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.
On my first Sunday in Tucson, the YAV’s and I went to Trinity Presbyterian Church for worship and fellowship. As we worshiped Will You Come and Follow Me (The Summons) is a hymn I’ve heard many times before. As we had already spent a week in New York and a week in Tucson thinking about what service means to us and reflecting on what the year ahead may hold, the fourth verse has stuck with me:
Will you learn to love the ‘you’ you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you found to reshape the world around, through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?
Alongside the powerful verses, the sermon has also stuck with me. The pastor talked about confidence in one’s self is something God calls us to do. But she noted an important distinction between arrogance and confidence. In order to be in relationship and use our gifts as God calls us, confidence in those gifts and one’s self is necessary.
There’s a lot of me I hide that I know comes from fears of vulnerability. A lot of insecurities I deflect through laughter and sarcasm. These parts of me require vulnerability, because there often parts of me I don’t really love or are confident enough in to share with others. There are big parts of me I remain hesitant to share. Some of the ‘me’ I hide, includes parts of me that help drive my passions. When I’m not confident in the parts of me that are very entwined with what I’m passionate about how can I be confident in the work I will do to serve others. I think even more so thinking about gifts and talents, I have; if I am not confident in the gifts I have been given, if I am hesitant to share my gifts, how am I really serving or being in relationship with others to the best of my abilities. I feel like I really struggle being confident in all parts of who I am, because I have many fears of what others may think of me, or whether my most vulnerable parts of myself will be accepted.
Perhaps a reason I’ve struggled even writing this first blog post, and sharing with a lot of my community the different experiences I’ve had thus far, is a pretty big fear of vulnerability and putting my thoughts out there for others to read.
I hold a lot of fears everyday. Fears of being a women out and about each day, especially at night if I’m ever biking alone. Fears about biking and being on the road with cars that may not be paying attention. Fears of being vulnerable around my roommates or my co-workers. Fears about saying something wrong or hurtful to others in my community. Fears of causing tension in the house. I have lots of questions about these fears. I wonder often where they come from, what places of privilege some of them come from and what places of past trauma they come from. And my biggest question what do I do to acknowledge them, but not be crippled by them. If I learn to not just suppress or ignore fears I have but quell the fear inside can that lead me to never be the same. Googling the definition of quell it means “to put an end to, typically by the use of force.” I like the use of this specific word, cause it call attention to some of the intentionality necessary to combat fears that are rooted in privilege, racism, or holding on to past traumatic experiences. Put an end to fears of vulnerability or saying the wrong thing, or being scared of people based on stereotypes by using force, by making conscious decisions to take a second to look at where this fear is coming from and how healthy it is to continue to hold on to that fear. I think there are fears and gut feelings that keep us safe, but I think there a lot of my fears that just keep me feeling comfortable. If I learn to recognize some of these fears and put an end to them, how can that allow me to be open to many different experiences, community with different people, and connect with them in a very intentional and deep way where vulnerability is appreciated and necessary.
I will learn many things from my year of service. Some may be new physical skills like how to use power tools or install a water heater, some may be how to listen, and discuss tension and conflict with housemates. But what I think or hope I will learn about most is myself. Learn why I hide parts of myself from others, what confidence can look like, where my fears come from and how can I confront them, and perhaps one of the harder questions I’ve had a harder time thinking through, the question the verse of the Summon ends with will I use the faith I found to reshape the world around? I hope in a year of service, with a program focused on intentional Christian community I can start to think through how me and my faith (something I have hesitance in sharing) can be used to confidently and fearlessly serve and help others.
Well it has been a while since I’ve put anything on here…oops, sorry about that y’all! There’s been a lot that has happened recently and I wanted to share them with everyone who has waited eagerly for another post from yours truly.
