The Borderlands, in the Desert and the Inner Life

Connnie Ridgway

Feb 17, 2019 
     Jeremiah 17:5-10
     Psalm 1
     Luke 6:17-26

SONG (traditional)

I’m just a poor wayfarin’ Stranger, traveling thru this world of woe
But there’s no sickness, no toil or danger
In that bright world to which I go.
I’m going there to see my mother, I’m going there no more to roam
I’m only going over Jordan, I’m only going over home.

I know dark clouds will gather round me,
I know my way is rough & steep
But beauteous fields lie just beyond me,
Where souls redeemed their vigil keep.
I’m going there to see my savior, to sing her praises evermore.
I’m only going over Jordan, I’m only going over home.

A few weeks ago I went with my friend and partner Jesse to Sahuarita, a town south of Tucson AZ, to be a part of “Common Ground on the Border,” a 3-day event that introduced people to migrant issues on the border, as well as celebrating the music and arts of the border lands. 

The event included a field trip to Nogales, Mexico.  We went across on foot in a group, observing the rusty metal Wall and the barbed wire on the side coming from Mexico to the US.  We visited a small Jesuit center, El Comedor, where 7000 meals per month are served to men, women and children newly deported.  We visited a bare 6x8-foot room where five families with babies and very young children were being held, with a military guard at the entrance, awaiting the next step in being granted asylum.  We found out that the pace at which these requests for asylum are processed has slowed way down, by policy, to about six per week, while the numbers requesting asylum are huge. “Speed Court” on the US side gets migrants deported quickly, herded like cattle, back to Mexico. Those who attempt re-entry are given automatic jail sentences. 

These people traveled in the desert, many for hundreds of miles, with very little assistance, trying to escape dangers worse than what crossing the desert posed.  They, unlike some others, didn’t die in the desert.

After the border event, Jesse and I gave a retreat for Samaritans on the Border, people who leave water and food in the desert, and provide other humanitarian assistance to migrants.  Several of them wore T-shirts that said “Seeking Asylum is NOT a crime” and “Humanitarian Aid is NOT illegal.”  These people have seen and heard horrifying stories, which fill them with unbearable sadness and impotent rage.  They themselves have been reviled by family members and neighbors.  Truly what they were experiencing was “moral injury,” a disconnect between what they know is right and what is actually happening. 

Meanwhile, the border patrol employees were working without pay because of the government shutdown.  Many of them ended up at the same church as the border event, standing in line at the weekly food bank.  A complicated situation.

One Samaritan worker, sharing at the retreat, spoke of a cop who found a 14-year-old girl alone in the desert. She had been gang-raped and was injured badly.  The cop told him, that the water the Samaritans had left for such as she had kept her alive.  The cop carried her to safety and helped her get medical treatment.

Song (traditional)

Sometimes I feel like a motherless Child (3x) A long way from my home.
Sometimes I feel like I’m almost gone (3x) A long way from my home.

I signed up this past December to give today’s teaching, not having read the scripture for today.  It is about the desert, the wilderness, and about the poor being blessed. 

From Jeremiah, the Message rendering:

Cursed are the strong ones who depend on mere humans,
Who think they can make it on muscle alone
And set God aside as dead weight.
They are like the tumbleweed in the desert, out of touch with the good earth. 
They live rootless and aimless in a land where nothing grows.

But blessed is the man who trusts me, God, and the woman who sticks with God.
They’re like trees replanted in Eden, putting down roots near the rivers,
Never a worry through the hottest of summers, never dropping a leaf,
Serene and calm through droughts, bearing fresh fruit every season.

And from Luke:   

Everyone was trying to touch Jesus, so much energy surging from him, so many people healed. He spoke: You’re blessed when you’ve lost it all. God’s kingdom is there for the finding. You’re blessed when you’re ravenously hungry, Then you’re ready for the Messianic meal.  You’re blessed when the tears flow freely, Joy comes with the morning.

Jesus was clear. The poor are blessed.  The Luke rendition is more concrete than that of Matthew, which says the poor in spirit are blessed.  According to Neil Douglas-Klotz, the Aramaic scholar, (the author we studied through his book “The Hidden Gospel” in a class last fall), both inner and outer meanings help us to understand what Jesus is trying to tell us. 

In Jesus’ day, and for many today, people finding themselves literally in a desert and/or poor, are thought to be punished by God.  But the prophets and Jesus turn our assumptions on their head.  The “desert” in Jeremiah includes an inner state that means we are not connected to the Source. And also for me, literally experiencing the desert and seeing the migrants’ journey also makes it very real.  People die there.

Our New Creation Mission Group is reading Inspired by Rachel Held Evans.  She writes about rediscovering her love of the Bible after an evangelical childhood and a young adulthood as an agnostic.  She talks about the wilderness, a place of struggle, out of which the Israelites came after 40 years, and Jesus after 40 days.  The wilderness is a place of danger, where God can seem very far away.  It is disorienting. And, if one survives it, it can bear the fruit of liberation. 

