Category Archives: Family Spirituality

Troubling Parallels

The world watches, holding its collective breath and wondering, “will the children be saved?” The answer depends on which country the crisis occurs in. If Thailand, good news. If the US, not yet sure…

The Thai SEAL rescue of the Wild Boars soccer team has been the one bit of heartening news in an otherwise dismal series recently. Details of the story make it even more dramatic: the impossible odds, careful preparations of volunteers from many nations, brave ingenuity, divers’ practice with boys of similar sizes in a school swimming pool, the heroic coach, a former Buddhist monk, who taught meditation and deep breathing techniques, and refrained from food so he emerged the most malnourished. Parents waiting endured an emotional roller coaster from the first news their sons had vanished, to their discovery, and subsequently the daring rescue many thought could never happen. The newest image of Christ as savior now is a diver holding a boy tight, as he propels the child towards light.

It’s heartbreaking that news from our own country is less jubilant. Judge Sabraw of San Diego, the hero of the refugee-children-separated-from-their-parents story ordered that those under 5 be reunited within 2 weeks. But only 57 (slightly more than half) of them were, while 2,551 other children remain in custody, according to latest government estimates. As Health and Human Services stalled, Sabraw responded to their spokesman: “It is clear from Mr. Meekins’s declaration that H.H.S. either does not understand the court’s orders or is acting in defiance of them.”

The New York Times reported, “Questions remain about the futures of children whose parents have been deported without them, which Judge Sabraw called ‘one of the disturbing realities of this situation.’ He set a deadline of seven days for returning those children to their parents once the government had secured the documents necessary for them to travel.” The few reporters allowed to visit the detention centers speak of a pervasive, “aching uncertainty” there.

Isn’t it time to give up on the government and call in the private sector? Our leaders and their lackeys seem to have forgotten that every child is precious to God, irrevocably harmed by each day away from their parents. As the world rallied to save the Thai boys, surely they would do the same to locate the refugee parents—with similar intelligence, speed and creativity. The Thai situation showed the extraordinary potential of ordinary humans. Couldn’t this be a similar chance? Those of us not immediately involved must keep up the donations to organizations like Catholic Charities Rio Grande (www.catholiccharitiesrgv.org). Kudos to the Sisters of St. Joseph, who sent them a $10,000 check AND an associate who’s a lawyer to help.  Fierce prayers continue, deeply rooted in the belief that “nothing is impossible for God.”

Kathy Coffey won her 17th Catholic Press Award in 2018, with second place for coverage of ecumenical/interfaith issues.

Feast of Kateri Tekakwitha—July 14

How appropriate that when many North Americans seem to have forgotten that at one time, we were all immigrants to this land, we celebrate a Native American canonized in 2012, Kateri Tekakwitha. Seventeenth century French explorers came expecting savages. Instead, they found saints. Jesuit missionaries to the Mohawk community were impressed by their works of mercy to the orphaned, aged and weak. One priest painted Christian scenes on linen; another who knew the native language translated Christian songs, which the people loved. Kateri was especially drawn to the beauty of the Christmas crib, surrounded by fir boughs, and asked for baptism.

Kateri’s parents and little brother had been killed in the small pox epidemic of 1660, which left her pock-marked and half-blind. Despite her own precarious health, she nursed the sick and dying with remarkable cheerfulness. Her joy became so contagious that children were drawn to her for storytelling. (I’ve always thought the acid test of holiness is, “do people want to hang out with you?”) Her synthesis of Mohawk and Christian spiritualities reconciled the terrible hostilities between the native-born and the colonizers.

Furthermore, Kateri is patron saint of the environment, which is being so recklessly destroyed now. She had always loved the beauty of nature; this pull took on a new intensity as she learned more about the Creator. She often contemplated in green forests, watching the light rippling on leaves, or the snow mantling pines. How appalled she would be by offshore drilling or the wanton disregard for public lands.

How we need her help now!

 

For more about North American saints, see When the Saints Came Marching In by Kathy Coffey, Liturgical Press, www.litpress.org, 800-858-5450.