So February was a crazy month. Who knew 28 days could be so crazy? The highlight was easily visiting home for the first time in six months. I never realized how much of a home body I’d been in my life to this point, but the first six months of this year were the longest I’d been away from home. Talk about an adjustment. I was so looking forward to going home that I let my focus on my experience in Tucson slip. I started dealing with a mental dissonance as I became increasingly dissatisfied with being stuck in Tucson when all I wanted to do was be home. My relationships in my community went downhill and people could tell something was wrong even though I closed myself off from their attempts to find out what was eating me. It’s not something I’m super proud of, but it’s something I’m working through. I had lost the reason why I wanted to be here and do this crazy year of service and the homesickness hit me hard. I don’t say that to excuse my attitude (and I do sincerely apologize to my housemates…truly I’m sorry) but I say it to attempt to explain why my mood went downhill and why I was so happy to go home.
My trip home aside, a second event was coming at the end of February that I was also looking forward to. The Tucson YAVs take a sojourn into the desert to kick off the season of Lent. It is our mid year retreat and it’s an experience in finding refuge in the wilderness. The wilderness is a place where God shows up time and time again in Scripture. He is a guiding presence through the wildernesses present in the bible story and the wilderness serves as a place of exile, but also as a place of deliverance. We delved into these seemingly incompatible pictures of the wilderness prior to our sojourn and it was something that I wrestled with during my time in solitude in the desert. Did I not mention that? Yeah, this week was about being in nature and, for part of the week, being isolated and alone in the wilderness to find God. Think Naked and Afraid, but with slightly more clothes and more than a little bit more of a devotional attitude. This retreat was the one that I was most looking forward to and it did not disappoint. I can’t say for sure that I found God out there in the desert, but I did confront some fairly deep issues in my personal walk all of which centered around forgiveness. I have a tattoo on my left wrist that reads “the water” in Greek. I got it to remind me of the waters of baptism and the awesome symbolism of the sacrament. We are washed clean of our sin as we are accepted into God’s family. My struggle is living into the fact that I am, that we are, forgiven. God’s grace covers us and always seeks to grow us, to lead us into the people we were created to be. I have a hard time recognizing that forgiveness in my life. I struggle with forgiving myself and God has forgiven me. I’m still exploring this, but it was a huge realization that came from my time in solitude. Also, if you ever have the chance to escape into the desert, I highly recommend it. You will grow in remarkable ways even from just a short time out there alone.
That now brings me to Lent. What a great season in the life of the church. But it’s one that I think is easy to overlook in our eagerness to get to Easter and the promise of the Resurrection. After the solitude and exploring some spiritual disciplines, I decided to immerse myself in the spirit of Lent and to adopt the practice of Fasting during this blessed time of preparation. My fasts fall on Fridays, technically from dinner on Thursday until dinner on Friday. In my (limited) study of the purpose behind this season, I’ve found that the practice of forgoing something (whatever that may be) is undertaken so that something else may be added. During my fasts, I plan on engaging scripture on a deeper level outside of my normal devotional time and also during those times when I am most tempted to eat (aka normal meal times). Fasting is hard and after this past week (my second fast of the Lenten season), I’m beginning to appreciate just how much I eat during the day and how easy it is to get caught up in food. I’m eagerly awaiting to see how God will move during the coming weeks and I pray fervently for his strength to assist me, especially when the temptation to eat becomes almost too strong to resist.
Things in Tucson are, on the whole, good. We survived February craziness, we are moving through March and looking forward (aka dreading) to the steadily climbing temperatures. It already feels like a Kentucky June and we’re not even halfway through March. Oh the joys of desert living! We also had a group fundraiser today that consisted of a competition between us YAVs and a handful of pastors from the Presbytery de Cristo, which supports our site. We did a Family Feud-style competition and got our butts handed to us by the pastors. As much as I loved watching Family Feud in college, I learned tonight that I am not cut out to compete in that particular game.
Thank you, Father God, for forgiveness, for grace, for time at home and time alone.
And so we go.
