Honoring the Divine Life in Each of Us
by Rev. Diane Whalen, RCWP
Namaste, my friends… the divine that lives in me recognizes and honors
My heart has been breaking this week at the sight and sounds of children separated from their parents at the border. At one point, I flashed back to a time when our then 7 year old Lisa disappeared in the midst of a crowd at a Renaissance Fair. My heart pounding, I was distraught - going person to person, asking if they had seen a little redhead girl with a white hat. I don’t remember how long it took to find her but every minute was consumed with the urgent need to find our Lisa and know she was safe.
I cannot begin to imagine the terror in these migrating parents who, in doing all they can to bring their children out of danger, find themselves at the mercy of a system that criminalizes and punishes them by taking their children away. My heart hurts for these children - for the trauma they are suffering now that will follow many of them throughout their lives.
How have we gotten to this place as a country? I have heard “This is not who we are” and “We are better than this” and in many ways we are. But from the very beginnings of our life as a nation, we created systems of objectifying and using others for the benefit of those in the dominant culture.
Our English ancestors came to escape oppression themselves but driven by a sense of manifest destiny or a belief that indigenous people were not-quite-human, stole lands and killed or confined Native American people on reservations.
Spanish and Portuguese conquistadors, searching for gold to fill the coffers of those who financed their voyages, with the blessing of the Church, set up a feudal like-system in which indigenous people became the serfs and the conquerors, lords. This, in addition to diseases they brought, decimated native peoples.
We abducted people from Africa into slavery, tearing families apart to fuel our economy. And after the Emancipation Proclamation, we set up Jim Crow laws that continue to leave their destructive mark, especially through our prison systems, not only on our African American sisters and brothers but on all of us.
Black and brown people, often called “non-whites” have never been valued as much as white people in our country. Those of us who are white, for the most part, have not consciously intended that - we just haven’t seen it as clearly as we are beginning to now. This not-seeing perpetuates the status quo.
Throughout our history, immigration laws have encouraged certain people to come to our shores and made it difficult for others. This is part of who we have been and who we are. What is happening right now at the border is the fruit of past systemic oppression that has not been exposed, changed and helped to heal.
But that is not who we are at our core as individuals, communities or country. Nor is it who we need to be - but we have much work to do. We need to acknowledge, confront and move through our denial, fear, greed, belief in scarcity, hopelessness and inertia in order to act with courage and be who we are created to be. I hope the pain of these times will cause us to take action.
Just as there have always been systems of oppression to crush people, there have also always been those who speak a word of hope and act in ways to challenge that oppression. These are people we call prophets. John the Baptist was one, as was Jesus.
Of course, these two are really big prophets – but all prophets stand on the shoulders of those who go before them and are surrounded by people who hold them up. Jesus’ and John’s mothers, Mary and Elizabeth offered hope in words and in the gift of their lives as the first teachers of their children.
In these troubled times, as followers of Jesus, we are called to listen to the voice of our consciences and act with courage in whatever ways we are able on behalf of those being harmed – not only those at the border but those who are houseless in Olympia, those who linger in despair in our prisons and so many others.
Let’s not be afraid to listen to and believe those whose experiences speak volumes to teach us what we did not learn in school. Let’s each look at our own cultural heritage - how and why our own families came to the United States and what they faced when they arrived.
Let’s have the courage to look at the structural racism woven into the fabric of American society that we are largely unaware of. And let’s be willing to do all we can to change these structures through learning, having conversations, writing letters, supporting with money, demonstrating in the streets, voting, registering others to vote and whatever other ways we can speak and act on behalf of justice for our sisters, brothers and children who are suffering.
We gather as Holy Wisdom to help each other believe and act on that belief that divine life lives in us and in all. If each of us will do that by just doing what is ours to do, we will begin to heal our own souls and the soul of our country.
And we will honor the divine life present in each of us as we do so… Namaste.
Homily – Vigil Birth of John the BaptistDiane S. Whalen 6-24-18
Jeremiah 1:4-10. 1 Peter 1:8-12 Luke 1:5-17
To learn about Diane's call to priesthood, listen to her TED Talk here:
Click here to read a related article in NCR: https://www.ncronline.org/news/opinion/ncr-today/we-need-resurrect-our-ideal-welcoming-immigrants