Pregnant with hope

Guest blogger: Amy Nee – entry originally published at http://www.catholicsoncall.org/pregnant-hope

Scripture Reflection for the Third Sunday of Advent (December 11, 2011)

Scripture Readings:
Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11
Luke 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28

When truth is spoken it illuminates more than just the person. The light stretches its filamented fingers, lacing them through history and pointing toward what is to be. Mary, a young unwed woman, accepts the impossible announcement that she will carry not only a child, but the Christ-child. Affirmed by her cousin, Elizabeth, that this strange pregnancy is an act of God, Mary goes beyond the exultation of trusting that her own reputation will be restored and indicates another restoration: the “mighty are brought down from their thrones…the hungry filled with good things…the rich sent empty away.” She joyously reveals God’s plan for a transformed social order.

Was Mary aware of how closely her words echoed those of the prophet Isaiah? Or was this spontaneous outpouring of the spirit, of joy, simply an irrepressible desire to magnify the God who desires good for all even, perhaps especially, the oppressed. How often the prophets speak of “glad tidings to the poor,” and “release to the prisoner,” of freedom from captivity and healing. I cannot believe that they were only announcing metaphors. These words reveal the vision of God, the image of a Kingdom in which we are called to be co-creators.

A consciousness of this Kingdom is shaped in Mary, as Jesus, the one who would embody it, takes shape in her womb. As Mary, Joseph and Jesus faced the hardships of poverty, heard the news of innocents slaughtered, met the continual challenges of daily life, the joy present when Mary proclaimed the Magnificat was likely not so readily felt. The promise that this little boy was the messiah even as he had to be fed and changed, that the hungry would be filled even as stomachs rumbled, that the mighty would be brought down from their thrones even as they abused their power with as much might as ever, are promises that could not have been easy to believe. Mary no doubt had to draw on the prophecies and experiences that she had treasured up; carrying within her the truths of the Kingdom just as she had carried within her the one who would reveal them.

If advent is a time of preparation, how do we, like John, “prepare the way” in keeping with God’s revealed intention for a world of justice, peace and joy, more a Kin-dom, than a Kingdom, where the disparity between the powerful and the oppressed is leveled? How do we, like Mary, say “let it be with me as you have said” and trust that by the power of the Holy Spirit we are being filled, made whole and holy – spirit, soul and body? As Christians we are called not only to carry, but to become the Body of Christ. What an incredible mystery! Recognition of this compels us toward Paul’s seemingly impossible directives to “rejoice always,” “pray without ceasing,” and “in all circumstance give thanks.” (This from a man who was jailed and persecuted continually; – how keenly he must have felt the hope of liberation!) Such mystery awakes the need to “test everything,” using the tools of prayer, action, honest communication – continually “experimenting with truth,” as Gandhi called it. Taking care to refrain from making assumptions as to what is good and to always be surprised, to always resist evil, even when it seems to seep into everything around us – including us. Rabbi and philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel writes, “An individual dies when they cease to be surprised. I am surprised every morning when I see the sunshine again. When I see an act of evil I don’t accommodate, I don’t accommodate myself to the violence that goes on everywhere. I am still so surprised! That is why I am against it. We must learn to be surprised.”

In a world that seems so fixed in cycles of violence, it can be difficult to believe that the promised Kin-dom is coming, let alone that it already is. When we see that drone bombs are dropped on children, that dumpsters overflow with food while millions go hungry, and houses stand empty while millions are homeless; when we cut each other apart with our words, and pollute the earth with careless or even intentional consumption – how difficult indeed to hope for healing, for liberation, for full stomachs and joyful hearts! It is difficult to face all this and believe that we can live in a way that challenges the corruption and mends the brokenness that surrounds us; that we can embody a transforming way that sets not only the oppressed but the oppressors free. It seems very difficult, impossible even to enter into Kin-dom living. Yet, we wait for Christ to be revealed. As we wait we create communities of faith where we can challenge one another to affirm God’s vision, spoken by the prophets, incarnate in Jesus, and just possibly, in us. As we live amidst the tension of the Everlasting Not Yet we are offered this hope: God has already accomplished things beyond belief, God is with us; with God, nothing is impossible.

Sorry, I Didn’t Recognize You (part two)

Guest blogger, Amy Nee, part two of two (here’s part one)

I caught that train and took it to Cermak-Chinatown. The Congress on Urban Ministry had converged on the Hyatt at McCormick Place (a hotel and convention center the size of a neighborhood) and was hosting free “Words and Worship” services in the evenings. That night Shane Claiborne was scheduled to speak. He is an author and activist and part of “The Simple Way,” a community that calls for a way that is both simple and profound. The residents recognize people around them as neighbors—whether those people are gang members, prostitutes, school children, investment bankers or Iraqi citizens on the other side of the world. Shane is a representative of people who take seriously Jesus’ advocacy of neighbor-love, and enemy-love. He talked that night about grace as the backdrop for peace.  Grace, he said, is seeing the same things, the same people, with new eyes; it is seeing beyond surface and assumptions.

Closing his talk, Shane shared a video clip filmed during his time in India working with Mother Teresa and the Sisters of Charity. The camera holds closely the image of a child shaking with terror from an accident he has just survived. Malnourished, the boy’s skin is stretched tightly over his bones. His head appears too large for his birdlike body which convulses in the arms of a Catholic sister who is leaning over his railed bed. She firmly but gently rubs his fragile frame, over and over. Her hands transfer compassion and healing and gradually his tremors still. The boy’s body becomes loose and limp, his angular head tips toward the sister. His eyes, deep, dark pools, meet hers. The hospital is crowded with children no doubt in equal need, but she holds him.  Infinity in their gaze. A look of recognition.

