Who will save the hunger striker?

"Witness Against Torture: I am Still Waiting" Photo by Justin Norman
“Witness Against Torture: I am Still Waiting” Photo by Justin Norman

“Eternal God…You know that these men have testified falsely against me.  Would you let me die, though I am not guilty of all their malicious charges?”

This week the daily mass readings begin with the cry of Susannah, unjustly accused by corrupt officials, sentenced to death in the presence of the people.  We read that God hears her.  But Susannah is not saved by a bolt of lightning striking down her foes, or by being mysteriously transported to safety.  God arouses the Holy Spirit stirring a “young lad,” Daniel, a witness in a crowd of impassive witnesses, and this small person shouts, “I will have no part in the death of this woman!”

People in the crowd are startled.  Many had been grieved by the proceedings, but this was out of their hands, the elders, the leaders had decided.  Yet here is this stirring, “What did you say?” they ask.
And Daniel says to the people, “Have you become fools, you Israelites, to condemn a daughter of Israel without due process and in the absence of clear evidence?”

In this story, the people respond, turning the tables by turning the accusers over for questioning.  It is now they who must prove their case, which they fail to do.  So Susannah is delivered, back to her family, and the accusers take her place in receiving the full penalty of the law.

I am struck by how clearly this story illustrates that God moves by moving people. Would this providential delivery have been possible had Daniel not responded to the spirit stirring him to speak?  What if the people had not listened?  What does all of this mean for us in our time?

Hearing this story for the first time, my thoughts immediately went to an outcry that is currently falling on deaf ears.  There are 166 men being held at Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba.  They are held there without due process, accused in the absence of clear evidence.  Their detention is indefinite, a torturous reality.  Adding insult to injury, the sacred texts of these men of faith are being tampered with and desecrated, letters from their wives and children are censored or withheld.  At Guantanamo, more men have died (9) than have been convicted of a crime (6). The men are experiencing a living death, confined to their tomb until the day that their corpse can be released to their family without fear that it will speak of what it has suffered.

Yet the men there are finding ways to cry out, to God, to their captors, to this crowd of people in the United States, to us.  They are using the only tool they have left, their own body, hunger striking.  They are not demanding release, only humane treatment, just procedures.

As a woman of faith, I sense the Holy Spirit seeking to arouse a voice in the crowd.  We are given the example of Daniel for a reason.  God desires compassion and justice and these divine gifts come through people who respond.  But what can we do, when the prisoners are not standing directly before us, when the crowd is not crushing about us?

We can still adopt and adapt Daniel’s words, “I will have no part in the death of these men,” “Have we become fools, to condemn men without due process and in the absence of clear evidence?”  And we can find the crowds to speak it to, and draw a crowd to speak it with us.

Witness Against Torture (WAT), a group of men and women from across the United States, has been seeking an end to indefinite detention, due process and resettlement for those detained, and the closure of Guantanamo Bay detention center since 2005.  Together we are responding to the hunger strikes with tangible actions.  Beginning March 24th (Holy Week, for those in the Catholic tradition) we will hold a seven day solidarity fast.  Throughout that week we encourage people to call the White House; send letters to the prisoners acknowledging that they have been heard by the public, even if officials have yet to respond; join us for vigils (see witnesstorture.org to find out if there are any happening in your city, or start your own); participate in the fast for a day or more; spread the news in any way you can.

Adnan Latif, a Muslim man who, after eleven years of detention, died at Guantanamo wrote a poignant poem in which he asks, “Who will save the hunger striker?” He died, without ever having been proved guilty of “all their malicious charges.”  How many deaths before the cry is heard?

You can participate in advocacy events with Witness Against Torture.

Censored letter to Moazzam Begg (a former detainee) from his daughter

a mucky way of peace

As I continue to try to be a faithful disciple of Jesus I continually confront the messy, cluttered commotion along the Way.  I feel like I keep switching from being stunned by the beauty and caught in my human confusion.

The words I pray every morning stir my questions:

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
for he has visited and brought redemption to his people.
He has raised up a horn for our salvation
within the house of David his servant,
even as he promised through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old:
salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us,
to show mercy to our ancestors
and to be mindful of his holy covenant
and of the oath he swore to Abraham our father,
and to grant us that,
rescued from the hand of enemies,
without fear we might worship him
in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord* to prepare his ways,
to give his people knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God
by which the daybreak from on high* will visit us
to shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.” Luke 1: 68-79

Good and simple and the Light on the path is mighty. The Light that shines on the path of peace glows into shadows.  There’s dusty despair floating around in the Light creating a strange beauty.  A calm collects and settles, yet the stains of sin feel like stones in shoes.  We talk about the beauty of God’s mysterious ways while a bad taste of discontentment lingers on our lips.  We remember that although we can revel in the goodness of God, we can’t forget the injustices and suffering that still are in need of great redemption.