Every month – when my housemates and I divide up our chores – I tend to volunteer most often for compost. There is something extremely meditative, relaxing and relieving in turning a compost pile. I’d like to think that there is a spiritual practice found in the sifting and digging of dirt, moldy grapefruit, diluted coffee grounds, slimy bell peppers.
Honestly, I’m not going to pretend that there is anything fancy or elegant about this compost pile. Frankly, it’s dirt.
However, today as I assessed the rotten, moldy, gooey bag of bananas sitting on the counter, I began to see the compost in a whole new light: our spiritual process of healing and regenerating our identity in Christ.
We are only human after all! How could we not want to bury the icky, gross, unpleasant, moldy, stinky insecurities and imperfections that rot at the bottom of the produce bin and the back of our refrigerators? When we take the fermenting broccoli to the compost pile of our lives, the last thing that we want to do is expose it to the sun! Bury that sucker into the dirt! (and then forget about it! Don’t dig it up! Are you crazy?!)
Honestly, we have to be submerged to the dark places in our lives before we can resurface again, refreshed and healed. Just as we retreat to places of refuge, Christ retreated to the garden, Gethsemane when he was in his darkest hour: Matthew 26:
36 Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and *said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. 38 Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.”
Through the resurrection, Christ Himself was simultaneously one of the weakest, defeated, vulnerable, celebrated, exalted, strongest, invincible resilient and hard-core individuals to ever walk the face of the Earth. Essentially, he was the “Compost King”; he took the dirt and filth and grim of all the world and turned it into something new.
Compost = Our Healing Process: once the food is buried in the ground, it may resurface at times yet each time, it comes up a little smaller and a little more broken down. You are not going to see immediate results. The rind may sit in the dark, damp quarters of the garden for a few weeks, maybe months until it has had the time and space to create a refined byproduct. We continually are working on breaking down the negative things that undermine who we are created to be. The remaining mold and slime seems to vanish into the rich soil that will fortify the kale, okra, peas, lettuce, tomatoes, and carrots of our future.
However, the fact of the matter is: Not everyone has a compost pile. Heck, a lot of people have garbage. You know where garbage ends up? The land fill. A lot of people choose to throw their rotten leftovers away.
Garbage lets its product become its defeat. Compost cannot be defeated. Yes, compost will take more maintenance and care. However, garbage is the lazy yet less physically demanding alternative. However, at the end of the day, which one is sustainable? Which one creates results? Which one creates a future?
One of my favoriteTED Talks is by a man named Ron Finley who plants vegetables in “abandoned lots, traffic medians, along the curbs,” in South Central Los Angeles. He claims that his community needs to find an “alternative to fast food” because “the drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys” (Finley).
In this talk, Finley passionately impressed upon his crowd, “You’d be surprised what the soil can do if you let it be your canvas.”
As I thought longer on this analogy of the resurrection through compost, I thought to the refugees that I work alongside at Iskashitaa Refugee Network. They are master gardeners. One of the refugees from Bhutan grows marigolds and takes care of his apartment complex’s garden with fervor, passion, attention, care and precision. One of our services through Iskashitaa is to use create compost out of any excess produce. Then, the compost goes to one of the refugees and their family in order to sustain their gardens. They let their soil and their gardens be their “canvas.”
It speaks very clearly to their arduous journey: They are renewing their lives through the therapeutic practice of gardening. Their canvas is clearing up and they are able to start anew. Even as many negative memories come into their minds, they are building a hopeful life among the ruins. They are resurrecting from the ashes of their past and allowing themselves to be transformed by their new culture, identity and perspective.
Just next to our compost pile are three bins filled with “finished” soil. (I’m not sure we’re ever quite “finished” soil ourselves….but I digress). In the first bin, I reached down and saw a bunch of green stems. I picked it up and found this radiant red onion right underneath the surface. Sometimes, even when we think as though there is no more hope for change, the red onion lies just beneath the surface.