We meet the 1st and 3rd Thursdays at St. Gertrude's Ministry Center
(6214 N. Glenwood), beginning at 8:00 p.m. Folks are welcome to join us at anytime.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Kai-ros, what is that again?

L’Odyssēe d’Astērix is a child’s tale, an adventure story and a graphic novel that portrays in one character, Obélix, a simple-minded man of superhuman strength. His gift to his companion Astērix is this strength, useful in their odyssey especially when they must quell strife in Egypt and escape with their well-being intact. The quick thinking and superior speed of Astērix combines with the power of Obélix to carry away the day, so to speak—these are the heroes after all.

A tale like this reminds us of the virtues of teamwork even when we possess as individuals gifts of extraordinary measure. It serves us during Advent as a further reminder. We might forget during the ordinary calendar year of the true measure of our lives, for instance. As opposed to chronos, when we turn our attention to the lessons of Advent and our mind expects kairos, this means we look forward to the inbreaking presence of God in our lives. The extraordinary measure of our lives as Christians ultimately is the sacred, that which we most treasure: Christ. So Advent means looking up from our lives to the Christ, that measure of God we do know. It means considering the extraordinary gift that God has offered us and it means to acknowledge how, like in L’Odyssēe d’Astērix, we could only have arrived in this present moment through the mysterious and powerful effort of Christ.

Visualization: A Start for an Advent Meditation

Let’s imagine that we’re seated in a comfortable room and the atmosphere given by dim lights and candles have subdued our hurried minds, our breath has slowed, softened, and each of us with our pose settled, relaxed, has begun to consider an imaginary landscape. We have closed our eyes. Cold sand massages our feet and a lake’s wave reaches up to our toes. Our inner eyes spread upon the lake’s horizon along the front of dark green pines on the lake’s far shore. The distant panorama of green stretches up to our left into a peak until past the timber line the brittle earth emerges to point at the sun. It floats above in a cloudless sky. The suns rays warm us through our t-shirt and jeans. The mildest breeze softly brushes our hair. We feel safe and calm at the water’s edge. As we look toward the sky with our eyes closed, we can feel its warmth almost inviting us upward off our feet, but the invitation is unexpected: really? Could we really float upward and into the sky? Oh, but we want to. We wish the sun could envelop us in its safe round rays. We would even like to dissolve into the light, and just be totally radiant for awhile.

I would like to imagine now that we have a shawl wrapped around us. It is ragged from age and smells of mothballs. It hangs heavily on our shoulders. It feels a little moist, damp at one corner where it must have accidentally dragged in the water as we waded along the shore. As we contemplate the sun, we could almost feel ourselves lifted; but for the weight of the shawl we would have. Something about this shawl is holding us back. What is it? How can we name it and let it loose, just let it go? Then we could be free! We could float!

Why continue this meditation? Because our loved ones are waiting for us to let go. In Advent we might recognize what holds us back from catching up with our Sunlight, our loved ones. If we are the Christ the world needs now, and our witness remains to be seen, then what is the obstacle, the weighty shawl, that we burden ourselves with?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Lights

Each of the bodies was solemn beneath the light. Two lay on the foot wide benches curled on their sides, a third lay on the cell floor and on this prisoner the light reflected least. The features of this newcomer held on to the light they received from overhead. His eyelids were unconcerned by time and his involuntary posture was limp and his mouth paused ajar. His jaw met squarely at the chin. His voice lay dormant in the darkness of that cave but the pink tongue lacquered the edge of one lip and liberated a streak of saliva. His eyelids fidgeted first, then his tongue retracted. Finally from somewhere deep within him the bow of his abdomen expanded.

He had said, “It’s jail. There’s nothing to do but sleep.”

A sound stirred from the deep; it could have been a vacuum. Dry air rushed over the tongue and past the tonsils, the larynx, and into the furthest pockets of his lungs. It was held there, the air separated from itself, unaware of a movement outside itself, self-absorbed, and it seemed like seventy seven hours of unforgiveness. It became surreal, this subdivision of itself, for inside the sacks that had pocketed the air, it seemed as if little arms reached from the surrounding dark arresting the breath and demanding that it relinquish the luggage it carried, the oxygen had to be given over. These little red Gestapo cells were already ferrying away the boldest of the breath along crammed little flotillas or little train carts destined into the farthest corners of darkness. Few oxygen escaped this scrutiny or the fate within these detention centers.

To all appearances these bodies were inert and still they held hostage the gases invisible about them. Their tongues grew dry from the depleted, stale air, and yet in oblivion they knew nothing of the ongoing deportation that they were complicit in. If they would have any suspicions of guilt later it would come in the faintest flicker of conscience, for they would notice the parched roof of their mouths and want to wet their voices before they could talk again. However, before they could be aware of this even, the strangeness of their bodies would question their sleepiness in the face of the light. When they awoke this would override all other anomalies, the steadfastness of the walls, the ceiling, the cement all around them. Such was long ago decided, made permanent. But more obvious would be the unnaturalness of the lights, forever unblinking false daylight at them, soaking the irises of their eyes and bleaching out their unconsciouness.

