But also, because of our short memories, we have to remind ourselves every day that EVERY ONE is a thought of God, a heartbeat of God, who matters to God in his or her complete individuality. Because the human race collectively has short term memory loss. We don't want to remember that the groups we currently consider the outsiders are thoughts of God, heartbeats of God. Every day, every one of us needs to mindfully, prayerfully, re-count the heartbeats of God for ourselves, to recognize the ones whom our own society considers less than human. Because every time we as individuals or as a society de-value a group as less than human, we cause a new splintering of God's community, the Body of Christ. We reinforce our own loneliness and alienation.
How do we do this? We don't listen to the outsiders' voices. Their words become babble in our ears. Funny thing about the word "babble" - it's derived from the word "babel" as it is used in the ancient tale in Genesis about the Tower of Babel. Originally, according to this story, the whole earth had one language and few words. Then this primal harmony is broken by sin: a certain town decides to build a tower with a top that reaches up to the heavens so they can make a name for themselves. However, God intervenes before they can complete this project. He confuses their language so that they can no longer understand each other. They begin to speak other languages, no longer understandable to each other, and scatter to the far corners of the earth.
Now this is not a myth to explain the origin of the different languages of earth. Instead, as Fr. Ronald Rolheiser points out, "it is an attempt to explain both the theological and psychological reason for the divisions within our world
and the alienation we experience from each other....This is a keenly penetrating analysis of one of the causes of human loneliness.... The people build it not primarily because they want to challenge God and display their arrogance, but because they want to impress others - 'let us make a name for ourselves.' The real evil is not that the people of this town are defying the power of God, but that they are refusing to be vulnerable before others, building instead an edifice meant to impress them. Alienation results because human beings speak the same language only when they appear to each other as they really are, vulnerable, without impressively constructed towers. Vulnerability is that space within which human beings can truly meet each other and speak the same language. Sin and pride serve to destroy this space and drive us away from each other, leaving us to babble in our own language as we scatter to our respective corners of the earth." (from Rolheiser's "The Restless Heart.")
Rolheiser goes on to challenge each of us. Each of us "is attempting to construct our own impressive tower, and then wondering why nobody seems to understand the language we are speaking. We refuse to be who we are, purely and simply....We go through life refusing to be vulnerable." In other words, to protect ourselves, or even to push for being liked, we can try to impress others with our lists of accomplishments, our degrees, even proudly proclaiming the names of the groups we belong to. We are attempting to impress others or get them to like us, but we're not really communicating. We're not revealing who we really are, vulnerable human beings like them. We're babbling. We build our towers so high that we are psychologically and spiritually too far away to hear the Divine heartbeats of the person in front of us.
When a boy of around eight - since he was a slave in the South and didn't know his own birthday - Frederick Douglass at first liked his new mistress, in Baltimore, Sophie Ault. She seemed to see him as a human person because, for the first time in his life he saw a white person beaming towards him with kindly emotions. Wonder of wonders, she even gave him a pair of new trousers. But, then, Sophie Ault had never owned a slave before. She'd never been taught to dehumanize another human being and in the process undergo the dehumanizing effect of being a slaveholder.
Sophie even began to teach the young Frederick how to read. Until her husband found out. He proceeded to instruct her that it was unlawful as well as unsafe to teach a slave to read. Unsafe? Sophie's husband explained to her "A nigger should know nothing but how to obey his master - to do as he is told. Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world, it would make him discontented and unhappy. If you teach that nigger how to read, there would be no keeping him." The final result of "learning" would be that the black slaves would revolt and either run away to freedom or work to enslave their white masters.
Before Frederick's eyes, Sophie began to change, to keep a compulsive, fearful eye on him to prevent him from even picking up a newspaper. It was a painful experience for the boy. But, ironically, his master's and mistress's attitudes gave him the pathway to freedom: knowledge, reading and writing. "I now understood," he says, " what had been too me a most perplexing difficulty,
- to wit, the white man's power to enslave the black man." Now, what his master and mistress most dreaded, he most desired. Douglass forever after considered this experience the Act of Divine Providence. Secretly he found ways to teach himself to read and to write, many years later escaped to freedom, and became one of the most articulate spokespersons across the country for the abolition of slavery and the right of the African American to vote. Later, he spoke out for women's suffrage, seeing them as another group of outsiders deprived of an education and a right to vote.
How tragic that Sophie, beginning to hear the Divine heartbeats of the boy in front of her, was instructed by her husband to ascend the Tower of Slaveholder, to climb so high into that protective tower that she could no longer speak the same language as that hurting and hungry- for- knowledge child. It's no accident that in certain countries in the world today, girls and women are prevented by Law from learning how to read and write lest they discover the pathway to inner and outer freedom, the pathway to recognizing in themselves and in their society that they are human beings with divine heartbeats! How tragic that still in some churches there are Laws to prevent women's full participation as persons with Divine heartbeats and gifts.
