Friday, April 23, 2010

an oregon poem


as i laid down,
head cradled in hands,
your peaks and valleys
washed over me.
mountains beyond mountains
crowded in
behind my eyes
and i missed you
with all the longing
your native sons and daughters
might have felt.
but that is their story,
not mine,
and it has many more tears and
than this one.

regardless, we share those mountains
and those riverbeds.
their heart's land
is my heartland, too.

i remember standing,
arms outstretched,
on the top of a mountain,
with my feet planted firmly in snow
and my head lifted up to
the bright May sky.
i could search this world over,
and not find a better way of explaining
what roots me
and makes me grow.

there are no mountains here,
and, somehow,
it's beautiful anyways.
i don't want you to think i'm ungrateful.
but my children will not be flatlanders,
and my ancestors won't be gone from that place
for good.
i've only taken them with me here,
so i can bring them back again.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Part 2 of my Good Friday journey...(the REALLY honest part)

Part 2
after the walk, i was so overcome by emotion that i elected to head home instead of spending the rest of the beautiful day with my beautiful friends. but chrissy and i made plans to meet up a bit before Good Friday services.

as i mentioned before, i love Good Friday services. and, 2 years ago, after my mom died, i remember going to the service and just feeling, viscerally, what that liturgical celebration meant. i mean, how could we do other than gather together, with no pomp or circumstance, and just be sorrowful together? i was especially excited to experience Good Friday in this new Catholic community i'm part of. i usually leave Mass energized, enriched, and a little closer to God, so i knew my favorite liturgical celebration would be no exception.

little did i know.

the mass began in the usual Good Friday way - the cross was processed in by our priest, two altar servers, and a woman i recognized who was also dressed a bit like an altar server but older. as they approached the altar, our priest went to sit down in the pews, and this woman took her place on the altar. she was our presider for the night. i was at a liturgical celebration being led by a woman. and, you know what? the world didn't end. i wasn't smited. i didn't feel like any less of a Catholic. it was jarring - i was concerned that my priest would be punished for this, that people would come out of the woodwork to harass him, like i'd been harassed for even being friends who worked with people who attended a female ordination. last night, i realized that, even though i am no longer a paid employee of the Catholic Church, i still carry all the same prohibitions in my head. i still worry that a certain woman is out there, just waiting to write vicious things about me on her blog as soon as she determines i've stepped out of line, liturgically. and, you know what? i never really did during that time, but fat lot of good that did me. being persecuted for not taking liturgical risks or testing what i believe had a certain amount of value. now i'm really going to test it - i attended a Good Friday liturgy led by a woman who hopes to be ordained, and it was one of the most beautiful Good Friday services of my life. to hear jesus' voice as feminine was particularly moving. the homily's point - that we're all the same at the foot of the cross - was exactly what my weary, humiliated soul needed to hear after the many and intense feelings of the walk earlier. i was sitting amongst my favorite people, and i could tell how moved we all were. some of these folks have risked a lot to talk about their feelings on women's ordination - more than i ever risked while working for the church. and, while i still have a long way to go to figure out what i believe, now that i'm not the director of anything, it was the first time i finally addressed the fear i'd held on to from that job - fear of being judged, fear of doing or believing the "wrong" thing, fear that every time i question or don't understand, i'll be persecuted and called names for all to see. enough.

i started thinking about mom, like i always do on Good Friday now. i remember saying, in my thoughts, "MOM! there's a woman leading this service? aren't you just DYING right now?" she said, no, it happens all the time there. that was nice to think about...

i also started thinking about how much she would like (and perhaps be a little confused by) the life i live now. one thing she wanted was for me to finally end the tyranny of other people's opinions in my life. it just killed me that i wasn't able to show her how far i've come, how much this community and this life heals me and helps me take risks. that's one thing i miss the most, but, paradoxically, i don't know if it would have happened if she hadn't died. her death made me brave in a bitter way, but that's been transforming into a blessing day by day. i think she might have some part in that, even if i can't tell...

i was so overwhelmed with the feelings of the day, that i just wept. usually, i had to weep in public (unless it's over movies or Biggest Loser episodes). i read the entire funeral eulogy without crying. i didn't let anyone see me cry either of mom's death anniversaries. it makes me itchy and miserable and uncomfortable in my own skin. but, that's not a really honest way to live. and i was too tired to self-edit. and i'm tired of pretending not to be broken and questioning and confused when i am most of those things, especially this week. and, i don't know if it was the spirit of the day or having a woman leading things, but it felt just a little bit more okay to fall apart. so i did. and, once again, the world didn't end. i wasn't crying alone. i imagined that the apostles would have found it strange if anyone ever did make it through that day with dry eyes.

i don't know what to tell my friends back home about my experience Friday. even writing it out makes me realize how different my catholicism feels now than in the past. it feels more authentic, but also more challenging and probably less comfortable to people i know and love. it's sad to think about that right now.

but it's officially Easter. and we are ALL an Easter People living in a Good Friday world, as someone once said. I know now that the emotions of Good Friday, especially this one, are what make the Resurrection flower and what helps to strengthen us for the Savior's ascension, when we'll be once again alone, save the Holy Spirit. Jesus wouldn't really have lived enough if we didn't grieve his death with every fiber of our being, and try to find him everywhere we can. i'm grateful for a Good Friday that helped me see that truth...