Paths leading to trees

I’ve been on a blogging break for the past couple weeks as I finished up a semester of teaching, took a Christmas vacation and went on a silent retreat.  (Thanks to Sister Sarah and Steven for writing while I was away!)

The Christmas season is ending and I am renewed.  The blessings of the incarnation have re-rooted me in the core of who I am: a child of God.  As God’s child, I am on the path of peace.  A theme of my retreat was God’s Way of Love and I considered the power of the Prince of Peace being alive and home in the broken darkness of our messed up world.  Jesus’ way of blessing the brokenness of humanity permits us to have hope and trust.  God is enfleshed and alive in the fullness of humanity.  Back in my classroom I’m marveling with my students about how Jesus is a material man. He’s word, light, love, energy, feelings, image, sound, alive and fleshy. God is really awesome!

Still, my rejoicing feels mucky.   Many of my companions on the journey carry a lot of truth.  In the faces of many I see tears, hunger, fear and sorrow and I know that oppression is not over.   There’s more work to do.   My friends who are peacemakers remind me that we can’t sit down and give up.  Jesus loves us (yes he does!) and love is a powerful, world-changing force.

Love is messy, as written on a crumpled sheet of paper

We can’t slow in our work for peace and there’s an urgency in the good news. We keep creating the new ways of God- no matter how mucky they seem in coming. The muck can be depressing.  It’s unpleasant, but if we’re with Jesus it’s where we belong.

Nowadays, the horrors of state sanctioned torture and indefinite detention are especially disturbing me.  Guantanamo prison has been open for almost 10 years despite its human rights and international law violations.  Some of my activist friends are hard at work in Washington D.C. and here in Chicago with incredible fasting, protesting, educating and praying. Like they did last year (and Luke wrote about) they’re fasting and creatively, non-violently asking our government to end the injustices of torture and detention.  I join them as I am able: in solidarity as I fast too (from television), in action to increase awareness, in advocacy for justice and in prayer and contemplation.

I’m remembering how before Christmas we heard the news that all the troops were coming home from Iraq.  I was still in an advent waiting space in my spirit, but my mind told me I ought to rejoice and celebrate a victory for justice.  A shadowy waiting space and an enlightened celebration: I wasn’t able to unite the two.  Instead, I felt my joy fall flat.  I was opposed to the war before it began and my young activism was formative for me.  The ending of the occupation felt so long overdue that it felt more frustrating than favorable.  Peacemaking is mucky.

I am grateful that Jesus was born into the broken, confused places within our spirits and within our world.  As we suffer and struggle we find that we must remain open and empty to experience the fullness of God.  We must allow continual conversion.  After all, we can accept that on the path of peace there’s joy of the incarnation: we are forgiven, free and blessing the brokenness in the world.  The darkness cannot overcome the light, light shines through the darkness! Thanks be to God!

Road toward a light sky

ugly body

orange over me

upon still solemn sidewalk

silent under black

My breathing quickens.

the truth is too tight:

innocent men are confined

tortured to death

human-inflected trauma

in the name of national security

The cells of my eyes water what my heart holds.

my love, Jesus, tortured by thorns, nails, cross

laments stab while questions weigh on a helpless body

centuries later the crowds still scream crucify

My bones grind and stiffness sets into sore feet and knees.

prayers are uttered into Mary’s ear, as she knows

secrets of torture techniques told

“feels like drowning two hundred times.”

“hanging by wrists for hours, no sleep.”

“humiliation.”

“dogs.”

“darkness.”

“orders.”

My body shudders with shame.

trying to yell NO the over-used too old sign bares challenge:

let it close, it needs to end.

sorrow looks through cloth pores

there, no dignity

here,  fashions rush by wasting fast food, texting into cellular phones

ignoring the pain of the ugly orange body

I don’t understand.

Yesterday,  June 23,  I vigiled with a few other members of Witness Against Torture  on a sidewalk at a busy intersection in Chicago.   I wore an orange jumpsuit and a black hood like the men who are imprisoned at Guantanamo.  (I am the second person from the left in the photo above.)  I stood as a reminder of what tax dollars still pay for.  While I prayed in solidarity for all who suffer because of torture, others answered questions.  And, at the same time, 15 protesters were arrested in Washington DC for disrupting the discussion on the defense bill in the House of Representatives. Today, the day after I had the intense experience of wearing that ugly outfit, Guantanamo is still open. I will never be the same because of what I felt inside that hood.  My prayer and work for justice has deepened.

May God bless all our bodies. Amen.