Necessary Tears

“Jesus wept.”  John 11:35

Jesus wept.  It’s dubbed as the shortest verse in all of Scripture and despite its size has a way of packing a wallop to the crowds that are gathered at that moment.  It comes as the story builds around the death of Lazarus, his friend, and the questioning of the crowds as to whether Jesus is who he says he is now that he has finally met his match in death.  Sure he could heal the blind man but death has a hold that stands as much greater than blindness or so it would seem.  In that gatherings of jeers, anger, and spite, Jesus weeps.  He weeps.

Of course, though, that is what is seen with the eyes, tears falling down his face.  But tears are never just tears.  Frequently they come from a much deeper place within, a place of our own pain and loneliness.  Once again, he is misunderstood by the crowds and followers.  Once again, he is doubted.  Once again, he sees the lack of faith.  Once again, they can’t seem to get past their own judgment of what they have seen with their own eyes and move to greater depths within themselves.  When we do, we weep with Jesus for many of the same reasons.

More than once this past week I have been told to be angry.  At times, screamed at by people telling me to be outraged.  I’ve had it told to me on Facebook.  I’ve had it told to me through the news.  Heck, I’ve pretty much had it shown to me by the President and other political figures, be angry, and be angry for a reason.  After some time I began to think maybe I should be angry.  Maybe I should start screaming like so many on television are these days, at one another and with one another, with no path to understanding or even an inkling of listening to each other.  Yet, all I feel is sadness and tears, like weeping.  For everyone.

To this day I am most struck by the image of the young men in Charlottesville on Friday evening who had surrounded a gathering of ministers, practically holding them hostage, carrying flames with the looks of rage on their faces.  In symbolic fashion, holding hostage their own hearts from being moved and changed.  The last thing this situation needed was more anger, I thought.  I began to wonder how men of such a young age could be harboring such strong feelings of anger and fear in their lives, knowing full well that that is what I was witnessing with my eyes.  Deep down, though, anger and fear are merely masks, symptoms, of a much deeper hurt and wound that is often not visible with our eyes, including the hurt in my own life that I’m being invited into to seeking healing and reconciliation.  If I’m not careful and aware, it’s quite easy to react to it when it arises and lash out at the closest target, often the one who has embodied that deeper hurt of mine and where I continue to hold onto it in which I don’t want to look or see within myself.  It’s the human dilemma that we all need to face and confront at different points in our lives, individually and collectively.

As the week wore on, I listened to all the noise less and less and found myself wrestling with this reality in which we find ourselves.  It’s not that I don’t agree that the level of hate and the realities of racism continue to cast a shadow upon us because I do.  As long as there are humans we’ll face all of it.  Often people are simply looking for validation of their experience since so much of what we do and how we act happens on the subconscious level without us even thinking.  Raising awareness means the shifting to the conscious level, which is the only place we can deal with them, otherwise the wounds once again become buried within ourselves and the cycle of violence continues not only in the world but in our own lives, many times without us even being aware of it because it becomes are natural fallback, peeling back the scab over and over again.

If there is one thing I have learned through my own struggles and in facing my own violence toward others and myself is that there is no easy way around it.  My natural inclination is to shut down in the face of it until I can reckon with the reality, a reality which never disappears by not confronting it head on.  Dealing with our past is so often minimalized with, the past is already over, move on, as if I can just will my pain be gone.  I wish it were that easy.  However, the pain has a way of manifesting itself in the same ways, again and again, in our lives.  Rather than trying to tear it down and rid ourselves of it, we are often invited to understand it, allow it to surface, and reverence it with the healing it needs, almost always through tears, weeping for what it was and even for what it was not.

