Yes, Erik and I have been pretty quiet since Election Day. We’ve been processing.
Under ordinary circumstances we try to keep our personal political and religious opinions off the blog because we like to think of Root Simple as a big tent where all sorts of people can come together around common ground. Also, partisan discussions online lead immediately to unproductive spates of bickering and trolling.
But this time, it’s different. This time, silence seems the greater crime.
This is a hard post to write. I keep ranting, then deleting.
Okay. New plan. Let me tell you a story.
Last Friday a small group of people from my church, St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral, stood outside the Islamic Center of Southern California and greeted the people arriving for their afternoon prayers with signs reading,”We Support Our Muslim Brothers and Sisters.”
As I stood there, I watched the same thing happen over and over again. As people approached the building they’d hesitate briefly at the sight of us, afraid of what was waiting on the steps of their mosque, but then they’d see our smiles, or read our signs, and realize we were friendly, that we were actually standing in solidarity with them. Then their faces would light up and they would smile big brilliant smiles. They came over and shook our hands and thanked us. Many wept. I wept. We touched our hearts and saluted one another. I am weeping again as I write this, just remembering.
The Islamic Center is a big place, and it serves people of many ages, colors, classes and ethnicities. I cannot count how many hands I shook, how many times I was blessed and I, in turn, blessed others. My heart is still buoyed on the love I felt that day.
And as we stood there, slowly, our group began to grow. A bunch of students and a couple of rabbis from the local Rabbinical school joined us. A woman who honked her support for us while driving by said to herself, “You know, if I spot a parking place, I will take that as a sign that I should do more than honk–I should stop and join them.” And lo! The parking place did materialize, and she came and stood by my side. She told me stories of protesting in the 60’s. A shy young woman arrived bearing a bowl of grapes and pomegranates. She had no idea what why we were all there–she’d just stopped by to give the mosque some fruit and a letter saying she was so very sorry for all the ugliness, but she joined us too. And so it went, and so our group swelled.
This being the modern world, after the handshakes and tears, we all took to social media to share the event with our friends. I have never been photographed so often! This little action may not have been a big splash in the news, but I know that our images went all over world. “Wave hello to England!” one man shouted as he took a video.
As I stood there, I remembered a Christmas Eve night in San Diego many years ago, perhaps my favorite Christmas Eve ever. For some reason Erik and I had the night off–we weren’t traveling or at a relative’s house. We decided on the spur of the moment to join a candlelight vigil at the Mexican border. My memory is fuzzy now, but I’m pretty sure it was sponsored by The Catholic Worker. We carried stubs of candles and sang songs and heard recited all the names of those who had died trying to cross the border that year. But mostly we talked to the people on the other side of the fence. Or, because sometimes we could not speak, we touched hands through the bars, or just looked at one another–really looked, for a change. In one another we saw reflected our own sacred humanity, as we did at the mosque last week. And yes, we wept that night as well.
We need to do more weeping like that, weeping within the space of community, because it softens our hearts. We need to spend more time with people who are not like us in heart opening situations –because when we do, we realize that we are, in fact, very much alike in all the ways that matter, and our best state of being is that of being in love.
When we discuss spirit, the sacred, the holy, God, whatever you want to call it, oftentimes we make an upward gesture, as if all that is sacred hovers above us, just out of reach. This week I’ve realized it should be horizontal gesture. The sacred travels in a straight, horizontal line from heart to heart, from eye to eye. It is always with us. It binds us all together.
Peace to you all.
n.b. I realize I should note that St. John’s did not descend on the Islamic Center out of the blue. We already have a good relationship with them, due in no small part to the efforts of the marvelous Guibord Center to promote interfaith friendship and understanding. If you live in the Los Angeles area and are interested in learning more about the great world faiths, including Islam, you should attend their free lectures. They also have collected notes and videos online for continued learning.