On Sunday we went to the bilingual Mass. Ever since the Fergusen debates, I have needed to be with others who don't look like me, who don't experience the world exactly as I do. We came in late, slid into a back pew and smiled at the lovely faces around us. My soul took a deep breath. When they read the Scriptures in Spanish, when we sang a Spanish hymn, I didn't try to follow along, I just let the words wash over me, felt how good it is to be unsure, to be different, to be the one people are looking at curiously from the corners of their eyes.
Our community is 90% white; the new priest is from Africa. He wore a green robe with African colors on the hem. When he opened his mouth to speak and his deep, strange-to-my-ears accent rang out, I felt a laugh bubble up in my chest. Joy. We were made to love each other, enjoy each other, to share this world. Not to hold each other at arm's length and cluster around fear.
Many years ago, we were part of a church start-up that tried to encourage racial reconciliation. It took about two months for the grumbling to start. The (black) pastor asked us all to show up early to set up chairs and get the children's areas ready. White people showed up at 9AM sharp and got the work done. Black people showed up at 9:30 and stood in the pews talking. White people said the black people were being lazy and not helping. Black people said we didn't know anything about community. The chairs would get set up, they said, when people needed them. But here was a friend they hadn't seen all week and they needed to know how they were doing. Oh. When I look back at that whole time, I just feel humbled, tender. Will I always insist on interpreting the world through my own narrow lens? One thing I'm sure of: words alone rarely help bridge gaps. It is looking in each other's faces, finding ways to experience life together, working together and worshipping together, that teaches us to love and teaches us to listen with our compassion and not our fears.
A couple of weeks ago I went up to the duck house and found a sparrow trapped inside. The doors were open, but the bird was confused. It flew from wall to wall and made a dart at any crack of light through the paneled roof, but it couldn't seem to fly out the wide openings of the doors . I stepped inside to try and encourage it out, but it only grew more frightened and frantic, throwing itself against the ceiling and banging into walls. Eventually I just stood very still and quiet, wishing I could become as small as that bird...perhaps a bird myself...so it wouldn't be so frightened, so we could find the way out together.
I think in words, deal in words, work in words. I know they have their place in the world. But more powerful than words is incarnation. I can't take on the flesh of another as Christ did, but I can enter into the same space and grow quiet, stop shouting solutions and start thinking about why the roof seems more hopeful than the wide open doors.
The inside of the duck house grew warm, the bird grew tired. It perched on the nesting boxes to rest and I went to stand in front of one of the doors. The room, for the sparrow, became smaller. I watched the way the light came in, saw how the door frames were shadowed, but the sun overhead made the plastic paneled roof seem to glow. Ah. I walked forward with my arms held out, collapsing the space in front of me. The bird startled and flew to the edge of the door frame, where it stopped for a split second and then took off into the sky.
I came out into the sunshine and felt an urge to cry. I wish, how I wish, it was always so easy.