The great risk in life as a part of the human race is to become what it is we hate, when in reality, we often already are exactly that.  We live in this world filled with should have’s and could have’s, living with the disappointment that we’re not more than how we appear before others.  We live with the disappointments often because we deal with the same problems the same way and expect different results each time, casting amnesia upon us in the face of perpetual violence towards our brothers and sisters.  Through the use of our judgments, our own misunderstandings, our labels that denigrate fellow human beings to being monsters of sorts, in the end, gets us nowhere, often only validating the monster within ourselves that we haven’t learned to love.  In some ways, I’d rather live with the moments of loneliness that comes with being misunderstood, as it was for Jesus, rather than use him against another.  I’d rather live with the tears that come with not quickly reacting but first trying to understand the deeper hurt that is being aroused.  I’d much rather weep than fan the flames of anger knowing that there is a deeper pain in the others life than I may never understand.  I’d rather sit in silence and wrestle with it, knowing the expectations then placed upon me to react.  Jesus weeps, sure for the death of his friend Lazarus, as most do when they visit a grave.  But what we see never fully defines the depth of the pain and where it comes from within the other in those moments.  All we see is what we want to see most often despite it just being the tip of the iceberg of one’s life, including for the Christ as he weeps for and with humanity.

More often than not, the path to love and peace, a peace which is a marriage of justice and mercy, will never arrive in our own hearts until we learn to sit, quiet ourselves, doubt, question, and learn to accept even our own selves, short comings and all, which closes the gap between myself and the other.  The war that rages on beyond us as we see it is often the war within that we are invited to confront.  The more we separate, divide, demonize, seek winners and losers, the greater that gap becomes, creating the tribal mentality that Jesus himself often confronts.  I not only separate myself from others but I separate myself from myself.  It deepens the blinders we wear, invoking fear and insecurity in our lives, leaving us wandering through the desert, often unbeknownst to us.  In time, even for Israel, the tears began to arrive, not only for what had been done to them but what they had done to the other through their own pain.  In those moments, glimpses of that promised land that they desired became visible.

As a country, and I’ve written this many times before, we will need to learn to weep and weep bitterly.  Not select people, but each of us, individually and collectively.  America has never been what it was supposed to be and never will.  It’s not the chosen one.  It’s not the city on a hill.  It’s by no means perfect or somehow the greatest, all of which only feeds the illusion that we know better than the rest, avoiding the pain that lies within the heart of a nation.  We are country among 195 or so others.  We are 323 million of approximately 7 billion people on the planet.  And it’s all ok.  When we finally give up the illusions, the blinders, what it is we simply see with our eyes, we begin to see that there is something even greater about us that is not always visible to the naked eye.  As much as our heart continues to beat, it is by no means without pain and hurt.  That is very visible not only in Charlottesville but outside my own window, day in and day out.  There is a story that is dying to be told, from deep within, a story that desires to be free, and will continue to kill if it’s not told.  A human desires to be free.  Lashing out and violence will never lead to what it is we want and desire.  Rather, only through our own ability to weep, for what was and wasn’t, for what is and isn’t.  Yes, it is the shortest verse in the bible but in doing so packs quite the wallop of bringing healing and reconciliation that is desperately needed in my life, your life, this city, and well beyond.  Jesus wept.  For everyone.

Falling Into Mystery

Prov 8: 22-31; Rom 5: 1-5; John 16: 12-15

It’s good that we are given such beautiful images in Scripture on this feast of the Holy Trinity, otherwise we run the risk of trying to figure out three Persons, One God logically, and it just can’t be done. Nor is it really meant to be figured out logically, but rather something we’re called to live into, feel into, and fall into deep within our hearts and souls. So we hear this beautiful image of wisdom a part of creation, breathing life into all around, just as God does into human life at the beginning, finding delight in the human race, as we hear in Proverbs today.

In some ways, we have to imagine ourselves in that reading today as God breathes life into each of us, trying to break down the many layers of our lives that become hard to penetrate but only through the breath of God. Wisdom speaks of the presence in the mountains and hills to the depths of the sea. And there we are, climbing the mountains of our challenges and tumbling down the hills. There we are, drowning in the depths of the sea of our own grief as the disciples are in today’s gospel. All along, wisdom and love gradually breaks through taking us deep within our very being, to the depth of God, always inviting and asking, how far into mystery are we willing to fall and to go? There’s the real question of the day for each of us, just how far will we go into this endless mystery.

