This week I got to spend time reconnecting with some good friends. What made the time so special was that I felt truly seen and heard by them. They asked thoughtful questions and listened until I was done answering. I repeatedly noticed my surprise at getting to say all of what I thought without interruption, at being given such generous attentive space. It felt enormously healing to be so welcomed! There were moments in our conversation that what I thought about something became more clear to me simply because I was allowed to find the words that best said it. A part of myself grew. Such a rare gift they gave me. I treasure it perhaps because I also know what it’s like to not be seen or listened to, the sharp pain of rejection and abandonment.
Perhaps it was even more poignant against the backdrop of reflecting on The Immigrant’s Story immersion experience I have been posting about. All of the stories I heard that day were about people who are not seen, not listened to, not welcomed. Children, mothers, dads. Sisters, cousins, grandfathers. People with rich relationships just like mine but split apart from friends and family, from growing space.
This is Holy Week, when Christians remember the story of Jesus in the last days of his life. We see the extreme highs and ultimate lows that he experienced in just a week. It strikes me that he knows just what immigrants go through. First, because he was an immigrant himself, but also from being utterly misunderstood and treated like a criminal by his own people. Jesus knows what it’s like to be torn from friends and family, to be pushed through a “justice” system that is against him from the start. What I still can’t wrap my head around is that he allowed himself to be mistreated, even tortured and killed, in order to meet head on the worst that humanity could throw at him, all out of overwhelming love for that murderous broken humanity. He knew it was coming and didn’t hide. Jesus was so entirely grounded in God’s love for him and his own love for us that he could absorb and overcome even death itself. As if that weren’t mind-blowing enough, he said that anyone who claims to be his friend and follower is to do the same: love your enemy.
As I let the immersion experience teach me, it is clear that I am to learn what it means to follow Jesus by loving my enemies. Because I am a person of privilege, it is easy to think I don’t have any; there isn’t anyone I am actively fighting with, right? But what about my country’s enemies, those we treat as threats and try to keep out? What about the people I disagree with and would find convenient to blame for the immigration quandary we are in? How do I love those on both sides? How do I work towards peace– not an absence of conflict but a healed relationship? What does common ground look like?
The fourth and final speaker in my Immersion Day has experience in creative healing. Samuel Perez is a kind gentle man who is reducing trauma through gardening. He has helped countless children and adults to reconnect with the earth. He empowers them by teaching them about the soil and growing their own food. Samuel has seen the change that happens when a previously employed deportee rediscovers hope and self-sufficiency as his skills increase. My study group visited a home for abandoned children where Samuel has guided them to establish a flourishing organic vegetable garden. He has watched kids become less withdrawn and anxious as they learn to nurture tender growing things. As a gardener myself I know the joy that emanates from coaxing life from what appears dead. I know the patience and faith required, and often the need for study and adapting new lessons. Learning to be a peacemaker who loves enemies into healing may well require those same things of me.
I am grateful for taking part in The Immigrant’s Story immersion day. It was often heartbreaking, unsettling, frustrating, and provoked far more questions. I feel prompted to get involved somehow, to take next steps in learning to be a peacemaker. I have no idea what that looks like! But there was also a time that I didn’t know how to garden, or paddle a solo canoe, or speak a word of Spanish. I found mentors, studied, awkwardly tried a bunch of stuff. It is encouraging to know there are many others on this same path and we can learn from each other.