour, hair on fire, the whole bit. I like to push as hard as I can, in as many areas as I can. In working on issues of justice, I do not see how else to do it. The injustices are so great, the challenges before us are so enormous and the forces working against us are so structurally and spiritually deep and entrenched. I believe God is out in front of us, going as fast as possible (and sometimes waiting impatiently for the Church to catch up!), pushing hard, and keenly aware of all that is happening to the most vulnerable in our world.

So, in experiencing God, I have always tended to be in motion. I feel God's presence as I see God's Church incarnated among the most vulnerable in society and working on justice on their behalf. I see God's strength when I meet with immigrants and hear the stories of their love and passion for their families even while the U.S. government works to break their families a part. I hear God's voice in the prophets, such as Amos and Isaiah, but also in our modern day prophets like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Fannie Lou Hamer, Gustavo Gutierrez, and so many others. So, yeah, I experience God, but in motion.

I just struggle with being still before God. I am not sure I really get it.

But I think I am learning this the hard way. In fact, the Obama Administration might make me a contemplative in the end.

Recently, I have been as angry and frustrated as I think I have ever been in working for any justice issue in my life. I have grown sick and tired of this issue being framed as a national security issue by government officials, media folks, and even among so-called religious leaders. It is obviously first and foremost a human rights issue and our focus should be on families and defending the rights of immigrants. I am almost entirely disillusioned by the President's rhetoric that seems in favor of positive reform, all the while his administration engages in state-sponsored terror against immigrant communities. The hypocrisy is just startling. Most Republicans are heartless on this issue while most democrats are spineless. I am numb with frustration.

So, a couple of weeks ago, there was a day when I especially felt spent. It was a day when I worked non-stop, without lunch, feeling constantly behind because there is just so much to do, and yet, I see absolutely zero progress in Congress and a total denial of responsibility by President Obama and his administration for the terror they are causing. So, I went to the chapel in the United Methodist Building where I work and I just sat there. I was still. I didn't cry out, I didn't sob, I didn't see angels or hear trumpets.

I was just still. I am not sure I had done that in months - I can't even remember. But man it felt good. I probably sat there for 20 minutes (almost a personal record!), thinking, praying, just alone with Jesus and my thoughts.

I didn't get some tremendous vision for how to fix the impasse we are in. No soul-searching illumination or transformative visions. I just rested and gave my efforts, my failures, my deep resentment, anger, and discouragement to God. And I just rested.

Of course, I eventually got up and I left. It was tempting to stay and rest, Lord knows, it was the best feeling I had had all day. But there is always a time to walk back into the valley and see the crowds and the immense needs and once again work to bring healing and justice. Rest is just laziness unless there is work.

So, for those of you who are not as trained in the art of contemplative prayer and meditation as others, I pray you will find some time in the midst of the madness to be still and allow God to come near. This is not my usual message, but I feel it is appropriate and necessary given the amount of work we have. You may be feeling angry at the situation we face, but God is even angrier at the injustice and oppression being poured out on immigrant families right now. You may be feeling disheartened at the lack of progress and I can testify that God is present with us even in our deep discouragement as well.

I hope you will find your 20 minutes - maybe even just five minutes. Don't worry, the world won't fall apart while you are still. It will still be waiting for you to come back. But you might come back to it a little lighter and that may be just what the world needs anyway.

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