You know, if we’re ever to tackle the problems of our lives and those of the world, we must be willing to far deep within. So often we think it’s about going up and certainly this mystery extends there as well, but deep within, seemingly hidden out of sight, lies something and someone that connects us all, this ever-present mystery. Yet, we’ll continue to try to tackle the problems our society in our own way, this way or that way. The problems of famine, inequality, racism, the problems of poverty and war will never be resolved when we stay locked in the either or of politics. Rather, only when we move to the deeper place and begin to see the other as one with myself and move toward empathy for the human race. Like Proverbs, when we allow ourselves to be taken deeper into mystery the more we find that delight in the human race.

Like the disciples, sometimes we’re just not in a place to go to such a place. We are grief-stricken about our past not being the way we think it’s supposed to be. We are still clamoring for power somewhere beyond ourselves, as they were in places of position against the other disciples. We hold on for dear life to what has been never allowing ourselves to be moved to such a deeper place as mystery and oneness with God and humanity. We become stuck in our labels for one another, trying to solve everything logically when in reality, we’re being invited to move to this deeper reality, the deeper mystery we call Trinity.  It’s only when they finally encounter something they can’t explain that they’ll begin to be broken open, the experience of the Cross.

Crazy enough, it’s as St. Paul tells us today in his letter to the Romans, the more we accept this invitation to go deeper and to grow into mystery, the more we grow in endurance and character because we learn to trust this deeper mystery that is so far beyond us and yet so imminent we can touch it and fall into it and gradually become it. What grace that is for each of us to accept such an invitation, to see beyond our human eyes and begin to see as mystery sees us from the depths of the sea in our souls.

As we celebrate this great feast, we’re called to delight in the human race as wisdom does while breathing life into each of us. We’re called to accept the invitation to go deeper into this mystery and ask ourselves how far into mystery we’re willing to go. It’ll change lives and ultimately begin to change the world around us. Sure there are many mountains we’ll continue to climb on our own and we’ll certainly tumble and fall. But with each fall comes an opportunity for new beginning and an invitation to be asked just how far and deep into mystery we’re will to go and to grow.

The Burden of Our Shared Humanity

“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have been reading a book lately entitled, No Salvation Outside the Poor, by John Sobrino, SJ. It is a compilation of writings and articles based on the words of Ignacio Ellacuria, one of the Jesuits murdered in El Salvador twenty-five years ago. He speaks in the first chapter of “the crucified people”. He goes onto write, “Thus the language of “people” and “peoples” is laced with death, not natural but historical death, which takes the form of crucifixion, assassination, the active historical deprivation of life, whether slowly or quickly. That death, caused by injustice, is accompanied by cruelty, contempt, and also concealment. I usually add that the crucified people are also denied a chance to speak and even to be called by name, which means they are denied their own existence. The crucified people “are not,” and the affluent world prohibits or inhibits them from “becoming.” The affluent world can thus ignore what happens to them, without any pangs of conscience.”

As I was reading that statement, I began to think of all the events that have unfolded in the United States the past several months, but also in light of my trip to the Holy Land back in October, remembering the great deal of inequality and inferiority that exists in our world, whether we want to admit it or not. He makes the point that often times we do not; undoubtably would push us to change ourselves rather than others. Of course, if you don’t feel discriminated towards or feel inferior, it’s sometimes hard to put ourselves in someone else’s situation in life. Yet, from the beginning of time we, the people, have carried the burden of our own frailty and mortality, as a “crucified people”. We are laced with that “historical death” that Ellacuria writes about, merely by the fact that we are born and have been brought into a broken world.