How often we climb up into the Tower of the Law to keep ourselves far away from hearing and counting the Divine heartbeats of the people around us!
It is legal to deport illegals, so we do not stop to listen to their individual thoughts, their individual stories - their words are babble in our ears. It is legal to execute prisoners on Death Row - so we refuse to believe that these outsiders too matter to God in their complete individuality.
So often when a certain attitude towards a certain group of people becomes enshrined as the "Law," it becomes all right in people's minds to discriminate against them or view them as being less than human. I can well understand some of my friends' fears about making abortion illegal and going back to the coat hanger days and the fear of women being thrown into prison for having an abortion regardless of their personal stories. But - when a woman is taught the biological lie that the unborn child is no more than a part of her body, and is not given support by others to give birth to a child and take care of him or her, when she is given this tower of escape to climb into, she can no longer hear the Divine heartbeats of her own child. She has been alienated from the priceless gift of her own motherhood. "Can a mother forget her child?" God says. "Even if she should forget, I will not forget you." Today, women are even aborting their children because they happen to be the "wrong" sex.
In all of these cases, we need a change of heart! A softening of our hearts!
Fr. James Martin, S.J., speaks of ways in which we can come down from our self-built protective towers and begin truly listen to each others' stories instead of hearing them as senseless babble. He uses the words "respect, compassion, and sensitivity." In one particular case, he speaks of the relationship between the L.G.B.T community and the institutional church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that Catholics are called to treat lesbian and gay catholics with "respect, compassion, and sensitivity." In an article for the May 29 issue of "America" magazine, entitled "We Need to Build A Bridge Between the L.G.B.T. Community and the Catholic Church," he says
"First, respect means, at the very least, recognizing that the L.G.B.T. community exists, as any community would want its existence recognized. It also means acknowledging that the L.G.B.T. community brings unique gifts to the church, as every community does....
"Second, respect means calling a group what it asks to be called....Names are important. Thus, church leaders are invited to be attentive to how they name the L.G.B.T. community and lay to rest phrases like 'afflicted with same-sex attraction,' which no L.G.B.T. person I know uses, and even 'homosexual person,' which seems overly clinical to many. I'm not prescribing what names to use, though 'gay and lesbian,' 'L.G.B.T.' and 'L.G.B.T.Q' are the most common. I'm saying that people have a right to name themselves. Using those names is part of respect. And Pope Francis can use the word 'gay', so can the rest of the church.
"Finally, respecting L.G.B.T. people means accepting them as beloved children of God and letting them know that they are beloved children of God. The church has a special call to proclaim God's love for a people who are often made to feel like damaged goods, unworthy of ministry and even sub-human, whether by their families, neighbors, or religious leaders. The church is invited to both proclaim and demonstrate that L.G.B.T. people are beloved children of God.
"Moreover," Fr. Martin continues, "L.G.B.T. people are beloved children of God with gifts - both as individuals and as a community. These gifts build up the church in unique ways, as St, Paul told us when he compared the people of God to a human body ( 1 Corinthians 12: 14-27). Every body part is important: the hand, the eye, the foot. Just consider the gifts brought by L.G.B.T. Catholics who work in parishes, schools, chanceries, retreat centers, hospitals, and social service agencies. Here's an example from my life: Some of the most gifted music ministers I have known in my almost thirty years as a Jesuit have been gay men, who have brought tremendous joy to their parishes. And they themselves are among the most joyful people I know in the church."
Each of us is a thought of God, a heartbeat of God, who matters to God in our own completely unique individuality. The temptation to sin which afflicts all of us is the temptation to view others through "selective" lenses which judge others from a very limited perspective: their skin color, social class, disability, sexual orientation, religion, nationality, sex, legal or illegal status, the language they speak, whether they are born or unborn, behind bars, or "outside;" we judge others by their circumstances: whether they're on Medicaid or use food stamps or endure a mental illness or need government assistance.
We don't listen to the individual's story; in our minds, we've filled out a chart on each one and decided if they are Americans or not, if they are sinful or "pure," if they should even live or die. We don't really look at the outsiders; we don't see their capacity for love, their hopes and dreams, their reaching out for God and for support to become who they can fully become.
It's time to come down from our self-made towers so we hear voices as communication instead of babble. It's time to come down from our towers so we can start counting divine heartbeats. For, as we do to the least of God's children, we do unto Him. If only we would accept every outsider as an insider, we would mend and heal the very Body of Christ, the People of God; we would end our loneliness and alienation and finally, finally, understand the incredible joy and fullness of Divine Love.