Hens in mass egg production get treated this way. In the wild a hen will only begin to lay eggs in spring but agribusiness solved the nature dilemma by imitating the seasons to trick the hens to lay more eggs. First the caged, warehoused hens are fed large quantities of protein. Then, in emulation of winter, the lights of the warehouse are dimmed and the hens are fed nothing for two weeks. Next, the hens resumed regular feeding and the lights are now on twenty-four hours a day. Its biological process manipulated, the hen now begins to produce eggs.

Be the Magi you wish for

“We are not fighting for integration, nor are we fighting for separation. We are fighting for recognition as human beings.” Malcom X spoke these words in New York City on April 8th, 1964 and I hear him speaking to me today. Only a few days ago on my way home from Georgia I stopped in Nashville during a four hour Greyhound layover. I wandered up capitol hill where I stood perched on the high ground overlooking the occupy movement in Legislative Plaza. The stone marker before me bore a plaque in memoriam to the horrors of the middle passage. It recounted the woe of a hundred million captured Africans bound below decks by the hundreds. Half died during the voyage, couped up, flesh rotting in chains, stricken by disease and perishing of famine.

Grounds for Empathy

My vantage point was increased having come up from Tyrell County, Georgia where I was jailed for resisting immigrant detention and deportation, held on charges of criminal trespass at Stewart Detention Center, our nation’s largest immigration detention center. Anton Flores, lead organizer for the rally and march on SDC and former prisoner of conscience, bailed me out after three days. On our drive to his home he repeated a radio announcer’s description, saying, “Tyrell County, if you remember, was known during the civil rights era as ‘Terrible Tyrell’ for its flagrant racist hate.”

It struck me there on capitol hill that this monument stood also for the brothers today facing deportation, the mothers and daughters separated, and it stood also for the cause to question all imprisonment. Because peoples imprisoned today remain subjects of sale. Under the 13th amendment to the Constitution prisoners are property of the government. I personally experienced forced labor earlier this year and couldn’t in conscience tolerate it.

A Flashback

Why are they doing this to us, I asked. We were on “Con Air” making passage from Oklahoma to various parts of the country. I was destined for Seattle, though I didn’t know it, and was separated with others when we landed in Las Vegas. It was a Friday morning. Rather than continue the journey we had stopped and now a party of us were given into the custody of Pahrump County Detention Center run by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). On Tuesday the journey resumed, but not after the CCA, a privately owned company with public shares sold on the stock market, had booked us and included us on their list showing the Congress why they should be allocated so many funds a year in contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Hallucinagenic really, the bright lights of experience, and I couldn’t believe the trip I was on.

But standing remote now and in possession of my rights of citizen on that prominent ground, I saw the Occupy movement down below with eyes of hope. After all it is the gift of this movement that awakens so many of us to the possibility that comes with our unified and resolute no to the profit schemes subjugating the 99%. NO! to the violation of our positive values, our hopes and dreams for true democracy.

The timing of an insight is sometimes everything.

It was the week of Thanksgiving, of Black Friday and as I write this—Sabbath for the first Sunday of Advent. The plaque before me suggested a revision of my sense of history. If we could all surrender our sense of context once again to re-vision the middle passage’s closing chapter in 1865 to four hundred years man on man profit-making. If this Advent the coming of Christ we look for in and through our stand with the Occupy movement could be another memorial, another closing chapter remembered by future generations. The question is if we will have anything to do with it. Some will make new years resolutions and still be handed a rewards card from the Marriot that reads “Welcome Back Elite Member”. Others will place themselves into the Gospel and renew their understanding of history, and will see the road tread by Jesus to Jerusalem. Given the perspective one will see a capitol hill and another, the mound of Golgotha.

Meanwhile, Advent to Kairos Chicago...

It is a time of preparation for our fast and witness against torture. If we have a task this advent it begins in revisioning ourselves significant, powerful witnesses. I think of us as the journeying Magi bearing gifts for the Christ child. If we preach the cross even now it shouldn’t be surprising, for even Frankincense, used to prepare a corpse for the tomb, was a royal gift. Look to the Frankincense of your experience then, fellow travelers, and renew a commitment to a belief in redemptive suffering.

We must follow the guiding lights of nonviolence, always, though they lead us to Nazareth and all tell us “What good ever came out of Nazareth?” or what good does fasting do, or civil disobedience, or occupying a street corner? As Malcom X came to realize, ordinary human beings would have to act with boldness on behalf of unrecognized dehumanized beings: “It is a time for martyrs now, and if I am to be one, it will be for the cause of brotherhood. That’s the only thing that can save this country.” New York City, 19 February 1965