One of the biggest ways I have seen myself learning and growing here in Agua Prieta is through my faith and spirituality. As my spirituality changes and grows in little ways, I can feel my faith flourishing. I think I can attribute this to the simple fact that I have never felt God’s presence anywhere as strongly as I do around this border community. Everywhere I go, every person I meet, and in every experience they have shared with me, I have seen God’s work more clearly than ever before.
Changes in my spirituality have been gradual, but notable.
I pray with open hands.
“I used to think clenched fists would help me fight better, but now I know they make me weaker.” -Bob Goff, Love Does
I read the book Love Does by Bob Goff as I was discerning year of service options, and the chapter “Palms Up” struck me hard. It begins with this quote above, and the chapter talks about the calmness that keeping your palms facing up can bring. We do this a lot in yoga, too. When you relax muscles, you can relax your body, and hands are easy to clench when faced down. I’ve started to practice this when praying. Rather than keeping my hands intertwined, I’ve opened my palms outward, not only to relax myself, but also to invite the Holy Spirit in. In reality I started doing it to relax myself, but as I said the change in my spiritual practices has also brought about changes in faith. And now I feel that open palms and my “heart to heaven” (another yoga practice) has helped me to feel that not only is the Holy Spirit present with me, but invited inside.
I pray in conversation with God
People from TONS of different religious backgrounds have followed the call to come serve here at the US-Mexico border. I am Catholic, serving in a Presbyterian Ministry, living with a Mennonite, serving alongside a Unitarian Universalist, School Sisters of Notre Dame, Franciscan Friars, and so many more. When I sit down for dinner I am used to praying “bless us oh Lord for these Thy gifts…” Now when I am asked to pray, though nervously so, I thank God for each life at the table, for the hands that prepared the food, and for so much more. Both prayers have the same meaning, but one I could (and probably do) recite in my sleep, while the other calls me to think in that moment what I am most grateful for and how I want to thank God for it in this specific day. The more often I am asked to pray for meetings, for reflections, for meals… the more comfortable I have become with talking to God as a friend- something I have long envied in others’ faith and have been striving to practice myself. (And now I do this in spanish which adds even more learning to it… wow)
My understanding of the bible is becoming something entirely new
I have never spent much time with the Bible. Part of the job here is to attend a weekly devotional, in which we participate in a bible study. From this, and other biblical reflections that I participate in with visiting delegation groups I have come to know the bible as a story of immigration. From the first book of the Old Testament to the last book of the New Testament, someone is in transit- migrating for one reason or another. I’ve also learned that stories from 2 thousand years ago aren’t all that different from what is happening today. Within the pages are a call to unify divided nations. And especially in this season of Christmas I have drawn comparisons between the woman who is 8 months pregnant, fearing that she will be sent to wait in Ciudad Juarez after presenting for asylum, and Mary migrating at 8-9 months pregnant, and being denied room at the inn. I am re-learning these stories in today’s context as I meet people who embody message.
I wrote the majority of this post just before Christmas, but have been thinking about posting it and what changes it might need. And then this morning, I saw a post on facebook from the Vatican, in which the Pope is sharing a prayer intention for January 2020. “We pray that Christians, followers of other religions, and all people of goodwill may promote together peace and justice in the world.” This was his prayer for this month, and is exactly what I see happening here at the US-Mexico Border. An environment that has helped me so much to learn and grow in my faith and so many other ways. A world that I too am praying for alongside Pope Francis.
I have been thinking about writing a blog post on a movie for a while now- first, it was Frozen 2 (something about vocational discernment and entering the unknown), then Little Women (Jo’s line in the attic about women being more than a face/ romance), heck, I even debated CATS (a movie everyone hates because they either don’t understand or are thinking too hard). You see, I have been “escaping” or at least attempting to escape through t.v. However tonight, I watched the pre-release of Party of Five on Freeform and I found what I need to blog about.
During my first week here, I had my first interaction with Margo Cowan. I was going to her truck to get files for the office and I was on a time crunch- no time for small talk but Margo insisted anyways. I think she could tell I was stressed and overwhelmed at the responsibilities I had been given. She asked me how things were going and how I felt and with tears in my eyes, I told her it was hard, that this is gut-wrenching work and I am not sure I am cut out for it. I don’t like the feeling of responsibility (possibly why I have procrastinated “joining the ‘REAL’ workforce” and have done two volunteer years), of having people’s lives depend on my decisions. She looked at me and sighed, and said that it would not always be like this- the pain and discomfort. She said that eventually, I would become immune to it and slowly but surely build up a wall. I looked at her like she was insane and said: “no way, this is meant to hurt, it will always hurt”. That was 4 months ago- four short months ago. I should have listened and believed the woman that has been doing this work for over 50 years.