Christ in the Humanitarian Crisis

Indianapolis church cages Holy Family in immigration protest

  

 This Tuesday, July 3, 2018 photo shows statues of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus in a cage of fencing topped with barbed wired on the lawn of Monument Circle’s Christ Church Cathedral in Indianapolis. The statues were erected to protest the Trump administration’s zero tolerance immigration policy. (Ebony Cox/The Indianapolis Star via AP) Photo Credit: AP

How many children have been returned?

I will continue to ask this haunting question until we start seeing some proofs of reunions. I ask it weekly and invite readers to join asking the Secretary for Health and Human Services, Secretary@hhs.gov. One difficulty of the current situation in refugee detention camps is the refusal to allow the press, aid workers, even some Congress people access. But knowing the narcissism of this administration, they’d trumpet a return. So far, little.

Tens of thousands of people marched around the country Saturday, protesting the criminalization of those doing what any of us would do: simply seeking to flee dreadful violence and protect their children’s lives. At the Berkeley rally I attended, Rev. Ben McBride led us in the moving chant, “Let my people go! Let the children go!” He told us how he and 400 other faith leaders marched on the Otay Mesa detention center near San Diego and called out through megaphones to refugees inside: “No estas solo” (“You are not alone”). The prisoners responded by banging on the walls, then were threatened by guards that their meals would be cut off if they continued.

It’s not a time to lose hope or place blame, but as Ignacio Ellacuria SJ said in El Salvador before his martyrdom, “When the violence increases, we must pray harder.” I’ve been trying to pray the Buddhist “tonglen” for the children and their parents, inhaling their pain, anxiety, and anguish, exhaling, peace, joy and hope. It’s harder, too, but I also pray for those with decision-making power, that they might move quickly and efficiently towards resolution, before the psychic damage to the children worsens. My mantras have been:

Christ in the crying children

God of detention centers

I read with new understanding Fr. Richard Rohr’s words, “The cross was Jesus’ voluntary acceptance of undeserved suffering as an act of total solidarity with all the pain of the world.” There in the caged and frightened child, Christ. There in the parent who tried to protect but only endangered, Christ. There, even in the guards enforcing a policy they never designed, Christ. In the Beatitudes, Jesus praised those who weep. They hold the sadness, don’t try to escape or deny it.

Meanwhile, we keep up unrelenting pressure on our elected officials. We refuse cynicism and hold onto hope. Some escaped Egypt; some will be reunited. As I looked around at the ragtag band of protesters, powerless but committed, I remembered the hobbits, those small heroes who never intended to make dramatic change, but were catapaulted into a war against evil. A description of them, and perhaps us:

“Such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do then because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.” J.R.R. Tolkien, Fellowship of the Ring, p. 283

“The Dark Is Rising;” The Light Is Gleaming

An administration known for its heartless cruelty towards the most vulnerable has hit a new low. The separation of immigrant children from their parents at our borders violates a bond so sacred that the historical precedents for this brutality were set by slave dealers and Nazis. (See Nicholas Kristof’s column: Trump Wasn’t First to Separate Families, but Policy Was Still Evil). Although Trump changed his horrible order over a week ago, we must press the question:

How many children have been returned?

Pediatric research shows that each day spent without a parent after a traumatic separation increases the child’s level of adverse childhood experiences. As Chris Palusky, CEO of Bethany Christian Services says, “The youngest children are shell-shocked — crying themselves to sleep. Then they wake up from their naps and again they’re crying for their mom, asking: ‘Where’s my dad?’ They absolutely need their parents right now.” For more saddening information, see Senator Elizabeth Warren’s report from the McAllen, TX Customs and Border Protection processing center, epicenter of Trump’s so-called “zero-tolerance” policy.