My heart stirs, a desire rising. I want to go to India, to be her, to hold him. But there is something beyond this want. I desire that type of engagement—with the afflicted, with my Mom, with the woman behind the cash register, with the man asking me for change and the prisoner I can’t see—awareness, presence, compassion. I want to recognize people and to give people the opportunity to recognize each other. If not to see Christ in the poor, the oppressed, the stranger, the loved and the unlovely; to see ourselves.

How can we “satisfy the desire of the afflicted,” when we move through life like casually skipped stones, skimming the surface, making occasional, brief contact—splish, what they seem to want—splash, what we think they need—plunk, deep, drinking desire.  We are awestruck out of our element there.  It is a scary thing to sink into the unknown.  I can say that I am called to this as a Christian, and I am.  But I want to clarify that I think Jesus’ mission was not to make a Church but to teach us to be whole humans, to restore the earth and its residents to life.  Thus, whatever my religion, I am called to this as a living being.  Waking life requires it.

‘Come and See': A reflection from Afghanistan

Guest blogger: Jerica Arents

“Tell them to come and see who we are.” Almost every Afghan we met said that. Tell them to come and see.  While my mind flashed to nightly news programs that portray all Afghans as dark, bearded men with big guns, ordinary Afghans told me that they want Americans to see them as just that: ordinary people. In October, I participated in a Voices for Creative Nonviolence delegationto Afghanistan. Kathy Kelly, David Smith-Ferri, and I spent almost a month in Afghanistan, joining the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers in Bamiyan for a week and spending the rest of the trip in Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul. The purpose of the delegation was to make human connections with those people who are bearing the brunt of our country’s policies of warmaking. Entering the 10th year of U.S. occupation, and after 30 years of almost constant war, ordinary Afghans want the 43 occupying countries and the greater international community to stop the fighting. Come and see, the Afghans would ask wearily. We are human beings.

Jerica, Kathy Kelly and David Smith-Ferri with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers in Band-i-Amir, Afghanistan

We were welcomed into the country by the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers (AYPV), a group of young men in Bamiyan, an Afghan province directly west of Kabul. Bamiyan is a relatively stable area of the country with a large population of ethnic Hazaras and Tajiks. While we were there, the young men invited us into their daily lives. They work at small shops and in the fields, harvesting potatoes or hauling water by donkey. Their large families welcomed us into their homes with smiles and nods and messages of peace. We shared simple meals over food and with laughter, and seemingly insurmountable differences grew negligible.

A man and his son originally from Helmand Province, now living in an internally displaced persons camp in Kabul.

All of the families in the surrounding villages of Bamiyan share memories of fleeing the Taliban during their reign in the late 1990s — stories of large groups running down mountains in the dark, clutching small children and any possessions they could grab. Many of the very young and very old didn’t survive. Countless women and men in Bamiyan suffer from depression after experiencing the ravaging nature of war. “We age very quickly here,” reflected the mother of one of the AYPVs. Noting her weathered hands and worn eyes, I assumed she was in her late-50s. But the translator, after explaining that most women there suffer from anemia, persistent headaches, and debilitating depression, told us that the mother was only 38 years old. She went on, concluding: “I have experienced 30 years of war in less than 40 years of life.”

As the days passed, we started to weave together each young man’s story — stories experienced in the midst of lifelong war that have forced these teenagers to age quickly, too. Abdulai, a bright-eyed and generous 15-year-old member of the AYPV, lived through the Taliban’s abduction and murder of his father. Others told stories of witnessing their loved ones die, seizing the bullet-ridden bodies of their uncles and brothers. Faiz’s parents both died from illness before he turned 7. “When I remember my childhood,” he said, “tears come to my eyes.” But still, their hope was infectious. During a phone call with a young Gazan, 12-year-old Ghulamai, we heard words of encouragement that bridged the miles between these two occupied lands. “Please remain strong and brave,” pleaded Ghulamai. “We will endure this together, with you. If it’s beyond enduring, please call us. Life will pass, but if it’s beyond enduring, call us.”

The history of Afghanistan, I am learning, is a complicated web of interlocking systems of violence — a murder mystery-like story with warlords, ethnic oppression, drug rings, shadow governments, and corruption. But I am struck with the wisdom that was shared with us over tea in a Kabul café from a Western woman who has lived in the country for the last decade: There is not a military solution to the problems of Afghanistan. Forty billion dollars of U.S. humanitarian aid since the invasion in 2001 has done nothing for the poor. Policies to pump the country with even more weapons will never result in lasting peace. Young men with little education and no opportunity to provide food for their fatherless families will continue to join the Taliban for a meager salary. Come and see, the boys beg us. As they continue to bear the brunt of our military machine, may we hear them.

Jerica and the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers in Bamiyan, Afghanistan

Original post: http://blog.sojo.net/2011/01/04/come-and-see-a-reflection-from-afghanistan/

This week’s guest blogger, Jerica Arents,  is a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence and is a recent graduate of Loyola University Chicago’s Institute of Pastoral Studies.  Jerica lives in the White Rose Catholic Worker in Chicago where Sister Julia loves to hang out to play games, sing songs, pray for peace and justice and eat dumpster-dived food.

All photos are the property of Jerica Arents. For permission to reprint please comment on this blog entry.