I’ve struggled with all of these stories and experiences the past months because pain can and is always so deeply rooted in the human person and the human experience. There’s no quick-fix, no remedy that cures all that ails, and no easy answer as to how to seek healing and reconciliation. I do believe that is part of the problem, because the “system” that we are all a part of doesn’t necessarily want healing and reconciliation because it thrives and feeds off of divisiveness and splitting people into their political, and all too often, religious camps. That’s the bottom line, politics cannot bring about the healing it may speak of or desire; that is only possible through a belief in the true God, a crucified and resurrected one at that and that is much bigger than us and holds all the “crucified people” in the Beloved arms. My deeper struggle is this, and I don’t think it’s easy to admit, but if others would admit it, it’s half the battle fought. I had years of my life believing racist thoughts and thoughts of inferiority towards others for a variety of reasons, none less than the color of one’s skin. My family was in tact; that made it easy to think less of and pity those who did not, or at the least, not worry about them even if I had felt uncomfortable in their presence. I had money; it made it easy to pity and think less of those who did not, and blame them for their own problems. Surely I had nothing to do with it; it was not my experience or on my conscience, so why should I care.

But there were thoughts, as a white man and a man in general. I thought that people of color simply desired to be white so they could have the same privileges as myself and other white people. I thought people of color envied the rest of us, because somehow life is easier for me. I thought that if people of color could just get over things and be given the rights they desired, then everything would be ok. I didn’t understand the other as “the crucified people”, or myself for that matter, who have lived with a history of being seen as inferior, despite it often being the burden of the man to recognize his own projection of his own inferiority and deeply, insecure fears onto the other, none of which is true reality to begin with. It’s no different than the heterosexual who thinks someone who is attracted to the same gender simply desires to be straight and yet fears their attraction to him or her at the same time. It happens with the one who has had an absent father and we wonder why they rebel against any person in authority and so much mistrust for persons who hold that power. Or how about a woman who craves the power of the man, wanting to be like the other.

Why so much unhappiness with being who I am? Why so much insistence on others being who I want them to be or me trying to be who they want me to be, rather than accepting them where they are at and who they are, despite color, gender, sexuality; there’s something much deeper that needs healing in our world and the systems that have been plagued with ignoring their own projections, often onto people who already carry the burden of being the “crucified people” who seek redemption and freedom more than anything, a need for the healing of soul. In reality, regardless of our place in this world, we are all the “crucified people”. There’s no them and somehow the rest of us have it all right and have it all together. The system can’t and won’t and never will provide that healing. Only God can, who stands with the “crucified people,” who stands with all.

Jesus speaks of forgiveness and reconciliation more than anything, even to the point of loving one’s enemies. Yet, in growing up, the enemy is always somewhere and someone else. The enemy is the person different than myself. The enemy is in Iraq or Iran. The enemy is in Palestine or Israel or Syria. The enemy is the one taking the other’s job away from them. The enemy is the neighbor who doesn’t let kids be kids. It’s always somewhere and someone else, and we live that way and grow up that way, at least until one is awakened. Before you know it, you begin to realize that I am all people, including all looked down upon, all who I thought were inferior, all who looked different and lived differently, and not all by choice, but because of life’s circumstances all too often, or the historical burden of their “crucified people” that continues to be carried, as well as the prejudices, stereotypes, biases, judgments, projections, and fears, for the “crucified people” are not just the other, but they are me and you as well. There is no us or them, there’s simply we, us, one human family. Yet, as long as we choose to carry that burden ourselves and not daily surrender it, our lens on life continues to be viewed simply through the cross rather than the entirety of the paschal mystery.

So why don’t we bring ourselves to loving enemies? Quite honestly, because it’s too hard. Loving enemies or anyone that is different for that matter, is more about us than it is about the one we’ve deemed enemy or hated. We like being in that place of superiority because we never have to look at the other half of ourselves. It takes a breakdown in barriers that seemed to have been with us our entire lives. It takes a great deal of humility and trust to begin to recognize myself in the other, and yet, in the end, it’s not only us that become free from our own judgments and sin, but the other as well. That’s the irony and paradox in it all, that, when I become free the other too has his or her chains freed and relationship begins to follow. I begin to see and accept the other in myself and slowly become whole. The burden of the “crucified people” is the burden of humanity, but doesn’t need to be the burden that it becomes and that we make it to be. When we seek forgiveness, the burden is lifted. When we seek reconciliation, the burden is lifted. When we begin the inward journey and the healing of the soul, a journey to one with ourselves, with God, and with the other, the burden is lifted and the crucified people become who they have been created to be, the redeemed people, one and whole, loved in all entirety.