But it dawned on me yesterday that, no matter how upset we Americans may be over all the political name-calling, insults, and verbal battles we witnessed, America is still the home of the free. A place where most of us can live in peace and without fear of our lives ending suddenly. A place where we may have political struggles, but they don't degenerate into violent war.
This insight dawned on me when my friend Margaret called with a horrendous story. Margaret, who is white, has chosen to work with and minister to the many African refugees who have settled in her East Side inner city parish. She received a phone call from a woman, Marie, who is originally from the Congo; Marie was a tearful, emotional wreck. She had received a video on her cell phone from her niece who had still lived in a small village in the Congo - until it was attacked by one of the dozens of small tribes that live there in uneasy peace and often, outright hostility. Marie's niece shot the video as she was literally fleeing for her life!
The video documented the atrocities happening all around her. Murders. Blood. Voices screaming in pain and outrage. Death cries. Marie's niece had since called to let her Aunt know that she was safe. But the horrendous video still existed, a graphic portrayal and reminder of blind, murderous human violence.
Margaret picked up a still-shaken Marie and viewed the video with her so that she could share her pain. Friends of Marie's, a Sudanese family, were sympathetc, but unable to watch it with her because it brought back too many disturbing memories of the violence that they'd endured in their country. Margaret told her Pastor, Fr. Roy, about Marie's suffering and her niece's ordeal, and he announced it at Mass that weekend.
The wonderful thing about small Churches is that the people know each other and support each other. After Mass, many parishioners surrounded Marie to give her hugs and words of comfort and support. How wonderful when a Church community follows St. Paul's words to "weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice!" Black African Marie was surrounded and hugged by other Africans, African Americans, Anglos, and Puerto Ricans, hugged by arms of various hues but one love.
Hearing this part of Margaret's story, another insight dawned on me. No matter how far-flung nations are, we still are one people - God's people. We can weep for Africans as they are being murdered. We can comfort people, refugees, who come from across the globe and suffered and are suffering hell, and, in so doing, give them a taste of God's love and light to help them endure. As God's people we are one people, and we, the little people, are the ones who, one by one, help to mend our shattered globe with the glue of love.
How often do we have an experience, or hear a story, and some spiritual insight dawns on us? When this happens, Jesus, who lives in our souls, is flooding us with the light of his radiant wisdom and love. It reminds me of these words:
"Your light will come, Jerusalem, the Lord will dawn on you in radiant beauty. You will see his glory within you."
And these words -
"In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace."
Jesus, the Light of the World, the Dawn from on high who breaks upon us, dawns slowly in our hearts in radiant beauty during our entire lives. Jesus the Light of the World gives us a dawning realization that only he can remove the darkness of our spiritual blindness. Only he can truly set us free from the prejudices, the inner hostilities, the debilitating fears that keep us in the shackles of spiritual death. Only he can make us so free that we live in the inner peace of accepting love.
Jesus dawns in our hearts to give us inner freedom. He frees us from the spiritual blindness that sees human beings as separate when in spiritual truth we are united in, with, and through Christ. Our small self sees only ourselves; our whole self sees everyone and everything united with us. Jesus dawns in our hearts to free us from the spiritual blindness and fear that prevent us from taking responsibility, from seeing that yes, each of us is one person, but who we are is necessary to bind up the world's wounds - one by one.
Slowly Jesus dawns in our hearts so that we finally see the Light! Finally we come to understand how to see his glory within us. We see his glory when we see that we are alight and on fire with his love! And we are born to share his love. Through compassionately listening to someone's painful story. Through hugs at Church. Through welcoming the new family in our neighborhood. Through socks and mittens and toys and coats donated to the poor who often live in places here in the U.S. where their lives can be snuffed out by senseless violence, any time of the day or night: the city poor; the rural poor; the poor on reservations; the working poor; the middle class poor. Through offering love and understanding to the rich who are poor because they sometimes have few to listen to them tell about the tragedies in their lives.
When Jesus dawns in our hearts, we have the dawning realization that nothing can separate me from others but my own fear of crossing out of my comfort zone. I can befriend a gay teenager who weeps because he feels isolated and alone. I can help the addict picking up food in the Church Food Pantry. I can sit and hold the hand of the woman who is bipolar and in a state of deep depression. I can listen to a white police officer vent because he feels underappreciated and in danger of someone taking a shot at him on a domestic violence call. Then I can listen to an African American grandmother vent because her crime-ridden neighborhood is a little Baghdad and she worries about her "grands" getting shot.
I can share the psalms and God's love with a Jewish friend who prays the psalms. I can console a Muslim friend who's lost a spouse. I can weep and pray and beg God's forgiveness for the way we humans have polluted the depths of the earth which He holds in his hands, and the mountains as well, and the sea, which He made - for it all belongs to Him! I can do all these things in him - Jesus - who strengthens me!
Fr. Richard Rohr tells us that when we look within ourselves prayerfully, contemplatively, we will find the risen Christ, aglow in our hearts. Christ gives us his eyes to see with so that we see with our blinders off. We discover this -
"My life is not about me; it is about God, and God is about love. When we don't know love, when we experience only the insecurity and fragility of the small self, we become restless, violent, and hateful.... But in contemplation we move to a different space where we see the illusion of separateness....
"The older we get, the more we've been betrayed, hurt, and disappointed (and this is 'part of the deal,' according to the Buddha!) ; most of us learn to put up many barriers and resistances to love without even knowing it. This is why the healing work of spiritual practices is so necessary.
"Notice how most of Jesus' ministry is about healing people....Notice also how many of those healings have to do with blindness, chosen blindness, the gradual healing of blindness, and the distorted worldviews that come from chosen blindness. Why? Because the contemplative mind is able to see fully and freely, which is to be healed of its hurts, unforgiveness, and agendas which always get in the way."
Fr. Rohr reminds us "Most people do not see things as they ARE because they see things as THEY are."
IS JESUS SLOWLY DAWNING IN YOUR HEART, BLIND-SIDING YOU WITH THE LIGHT OF BEAUTIFUL INSIGHTS? Is Jesus gradually illuminating all the dark corners of your soul and slowly healing you of your fears, your insecurities, your prejudices, your pre-conceived ideas about people? If so, then you are slowly seeing his glory within you! You will be able to see his star shining in the east on Christmas Day. Because Jesus' glorious light shining within you will have made you a Christmas star for many of God's people!