Giving Light

Every time I looked around yesterday, really looked, joy was present—in the light on the pepper trees, in my home office, in the soccer game at lunch. But surely, at those same moments, many beings on Earth felt far from joyful.

Some family friends, Bella and Henry, were in the concentration camps during World War II. They met and married after the war. I met them for the first time for lunch at Red Robbins when they were in their eighties.

At one point, Henry said, “I couldn’t have imagined all this,” he waved his hand, indicating his entire life, the restaurant, grown children, a career, “when I was in Auschwitz.”

We wait, during this Advent season, for the birth of Light in the darkness, the light that “draws us outward into the world and inward into the depths of our hearts,” as Barb Kollenkark says. It draws us to these places because it is there. We and all creation are the light of the world. We are waiting for our own birth, our awakening to the reality that everything is Christ.

A friend recently reminded me that the only way we can be light in this world is by showing up where we are as who we are. All we can offer is the gift of our own becoming responding with love and joy to the reality in front of us at that moment.

“The world is shot through with poverty,” Jim Finley says. Any person we meet today may need a witness to joy. That doesn’t mean false cheer or telling someone in pain that they’re OK. It means embodying “I couldn’t have imagined all this” while being present to their suffering.

“If we want to be spiritual, then, let us first of all live our lives,” Thomas Merton wrote in Thoughts in Solitude. Our lives will contain darkness and light, and the darkness for some will be incomprehensibly deep. At the same time, “The people in darkness will see a great light.” May we be that light.

Can We Care Enough?

I don’t write about current events for a number of reasons: because a lot of other people do, because I’m often not well-informed, and because when I write about others’ actions I tend to blame and judge, which is not helpful. But it seems ridiculous to write a blog on July 7, 2016, that does not take into account the killings of black men on July 5 and 6 in Baton Rouge and St. Paul.

The problem is, I am white. I will never know what it means to worry that, despite all my warnings, my son will leave his hoodie on as he walks to school leaving me to identify his body that night instead of feed him dinner.

I read an op-ed in the New York Times by Michael Eric Dyson, a black sociology professor at Georgetown University, who had little patience for white people who understand privilege because we aren’t doing anything. He said, “We don’t know…how to make you [white people] care enough to stop those who pull the triggers.”

“Care enough”—this is not a policy matter; this is a matter of the heart. Can I truly say that there is nothing of me reflected in the actions of these police officers? I hope I wouldn’t have acted as they did, but until I can love my neighbor as myself—not as much as myself, as Cynthia Bourgeault once explained, but as myself, that is, with a knowing that my neighbor is more myself than other—until I can do that, I am participating in this and all the violence in the world.

So how not to crawl into bed and pull the blanket over our heads because if you are like me, you know that perfection is not within your reach. My prejudices are legion, and they’ll never fully go away.

As my friend Barb Kollenkark wrote recently, the only healthy way to deal with darkness is to bring it into the light. Can we care enough to recognize and act with love toward our own darkness? Loving is not condoning. Loving is seeing it as it is—the woundedness that lies beneath it as well as the harm we have caused and are causing.

I doubt any of this would offer comfort to the loved ones of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, nor, perhaps, should it. It is ours, white people’s, to bear the discomfort of what we have done—not by wallowing in guilt but by acknowledging our responsibility—to ask for God’s undeserved grace to heal us—because surely if we have done these things we are sick—and to act from this new place in a way that can help those we have decimated. “A pure heart create for me, O God.”