“They didn’t say it with words but with their actions, that my life doesn’t matter. Everything I worked for all these years doesn’t matter.”
These are the words of Nazanin Zinouri, a data scientist, & a recent graduate of Clemson University with an Industrial Engineering PhD who has lived in the US for 7 years and is a legal resident. She was travelling home to Tehran to visit family and was removed from a plane as she tried to return to the US. Thankfully both her Senators from SC are working to assist her and allow her re-entry into the US.
As I thought about the plight of Zinouri and all those caught up in the President’s EO, I thought about a poem from Langston Hughes…
Wave of sorrow,The wave of sorrow that longs for the shores of the US, visa holders, refugees, immigrants…
Do not drown me now:
I see the island
Still ahead somehow.
I see the island
And its sands are fair:
Wave of sorrow,
Take me there.
Sadly we have seen others turned away from our fair shores… On Holocaust Remembrance Day, the St. Louis Manifest, a Twitter project shared the story of some of the 900 Jews who fled Nazi Germany in 1939 on board the ship St. Louis, they had applied for visas but the United States would not grant them entry. They were stopped before any passenger could disembark in the Port of Miami and they were forced to return to Europe; 254 of them were murdered in the Holocaust.
Sometimes, we need to live into that wave of sorrow, to remember and bear witness to such tragedy & what people are experiencing with their lives.
Bono the lead signer of U2, wrote a song based off of Hughes poem, after he travelled to Ethiopia after the concert Live Aid and realized that the millions of dollars raised by the massive event would barely dent the overwhelming problem.
He said, “My wife Ali and I ended up going to Ethiopia for some time doing relief work. We were so high on the idea that Live Aid raised $100 million-and then you discover years later that that's what Africa pays every couple of weeks on old loans. It's kind of a shock. I thought we'd never forget what we'd been through in Ethiopia, but you go back to your life and then those images fade away.” (Time, 2000)
He wrote the song Wave of Sorrow on that experience…
Heat haze rising on Hell's own hill
To wake up this morning was an act of will
You walked through the night to get to today
To bring your children to give them away
Oh, oh this cruel sun
Its daylight never done
Cruelty just begun
To make a shadow of everyone…
Souls bent over without a breeze
Blankets on burning trees
I'm sick without disease
Nobility on its knees
And if the rain came
And if the rain came now
Would it wash us all away
On a wave of sorrow…
It’s a song with no easy answers. But the song sits in that wave of sorrow to tell it to us, to make us feel how they feel in the heat, in a place without rain, where cruelty is pervasive.
Remarkably the song ends with U2s version of the beatitudes; it says in part:
Blessed are the meek who scratch in the dirt
For they shall inherit what's left of the earth
Blessed are you with an empty heart
For you have nothing from which you cannot part
Blessed is the ego if it's all we've got this hour
Blessed is the voice that speaks truth to power
And blessed is the spirit that overcomes
Sometimes to follow Jesus, to live into the beatitudes, to be that salt and light that Jesus calls us to be, has us doing things that brings us to uncomfortable & unadorned spaces, Ethiopia, a refugee center or even a hospital.
She was training to be a hospital chaplain. She had been a teacher in an inner-city school and saw hospital work as a way getting better at helping kids in trouble. One day she met the mother of a teenager, Leon, who'd been shot in the back of the head and was unconscious. The mother asked the inexperienced chaplain if she had children of her own. No, she said, feeling a little ashamed. She sat with the mother for what seemed like an eternity. She remembers:
"I started to wonder what I could do for the mother. I could've stayed and tried to fix things, telling her that God was working a purpose out. Or something cheesy like, God needs Leon up there. I didn't know Leon.
"I could have left the room, giving the mother time to be alone with her son. That would've been easy. I could have left the image of tubes, breathing machines, and loss behind.
"There was a third option: staying and being. This meant I needed to sit with my own fears of losing a family member, and sit with the fear that as a childless chaplain I was inadequate.
"So I stayed with the mother and said, 'This has to be so hard.' She looked to her son and she cried and I did not leave. I did not leave, and I was uncomfortable.
"There was nothing I could do but be with the uncomfortable feelings and believe God was present in that space. In a space that was very close to the ground, very unadorned." [From Jesus Freak by Sara Miles.]
In an unadorned space the temptation always is, as the chaplain admits, to adorn it with cheerfulness or hope or even some platitude. But healing depends on truth. To be the salt and light for such unadorned spaces that we encounter in our lives means putting aside our unease at being in situations we cannot control and taking on what makes us uncomfortable and facing what is difficult and painful.
It is what Bono does in his song. It is what the St. Louis Manifest, a Twitter project tried to do. Bear witness and to remind us that blessed is the spirit that overcomes…
Being salt and light often means just being there for someone else in those dark times and terrifying places. Despite our fear of saying something wrong or making matters worse, our quiet presence assures them that they are not alone. As this chaplain comes to realize, God is present in our simplest, quietest efforts to be the salt and light of the Gospel, to be a spirit that overcomes our doubts and uncertainties and pain.
May we realize Jesus' challenge to be salt & light on our planet: to make God's presence and grace realities, to season our own time and place; illuminating the dark, hopeless corners of our world with justice and hope. So that all whose lives we touch know that you create us holy and call us to become whole in your name. Amen.