Prayer for Justice

Prayer: 

God of justice and mercy, we ask your blessing upon those trapped by the world’s sin

For those who live in the terror of war …

Place peace in the hearts of those carrying out violence

For those who live shackled and trafficked …

Grow mercy in the hearts of those who hold them captive

For those who bear the weight of poverty …

Create generosity in the hearts of those who can help bear the weight

For those whose life and livelihood are affected by our changing climate …

Place prudence in the hearts of those in positions of power

For those who continue to be pushed to the margins of society – the elderly, immigrants, addicted …

Grow compassion in the hearts of those who might welcome them into its center

And for all of us, grant the strength to continue working for justice in this world and the faith to believe in the justice of the world yet to come.

Amen.

Chasusa.org Feb 2016

Walking Toward God

What is the connection between walking and meditation, walking and prayer? Meditation and prayer require our mind, souls, and bodies to work together in order to bear fruit. Walking requires that our eyes and ears be open.

In The Long Loneliness, Dorothy describes her time living on Statin Island. She says, “I found myself praying, praying with thanksgiving, praying with open eyes while I watched the workers on the beach and the sunset, and listened to the sound of the waves and the scream of snowy gulls.”

“We can train ourselves to walk with reverence. Wherever we walk, whether it’s the railway station or the supermarket, we are walking on the earth and so we are in a holy sanctuary. If we remember to walk like that, we can be nourished and find solidity with each step.”

Thich Nhat Hanh, “Shambhala Sun”, August 6, 2012

 

Judge the Power of Prayer by the Reaction It Gets from the Powerful

Lessons from Standing Rock

“We certainly need to pray for courage these days. ‘Dear God, please deliver me from the fear of my enemies.’”  Dorothy Day 1970

Why talk about such inconsequential subjects as prayer in the time of hatred and irrationality?  We don’t have time for that.

The Standing Rock Water Protectors called on prayer as their foundation to protect their lands and our waters. People responded to their prayer: indigenous people from Hawaii, Australia, Canada, Congo, the Arctic, the Caribbean. Not only indigenous people,people of all backgrounds responded.

And government forces attacked. Again and again and again.

This is not the first time prayer had been attacked by government forces:

Aaron Mair recounts the government reaction to the Sioux Ghost Dance 1890. He relates that

The ‘Ghost Dance’ (Nanissáanah), a religious and spiritual resistance of prayer and dance was practiced by the Sioux Nation in 1890 to enlist the spirits of the dead to fight on their behalf, to make the white colonists leave, and to bring peace, prosperity, and unity to Native peoples throughout the region. Alarmed by the Ghost Dance, the United States government and local authorities sent in thousands of troops to violently put down this peaceful protest and sought the arrest Sitting Bull, who was believed to be one of the spiritual resistance leaders. The unarmed Sitting Bull was shot and killed when the attempt was made to arrest him.

Sierra Club 2016

Judge the power of prayer by the reaction it gets from the powerful.

An Embarrassing Hero

I saw Dorothy Day at a Mass one afternoon. She sat in a front pew with her head bowed in prayer. I had the same contradictory reaction to her that I do now, forty years later.

Her uncompromising belief in pacifism inspired everyone I worked with in the Catholic Left, activists who worked for the end of the American War in Vietnam, and for a shift in America’s attitude toward war. She is best known for her work with desperately poor people, opening Houses of Hospitality to feed and house the most marginalized in Depression America, and after. She constantly confronted the Catholic hierarchy in their neglect of the Christian message of social justice. Her stand for pacifism was absolute. Christians, she said, had no other choice.

That afternoon, what I saw in her bowed head was a piety and submission to authority that made me cringe. She once said that if the Cardinal told her to stop printing her Catholic Worker newspaper, she’d shut it down immediately. The idea of totally obedient and will-less devotion to a religious authority is a destructive medieval hold-over. It is an infantile approach to church. She was devoted to that obedience.

However, to categorize Dorothy Day as totally obedient or will-less or infantile verges on the ridiculous, and counter to everything we know about her life. So Dorothy Day, enigma, paradox, embarrassing hero, haunts my spiritual life.

This year, when a pastor was arrested for feeding homeless people outdoors in Fort Lauderdale, I swear I could see her right there. She goes to Palestine with Sherrill; she’s in jail for acts of social justice next to Paki. She is working at the Food Pantry. She is insulating walls with Richard to protect the creation she loved. She is striking with fast-food workers for a living wage. She is an unfailing guide for social justice.

But, a spiritual guide? Yes: “How can you not believe in God when there are so many beautiful things?” she asked her lover. Her beliefs about the sanctity of voluntary suffering? No. Her rigidity about women’s roles and about divorce? No. Her humbleness before church authority? No. Her humbleness before God? Yes.