Lest we all despair, we must also focus on the glimmers of light, such as:

  • US District Judge Dana Sabraw of San Diego ordering all the children returned within 30 days, 14 days for those under 5.
  • Rachel Maddow’s eloquent tears when attempting to report the news, some of the most honest reporting on an almost inconceivable subject.
  • Forty faith leaders (Christian, Buddhist, Jewish) and hundreds of others, who marched to the Otay Mesa detention center near San Diego and called out through megaphones to immigrants inside: “No estas solo” (“You are not alone”). Addressing the crowd from the back of a flatbed truck, Bishop Robert McElroy said, “I grieve because I think …that if Mary and Joseph and Jesus had come to our border last week as refugees, the child Jesus would have been ripped from [Mary’s] arms and put in a cage.”
  • The United Methodist Church, who censured their member Jeff Sessions for child abuse.
  • Microsoft employees who refused to work on any government contracts that would aid the effort to separate families and imprison refugees whose only crime was trying to protect their own and their children’s lives in dangerously violent countries, as any of us would do.
  • Airline employees who refused to fly the children thousands of miles from their parents. Now the airlines have a fine opportunity to boost their own PR: Fly the children back immediately, at no cost.
  • All who march June 30 in Families Belong Together rallies around the country.
  • The little boy in a cage who held out hope: “I’ll see my dad tomorrow.”

We want to respond to the poignant statement with, “You will!” but doubt the government thought ahead about how to accomplish the reunions. Nonetheless, the gospel calls us to believe that “nothing is impossible for God.” US technical and medical savvy is unsurpassed. Facebook made a fortune connecting people—they might see the abysmal lack of information as an intriguing challenge.

And let’s start talking about reparations.  For the trauma they’ve endured, the separated families should be offered immediate, unquestioned asylum.  Many of us have donated to organizations like Catholic Charities Rio Grande  and the Kino Border Initiative. Finally, let’s wrap the parents and children in prayer, on which every synagogue, mosque and church—both groups and individuals– should focus immediately. The Buddhist tonglen takes in their sorrow, fear and anxiety with an inhaled breath, then exhales peace, joy and security. Let’s also pray that this painful crisis in North American history be resolved quickly. We’re waiting and watching the news for the photos of reunions.

Look for the June 29 Soul Seeing column in National Catholic Reporter: “Jew, Christian, Muslim: See the Beloved Everywhere” by Kathy Coffey, 

More Unsung Heroes: Hospital Staff

“And in this very room, there’s quite enough love for all of us, and in this very room, there’s quite enough joy…” I’ve often sung that hymn in church, but never thought of it before in the context of an ambulatory surgery unit in a large urban hospital.

Most of the folks who come there, I suspect, are frightened, overwhelmed and bewildered. They are dreading pain, incisions, drugs that make them woozy and sometimes, scary diagnoses.  To be fair: I was there only as a designated driver for my friend having an endoscopy. But maybe that slight detachment (ho ho—no shots, IVS, etc. for me! Whew!) lent an objectivity and appreciation I’d lack if I were the patient. Fortunately, it boosted my confidence for that inevitable time when I will be on the gurney under the warm blankets.

In the small cubicle where we spent an hour of pre-op, there was surprising laughter and light. I wanted to be a strong presence for my friend, distracting her if possible, and if things went haywire, simply being with. Little did I know that her assigned nurse would be the perfect ally. He balanced humor and information perfectly, letting her know exactly what lay ahead. He didn’t use medical jargon, but reassured: I’ll be with you. I’ve done this hundreds of times and have years of ER experience. Everything he outlined transpired precisely as predicted. She remembered nothing of the experience and happily sailed away after an aide delivered her to my car in a wheelchair.

Admittedly, she was lucky. Doctors found no problems, but I wondered: what if they had? The only clue to that question lay in the waiting room experience. All around me, doctors were emerging in green scrubs to meet with patients’ families. They seemed informative, relaxed, reassuring. If I had to get sad news, I’d want to hear it from them.

Caveats, of course. It doesn’t always go this well; people have bad days. Health care in the US is a flawed system; one anecdote proves nothing. But it doesn’t mean we can’t praise steadfast cheerfulness in the face of tough odds, competence under stress, the ordinary kindness of busy people.