 As for the phrase “your reward is great in heaven” from Luke -- one meaning of Heaven, from the Aramaic (the street language of Jesus, close to Hebrew), is the ever-present state of “shemaya” which is an awareness of, and being bathed in, God consciousness, something that is here and now, not something in another place or future time. 

Liberation theologians understand this juxtaposition of outer reality and inner metaphor.  The oppressed are forced to flee, through the desert, to find freedom.  They are blessed if they rely on the shemaiya energy of heaven now, regardless of the outcome of their mortal lives.  Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador spoke such words and in 1980 was gunned down at the altar, right after he publicly called for the Salvadoran military to stop killing civilians.

I am trying to make a connection between my experience of the border, and something that resonates in my inner life.  When I visited the small “holding cell” where babies and young children were waiting with their parents, waiting for asylum, waiting for freedom, I was triggered in a way that I couldn’t identify until, after returning home, I was told that I seemed “edgy.” I spent some time alone, and realized that a very young, infant part of me felt very scared by what I witnessed.

There is a type of therapy that recognizes we all are made of parts, not just people with “multiple personalities.” I’ve been working therapeutically with younger parts of me for a while.   I’ve gotten more in touch with my feelings and connection with babies in danger, after a miscarriage in 1997, and in 1999 after a baby, still unborn, that we tried to adopt [before Addie], was aborted when the mother took cocaine. I’ve gotten in touch with things that some say I could not have remembered--that my mother had post-postpartum depression, that she lived in her own world a lot, that often she couldn’t reach me through this fog. Through witnessing the needs and pain of these babies in Nogales, Mexico, waiting for asylum, I am given another opportunity to integrate and heal the babies in my inner life.

It is not a luxury to work on the inner level.  It is just as important to witness and heal our “inner wilderness,” as it is to address the “outer wilderness” of the borderlands and other tragedies.  Church of the Saviour's first community commitment was to purchase Dayspring, a place to deeply experience the inward journey.  Out of that came so many calls to outward mission. Coming to terms with our inner selves and our inner struggles can liberate us to be of more service in the world. 

Klotz, in his book Prayers of the Cosmos, translates the phrase “Love your neighbor as yourself” like this: “Draw a breath of compassion for the one mysteriously drawn to live near you; love that friend as you love the self that dwells within--the subconscious that sometimes feels separate and intruding.” So, at the Samaritans retreat, people spoke of other losses in their life, other griefs that surfaced as they ministered to migrants.  One person said it was like a barrier had come down inside of her, and though she remembered other grief and it got bigger, somehow it felt better, not worse. 

Part of my call over the years has been to “help the helper,” and when Jesse felt called to give this type of retreat, it resonated with me also.

And, as many of you know, none of the work we do, when it is our call, is for sissies.  It requires us to keep turning over our fears and our anguish, to keep healing on the inside in order to be a healing force in the world. 

It reminds me that, in the AA main text, the Big Book, we are urged to pray with our Higher Power for removal of fear, so that we may face calamity with serenity.  Prayer may not remove the calamity; prayer’s power is that it enables us to face calamity with a new heart, with serenity.

SONG (Written by Amarfio, Ghanian band Osibisa, 1971)

We are going, heaven knows where we are going, but we’ll know within.
And we’ll get there, heaven knows how we will get there, but we know we will.
It will be hard, we know, and the road will be muddy and rough,
But we’ll get there, heaven knows how we will get there, but we know we will.

 Lastly, one of the translations of the Beatitudes by Neil Douglas Klotz contains these words:

Healed are you who feel deeply confused by life; you shall be returned from your wandering.
Blessed are you who wait up at night, weakened and dried out inside by the unnatural state of the World. You shall be satisfied.   
When you feel contaminated, and dislocated; when you feel an inner shame for no good reason--it is the sign of the prophets to feel the disunity around them intensely.   
Aligned with the One are you whose lives radiate and shine from the deepest place inside you; you shall see God everywhere.

I hope this gives you hope. And now, I’d like you to sing with me a song. 

Song:  I can Face Anything, by Connie Ridgway, Copyright 2008

Back to back, holding your hand, I can face anything (2x)
You are my friend, you are my friend, and I’ve told you everything.(2x)
Back to back, holding your hand, I can face anything (2x)

 Now, I’d like those of you who can, to stand up, find a partner, and go back to back with that person.  Now, clasp each other’s hands.  We did this at the Samaritans retreat and it was so powerful for me to see people do this!  Now let’s sing, and you can move or dance with it as you wish.

Back to back, holding your hand, I can face anything (2x)
You are my friend, you are my friend, and I’ve told you everything. (2x)
Back to back, holding your hand, I can face anything (2x)
Back to back, holding your hand, I can face anything (2x)