Twenty seven years ago today, on November 16, 1989, six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter were assassinated in El Salvador. The soldiers who killed them – for speaking out for the poor, for using their intellectual gifts on behalf of the disenfranchised – or for being witnesses to the killing – also took the time to shoot up their possessions. They machine-gunned books, papers, telephones, computers, and a photograph of Oscar Romero. The remains of the objects they shot up that night can be seen at the Romero Center at the University of Central America in San Salvador, where the terrible killings of the six Jesuits and Elba and Celina occurred.
The soldiers who shot up those inanimate objects were unwittingly giving us a roadmap that we can still use, today. The darkness that takes over nations can take many forms. In my city neighborhood, rainbow flags were burned last week, right where they were hanging on people’s houses. Muslims, African-Americans, gay people, women, Jews, and 11 million undocumented people have been threatened, in various ways, sometimes on a small scale and sometimes large. Some people have responded with depression, others by marching in the streets.
Here’s what we learned from the soldiers that shot up books, telephones, computers and a photograph. They shot those things because they have power. There is power in our memories. There is power in our communication. There is power in our connections with each other. That was true in El Salvador in 1989 and it is true today.
I do not know what will happen in the coming months, but there are two things that seem crucial as we respond to the realities around us. One is that each of us needs to practice self-care. That means, get your exercise, eat healthy, get enough sleep. Stay close to God in prayer. And find your tribe and stay connected. This is no time to isolate. Be kind to yourself, and be kind to others. Showing up at protests can be a form of self-care, as well, because they give us hope and the oomph to keep on going, as well as connecting with like-minded people. In my neighborhood last Saturday there was a rally in response to the burning of the pride flags. It was great! I bought a pride flag to hang – imagine if the city were full of them, everybody flying rainbow flags in solidarity. At the rally I talked to a woman who said she used to go to Spiritus, and was thinking this would be a good time to go back. I encouraged her, and encourage you – if you don’t have a community, find one. Stay connected, and don’t lose heart. The world needs your oomph! .. your energy, your spirit. We need each other.
The other thing is that we need to stay aware enough of what is going on, to know who needs us to stand with them, to know what people are doing – for example, the movement going on right now on college campuses to get schools to be sanctuaries for undocumented people. Or if the threat to make Muslims register happens, we should all register. Notice who is getting picked on, and be in solidarity. And get to know the people you are being in solidarity with! Be in relationship.
There is a balance to be found, between staying alert and aware, and not getting overwhelmed. Community, self-care, awareness – important at all times, crucial now.
As a hospital chaplain, I often pray with patients that they will have the “oomph” to do what they need to do to participate in their own recovery. That is my prayer for all of us right now – that we will have the oomph to keep caring, to not lose heart, to believe that, as Martin Luther King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, BUT IT BENDS TOWARDS JUSTICE.”
We’re in the long part of the arc, right now. Keep on going. Adelante! Hang on to God, hang onto each other, stand up for whoever needs standing up for. We follow a crucified King who promised us persecutions for following him. It’s going to be hard – so eat your vegetables, and keep on going.
Love to all, Chava
PS This would be a great time to read Walter Wink – Engaging the Powers is one of his books --- or Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.
Also useful to be aware of some groups that are working for hope and justice --- Cosecha is one – SOA Watch is another – and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Find them on the internet, find out what they’re doing – lots of good work happening already
Oscar Romero Church: An Inclusive Community of Liberation, Justice and Joy
Worshiping in Catholic Tradition Mass: Sundays, 11 am
St Joseph's House of Hospitality, 402 South Ave, Rochester NY 14620
A member community of the Federation of Christian Ministries