This past week, I have been struggling with work. I have been frustrated that we did not have many days off for the holidays and that with so many co-workers out of town, I have been embracing a lot of new responsibilities that I cannot run away from (despite the effort in trying). I was mad at the systems- for giving other lawyers the holiday week off and cramming so many hearings into our pro-bono schedule. We had seven hearings the day after Christmas, the number is averaged normally to two or three a day. We have also had a few ‘emergencies’ take place at the office that have made for long hours instead of half days. I have been exhausted this week and the free time I have had has been spent sleeping or, as previously stated, binging t .v. I did not get to go on all the hikes or bike rides like I had planned to while being home alone.
At the beginning of the year, my stance on the matter was easy- families should not be ripped apart and all the anger I had was placed at ICE agents and the Judges for making horrible decisions. I have been told numerous times this year that the verdict depends 82% on how the judge feels one day- however, I am no longer sure I believe it. I have a book on my nightstand right now, The Line Becomes A River, it is about a border patrol agent’s experience. I haven’t been able to pick it up and read it yet- probably for the same reason, many won’t watch Party of Five or listen to me with full concentration when I discuss work. It is easier to hate a system, a PERSON, when you choose the facts you know and do not get both sides of a story. It is easier to shield yourself with walls, and build emotional borders and just look at the facts but, the facts change. We are currently living in a broken system that has not been updated and people, families are suffering from the lack of repair and growth to that system.
I cried during “Party of Five”, I cried watching it harder than I have cried in a long time- because my wall was broken. I realized what an idiot I have been groaning about going to work when, as Margo recently said in a holiday email, “our brothers and sisters in detention are facing a much harder inconvenience”. The Acosta family (from Party of Five) may be fictional- but their story is not. It may seem like their story is dramatized for the big screen and you may doubt the events but I can assure you that if anything, their story has been simplified. Margo is like one of many pro bono lawyers that the family first turns to- we have close to 600 ACTIVE cases right now that need her constant attention- at 70+ years old. Watching this family get ripped apart and hearing Val, a seventh graders, testimony on why she needs her mom and dad in her life, I instantly remembered the countless intakes I read every morning that discuss mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, cousins, nieces/ nephews, children, and friends begging to get support for their loved ones. This year, I am supposed to be embracing “vulnerability” but mine is a joke compared to what families have to go through and experience just to get help.
We can’t be mad at each other, we can’t be mad at the Judges, the border patrol agents, the prosecutors and ICE agents for doing their job. We can’t be mad and call each other names and bicker over who is right. We have to change the system, be mad at the system, that has not been improved for 40 years. We have to educate and sensitize ourselves to the truths. We are not just fighting the border walls of steel and concertina wire, we have to break down the walls we have mentally built up that have allowed this to be “okay”.
This Christmas season has had a different meaning as I have had the opportunity to looked at it through the lens of the borderlands.
About a week before Christmas I had the opportunity to attend a bi-national posada. This posada took place on both sides of the border. Posadas are a Mexican tradition that focuses on the story of Mary and Joseph looking for a place to stay to give birth to baby Jesus. The bi-national posada paralleled the story of Mary and Joseph asking and being turned away from inns with those seeking asylum in the United States.
We moved through stations of the posada singing a call and response song in which people on the Mexico side asked those on the US if they could come over, to help support their children and keep them from violence. The US side had a response for each verse rejecting and not listening to the needs of our neighbors. The last station of the posada, those on the US side of the border crossed into Agua Prieta and met at the gate of the Migrant Resource center, where people who are seeking asylum and waiting on the Mexico side until they are at the top of the list to have their cases heard. At this point those of us who are mostly U.S citizens that crossed the border joined the Mexico citizen that live in the community of Agua Prieta, all of us at the gates of the migrant center ask the asylum seekers if we can come into the center to join them. Even though the U.S side rejected the Mexico side in the previous parts of the posada, the migrants gladly welcomed us in to join the party.
The next day I had the opportunity to attend a bible study in which we further discussed the story of Mary and Joseph. As I continue to live in the borderlands of this country in this time where immigration is one of our biggest issues dividing our nation, this story of Mary and Joseph being rejected and unwelcomed at the inn seems to resonate. Everyday people are coming to the United States looking for a place to safely care for their babies, their children, and a country that has more than enough, turns them away. Jesus was denied a place to stay and be born but still came and brought the world salvation.
I think that there is a generation and children being born each day that like Jesus are coming to help save our world, to help and teach us to love our neighbors once more, to bring equality and end oppression and racism. But right now there is a generation and children soon to be born that are being rejected, being treated as criminals, and dying in the desert, instead of being welcomed and celebrated as though they just maybe the children born to save this world.