Look for the June 29 Soul Seeing column in National Catholic Reporter: “Jew, Christian, Muslim: See the Beloved Everywhere” by Kathy Coffey

Kindergarten Graduation

 

We gather to honor small people wriggling on blankets in the grass.  Such tiny recipients hold such big dreams, their diversity astounding. Some are missing both front teeth; others “don’t even have a wiggle.” Beyond that easily observed difference stretches a multiplicity of first languages, cultures, socio-economic backgrounds. One dreams of being “a garbage man just like my dad!” then gives his teacher a huge, warm hug. Another wants to be a paleontologist. Some began the year barely knowing letters and now, miracle of miracles, all 25 can read.

That points to the achievement of heroes-never-acknowledged-enough: teachers. Daily, they contend with head lice, quirky language, sloppy kisses, runny noses, petty quarrels, helicopter parents, potty talk, hyperactivity, contagious rashes, endless rambly stories, serious learning challenges, super hero band-aids, vision problems, shifting friendships and discipline issues. For this and litanies more, they are paid relatively little. Nothing can compare to the irreplaceable gifts they give: abilities to read, calculate, and write. Valiantly, they return day after day to the rewards of watching a human being unfold. Our society shrugs off their achievements, then focuses on the really interesting, highly compensated jobs, like tossing a football. But to a small cluster of parents and grandparents, gathered with cameras, balloons and flowers, they walk on water.

It’s entertaining to speculate: will that small boy, punching his friend, research a cancer cure? Will the little girl in the flowered headband negotiate peace in the middle east? Will that one be a distinguished professor, or this one a compassionate nurse? Will one face addiction, another jail, a third a fulfilling marriage, another a spectacular career? Impossible to predict, and probably futile in the rush to home-made muffins and Krispy Kremes.

Thousands of graduations are happening now at schools around the world, and perhaps this one is a microcosm of all such milestones. Neither the certificate nor the applause can capture the wonder: that one who so recently learned to toddle, talk, separate from mom, and hoist a backpack stands firmly now on the path to life-long learning, continuing exploration, inexhaustible treasuries of heart and mind. The whole precarious, tumultuous, soaring, crushing, creative, greedy, generous, flowering, barren, tragi-comic human adventure contains such sweetly endearing moments. Gerard Manley Hopkins said it best:

Nature, bad, base, and blind,

Dearly thou canst be kind; …
I’ll cry thou canst be kind.

Look for the June 29 Soul Seeing column in National Catholic Reporter: “Jew, Christian, Muslim: See the Beloved Everywhere” by Kathy Coffey

Sequoias and Spaciousness

Sometimes the confluence of experience and learning is splendid. Recently, I journeyed to Calaveras Big Tree state park in CA and admired 2000-year old giant sequoias. A tree that old may live through more than 100 fires, which benefit the trees by opening the cones to release their seeds and clearing the ground of litter so seedlings can reach mineral soil and receive sunshine. At their bases flowered mountain dogwood. The contrast between the solid, towering, rusty brown trunks and the floating, lacey white flowers spoke powerfully of male and female, yin and yang, the vast spectrum contained in and expressed by the Creator.

During a mindfulness class the next week, we were led in a meditation where we envisioned an image of spaciousness, like ocean, mountains, or God. Through this expansion, we delighted in an infinite vista, an everlasting care. Then we were asked to hold up against the first image another: of suffering. Placing the problem or sorrow in a larger context helps neutralize or defuse it. Buddhists use the comparison to a spoonful of salt placed in a water glass: the salty taste will be strong. But if that same spoonful were poured into an ocean or lake, the taste would be negligible. So, too, the suffering is real; we don’t deny it, but we don’t let it overwhelm us.

The meditation showed that we can stay present with difficult things, not immediately default. Most people are inclined to flee suffering, stuffing it or denying it. But consider how trees breathe in carbon monoxide, poisonous to humans, and transform it to life-giving oxygen. Humans breathe in cooler air, and without any effort, breathe out warmer air. So my image now for unlimited spaciousness will be the giant sequoias, some estimated at 2600 tons, the weight of 18 blue whales, and the delicate white dogwood blooms. Placed beside that spaciousness, any problem seems less formidable. We’re not only about the small self; we’re also part of a larger picture, a more radiant brightness.