Oh, Heart, What a Journey (Warning: INSANELY Honest Blogpost)

this Good Friday was unlike any other for me. it's always been my favorite liturgical celebration - i like things which are stripped bare - altars, crosses, souls. so i already knew that, in this community, my Good Friday would be meaningful. but the heights and depths that i reached last night broke me open, caused me to say goodbye to things i didn't realize i'd held tight, and made me realize that, despite the fact that many people i love won't love who i've become, i've come closer than ever before to the life i was meant to lead.

part one
last week, i decided to participate in the 8th Day Center for Justice's Good Friday Walk for Justice. I joined friends whose passion for ending torture i really admire. Earlier this week, we gathered together to plan out the station we'd be doing. i'd felt led to volunteer as an actor, but when we were initially claiming parts, i got scared. i volunteered to read - something i'm comfortable with, something that wouldn't require much from me. but thank goodness my wonderful roomie keeps me accountable. she reminded me that that wasn't what i'd said i wanted to do. what i wanted to do was don a jumpsuit and a hood and, for a little bit, inhabit the story of a man who died too early from "suicide" at Guantanamo Bay Prison. so, i braved up and stepped into that jumpsuit and listened to the story of Salah Ahmed Al-Salami. Even though we were just practicing, the combination of listening to Salah's story and, simultaneously, being forced to kneel, then rise up, then lie down - never in charge of my movements, never fully sure of what i was seeing through the black cloth - scared me and moved me even more than i expected. i knew the day of the walk would be even more intense. i was right.

yesterday, we met at st. gert's to pray before riding the L train down to Congress & Michigan for the start of the Walk for Justice. We read one of my very favorite new poems - "O Prison Darkness," written by Abdulaziz, a prisoner in Guantanamo. During the ride, i sat and looked out the window and tried to fight my rising panic and sadness. i had no idea what today would be like and i couldn't imagine being the center of attention for so long. i don't like being stared at. it's not humility, really, just cripplingly low self-esteem. and i'd just agreed to wear a jumpsuit and hood not only during our performance, but during the entire 3 hour walk down the streets of Chicago around lunchtime on a Friday. that's a LOT of people to stare at me. but, then, thankfully, i remembered that the march wasn't about me at all. i mulled over the little i knew about the story of Salah Ahmed Al-Salami. it's heartbreaking, really, and it's so much more important than my ridiculous, petty fears.

The few of us who were donning jumpsuits gathered to pray and to remember what we were representing-men whose lives have systematically destroyed by the War on Terror, many of whom never committed a crime and were arrested because of tribal infighting, the lure of bounties, or confusion. some of them died early. all of them have scars. it began to be a scary privilege to carry their stories into the streets. we walked to a number of places representing stations, led by some really beautiful organizations - labor organizers, women in prison, indigenous rights groups.

at one location, i came face to face with what a weak christian i can be. this location was an open-air plaza with a small portion reserved for al fresco dining at a relatively fancy restaurant. our line of "prisoners" positioned ourselves near the boundary of this dining area and prepared to participate in the stations. almost as soon as folks began to sing "Wade in the Water", the waitstaff of this restaurant called the police to complain about noise violations (keep in mind, police were already escorting our group). in addition, several tables began jeering. "Shut up!" they yelled. "Nobody gives a shit." Here we were - 500 nonviolent activists, re-enacting the Passion of Christ, and there was jeering and name calling already. But, instead of feeling righteous or grateful for an opportunity to be a disciple, i felt humiliated and ashamed and some amount of guilt for ruining a rich person's lunch. which then made me feel more humiliated. if that's even a little of how Peter felt betraying Jesus, i wonder how he didn't just burst into tears. i definitely did (thankfully, the hood hid that fact). it's a horrifying thing to face how truly weak i am in the face of opposition and conflict, especially in light of the fact that i belong to a community filled with some of the strongest, bravest Christians i've ever met.
before i knew it, it was our station. i lined up behind one of our "jailers" - the whole time we were processing, i had members of our community beside me, making sure i knew where to step, offering me water, and generally making sure we were okay and safe. but walking alone to the front of the crowd, i kept mulling (as i had the whole walk) that Salah Ahmed Al-Salami had no one like that. this hood was meant to keep him from knowing what was coming next. would he be left alone? would dogs come? would he be forced to kneel and rise up and lie down, without anyone to comfort him?

for those who never heard this story, here's a relatively balanced story from BBC News. please know that what this story does not say is that these men's bodies were returned in pieces, with various body parts missing. Salah Ahmed Al-Salami was a devout Muslim. He'd memorized the whole Q'oran. What depths of misery would prompt a man of such deep faith to kill himself? We know he was one of the prisoners to take part in some of the political food fasts which ended in brutal forced-feeding by Guantanamo Bay staff. there's reason to believe he had a lawyer but had not received clearance to see him and plead his case. it's thought that he was in Pakistan not for jihad, but plead for the release of his cousin who was detained there. there's been accusations, after an in-depth investigation, that the death of these 3 men was actually accidental manslaughter after a particularly intense torture session. either way, the brutality and aloneness of Salah Ahmed Al-Salami was on my heart as I took my place in front of the gathered crowd. As rehearsed, two women pushed me to my knees, then grabbed my arms and led me around the circle and forced me into the stress position. these women are my friends but, for a second, i was frightened and filled with distress. i prayed for Salah, whose jailers were not his friends, whose death was not a play. i laid down on the ground to simulate Salah's death. i was covered with a sheet and i shut my eyes and prayed for the repose of Salah's soul. I prayed that the God of all Abraham's people watch over him and guide him home. I prayed that he see what we were doing in the light that we meant - that we were trying to keep alive his story.

i was carried off by 6 "pallbearers". Salah never got that, either. he was shipped home in pieces. his father refuses to believe a man of such faith would commit suicide and he refuses to bury Salah until an independent autopsy confirms that he committed suicide. imagine the grief that family must feel. whether or not he was a terrorist, whether he committed suicide or was accidentally tortured to death, the pain that family feels is immense and it is real.