I gave up this year. The only way to deal with a ghost is to face her. I’m reading what she wrote and what is written about her. I’m sitting next to her before God. The result: her paradox is becoming more pronounced – not what I was hoping for. Now the paradoxes in my own soul are clearer to me. Wandering in the celtic knot of Dorothy’s life is making me recognize the knot of my own life. Celtic knots are mysterious and beautiful, however unsettling to live with.

The Depression, The Recession, The Poor

“It is the people who matter, not the masses.”  (The Long Loneliness)

Looking back, it seems easier to see which people were poor during the Great Depression than to see them today. They were people you see in black & white.

whoo caliing poor pix

Then, papers printed pictures of “Hooverville” camps, shanty towns with houses made of cardboard, scrap lumber, tin, whatever the people could find. People evicted from their homes built them across the country. They were clearly poor.a seattle hoovertown

 

 

A Hooverville, Seattle 1933

 

Poverty-In-America-Photo-by-Karen-Apricot-300x225

 

 

Poverty 2013

      (picture by Karen Apricot)

 

 

The soup lines went down the street and around the corner.

1933                                                                    2013

soup line 1933soup kitchen line 2013 pix

 

The Great Depression was so long ago. The Great Recession is still with most of us. People live in inadequate houses, stand in line for meals today as then. But our image of poverty has changed. People look  more destitute in back and white photography. In the 21st century, an improbable number of U.S. citizens blame poverty on people who are poor. Unsavory politicians claim that race, low I.Q., laziness are to blame. Democrats are to blame, Republicans are to blame, Obamacare is to blame, Roosevelt is to blame, Reagan is to blame.

In the 1920’s – 30’s, radicals discussed which ideology might lead to a more just society. Socialism, communism, anarchism? Dorothy was not as interested as her co-workers in theory.

“It is the people who matter, not the masses.”        (The Long Loneliness)

People use the New Testament as justification for all kinds of political agendas, not noticing that the New Testament does not talk about political agendas.

Dorothy’s outrage at poverty and the crushing of civil rights combined with an insight about the connection each of us has to each other …to each person as brother and sister. She saw God in each person. She focused on the person in front of her.

The debate continues. What is our country’s best direction?

However, the question, “Who are you calling poor?” is easy to answer. The person in front of you, down the street, in the other country, who needs food, housing, warm clothes.

That has not changed.

Prayer, Justice, and the Scales of Justice

“So long as we talk and argue and busy ourselves on the plane of this world, evil seems the stronger. ….The thing is to enter on another plane, to find that fourth dimension which represents the kingdom of the Spirit…. – Henri de Lubac, quoted by Dorothy Day, Catholic Worker, 1978

Injustice is easy to see. When black men are targeted, when rape is dismissed as a prank, when gays are murdered, when families struggle for food and shelter, we see injustice in the flesh.

lady_justice_w_scalesBut what is justice? Is it simply the absence of injustice? Revenge is a kind of justice; it is the desire to rebalance the scales. The image of Justice is a woman with a blindfold holding a scale.  When one man murders another, the world is thrown out of balance. By killing the murderer, some think, the world regains its balance. The forces have been equalized again. The family of the victim, the community can be satisfied. The value of the death penalty is not as a deterrent to murder; it is the restoring of balance from chaos.

Then along comes Jesus. “You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil.”

We’re being told to keep the scale unbalanced. We are being told not to attempt to purge evil by killing. He’s talking about another kind of justice.

What does this justice look like? smell like? feel like? An abstraction like justice or hope or love, stays uselessly abstract until we give it form.

“The legal battle against segregation is won, but the community battle continues.” Dorothy Day The Catholic Worker, November 1956

On December 12, 2014, friends and neighbors stood in the cold in Greenfield to declare the obvious truth that black lives matter.

Afterwards, thirty people came together in the Upper Room at church to celebrate Our Lady Of Guadalupe, or Tonantzin, the Mother. The 12th is her “birthday.”

In December 1531 at the hill of Tepeyac, Mexico, Mama Lupe appeared to the First Nation peoples. She spoke to the peasant, Cuauhtlatoatzin, (Juan Diego), in his original language, Nahuatl. She demanded that the Spanish conquerors build a church on the place where people had come for centuries to honor her as Tonantzin, the Mother. Cuauhtaltoatzin, a devout Catholic, repeatedly brought her demand to the Spanish authorities until, after she miraculously spread roses at their feet, they relented.

And so a Presence of Love and Protection appeared on the hill, in a country where people lived under the oppression of an occupying army.

In celebration, we placed images of Mama Lupe on a table with roses and candles. We lit candles to bring together all who call for justice: for parents of slain young men, for black children, for racism’s end. We prayed, sang, listened. We called down justice to live among us.

Praying gives justice voice. When evil seems overwhelming, sounds and images springing from the creation of ceremony can crystalize peace and freedom, allowing us to hear and touch it, and each other. And give sustenance to action.