Seeing Love: Incarnation Contemplations

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

The following post appears at “Adding to the Beauty” — as part of the “Tireless Hope” Series for Advent: inviting voices of Midwest writers to join the conversation around beauty as it is documented and posted in the Middle East by travelers Becca and Andrew Ulasich.

Adding to Beauty. Winter Tree“Advent [that is to say, the Incarnation] makes us look for God in all those places we have, until now, ignored.” – Joan Chittister

Fr. Dale Korogi opened a recent homily at the Visitation Sisters’ monastery with a paraphrase of Sr. Joan Chittister’s words:

“It’s safe to say that the Visitation Sisters are an Advent community, inviting us to find God in places we have often ignored; places like Fremont and Girard Avenue in North Minneapolis.”

I’d say the same is true regarding Becca and Andrew Ulasich — Northside community members traveling and volunteering around the world. They are an Advent couple on a mission: inviting us to find God in places we have, until now, perhaps ignored; places like Sari Bari in Kolkata; a Himalayan Mountain boarding-school in Northern India, and Poor Servants of Jesus the Master in Nepal. This Advent, they journey through the Holy Land, tuning into stories of Israelis and Palestinians; holding open their hearts, seeking beauty at every turn.

As I sit to write this post, I consider it a gift to be invited to Add to the Beauty in this Advent Series: Middle East meets Midwest.

Inherent in this invitation to compose a blog, is a similar invitation inherent in the season of Advent — and echoed by Joan Chittister’s words. I ask: How is the incarnation manifesting in places I’ve ignored? What are the dark spaces I sidestep or scurry by in my world? In my own psyche or spirit? What headlines do I prefer to scan over — or news posts do I elect to tune out in my Twitter or Facebook feeds in a conscious or unconscious manner? How can Advent help transform my perspective — my heart, my mind, and way of living and loving?”

The incarnation, God taking on human form, means that I am inextricably woven into the story of Love.

I began writing this blog on Thanksgiving morning. Tucked into a cozy room of my parent’s lakeside home nestled in the wooded landscape along the Lewis and Clark Reservoir along the Missouri Riverbanks that form the border between Nebraska and South Dakota. I recognized my geographical location in an area called Hideaway Acres” as keenly appropriate; and I wondered, “What is hidden in my own heart that God is asking me to shine a light on?”

The past four weeks leading up to the start of Advent have been chock full of large events that give way for my pause and incarnation contemplations:

–My baby sister got married;

–My husband donated a kidney to his older sister;

–We had an opportunity to embrace new family members from Burkina Faso, West Africa;

–We were embraced by family members who reside in a care facility devoted to their mental health in Northeast Nebraska;

–Two of our best friends were married in a ceremony uniting their Puerto Rican and Polish-American families, after my husband and I introduced them.

The incarnation, God taking on human form, means that I am inextricably woven into the story of Love. At every turn, I have an opportunity to marvel at the mystery of my connection to every other creature on this planet, and to see beauty, goodness, hope. I am given the opportunity to bow down in awe at the workings of our marvelous Creator. The Creator of my and my husband’s siblings and all of our blessed organs. I can stand in awe at the recent immigration narratives of my nieces from Burkina Faso as I marvel the healing journeys of two uncles who battle addiction and mark life as formerly homeless. I am prostrate to Love as it is born out in the marriage of two who never entertained this kind of happy union for themselves.

As we journey together this Advent, what unites us in our contemplations of the incarnation? What ignored spaces of life does God invite each of us to see?

Blessings!

What we see: Prayer in a time of violence

Peace of Christ

Peace: Wednesday Noon Prayer Intention

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

I imagine him standing at his kitchen sink. Maybe he’s stirring up a glass of orange juice to go with a late morning lunch –something to satiate his thirst before he has to go to work. From the kitchen window of his garden level apartment he sees a police officer shoot a young man running the other direction. It’s noon on Saturday, August 9, 2014,  and the community of Ferguson, Missouri, is about to change. This citizen, who goes by the name “Bruh” @TheePharoah on Twitter, has a literal grass-roots-level view of his neighborhood –just beyond the barred windows of his home. In a moment of social connectivity, he documents this experience from his perspective.

I try to imagine the night Toua Xiong was killed delivering pizzas in north Minneapolis. What it would have been like had I been standing at my kitchen window looking out and seen the teenage boy shot.  Or the moment Chris Dozier’s life came to an end in an alley off 14th and Plymouth. Or the late afternoon Marcus White was got caught in crossfire near West Broadway and Dupont. Or the evening Quincy DeShawn Smith’s life came to an abrupt halt in spite of police intervention. As former students in my 10th grade English class at North High, these young men’s deaths come to the fore and evoke my prayerful attention whenever headline news and social media report on gun violence in our world.

What does a witness to gun violence experience on a visceral level? On an intellectual, emotional, or spiritual level? What does he or she internalize in the aftermath of such a violent encounter? How does our prayer take shape in the wake of violence? How do we pray for survivors of such traumatic events — and the victims and perpetrators themselves?

Ferguson: A grass-roots level perspective

Each Wednesday, the Sisters devote their noon prayer to peace in the world. They pause at the lunch hour to remember God’s grace and goodness and love pouring out for all of us. As they chant the psalms, they hold the root causes of violence in their hearts, and give voice to personal intentions of people suffering and struggling to find peace. They seek to transform the world through prayer.

This past week, our noon liturgy in the Fremont House chapel was blessed by a few new guests that rounded out our prayerful pause. The Sisters sat in their usual chairs, as Roselaine* — a friend of S. Mary Frances’ who works for the Minneapolis police – sidled in beside me on the bench, followed by Jermaine* and Denzell* – two twelve year old boys we know from our neighborhood gardening evenings.

My heart was near to bursting at the outset. The configuration of pink and brown-skinned people convened in the chapel choir stalls enacting a centuries-old ritual of chant and silence moved me — especially in light of recent headlines reporting racial injustice and dehumanizing circumstances in our world.

I prayed for Gawolo, a former northside Teen Group participant I knew who had posted on Facebook that he was down in Ferguson, Missouri. I prayed for all those marching for human dignity and justice. I prayed for Roselaine, and her counterparts in our local police force as they go about their work of keeping safe the community. I prayed for “Bruh” in Missouri and his Twitter followers; I prayed for the officer who shot an unarmed Mike Brown. I prayed for my former students whose lives had all come to an end because of a fired bullet in the hand of an an angry person. I prayed for all who witness, wonder and grieve.

Honoring life: memorial site of a young person who died from gun violence in north Minneapolis.

Honoring life: memorial site for a young person who died from gun violence in north Minneapolis.

***

It was after prayer, sitting on the front porch enjoying jelly toast, chicken salad and lunchtime conversation, that Jermaine spoke up –and my intentions for peace continued.

“I’ve seen someone get killed,” he said.  The 12 year old boy, just days shy of starting sixth grade, sat squarely in the white whicker chair and shared his first hand experience witnessing gun violence.

He told us: It was broad day light. Near a corner store. Bullets passed him as he walked along the sidewalk. He described a man grabbing him and pulling him down – out of the way of the gunfire.

My eyes went to Jermaine’s. His direct, unabashed, unwavering, piercing brown-eyed gaze. I took note of his friend Denzell’s floor-directed stare. I wondered about what all these young boys’ eyes would see in their lifetime.

These stories of death, of witnessing violence, of being privy to gunshots and brutality – as part of everyday life, I want them to stop.

My prayer continues.

*names have been changes to protect the privacy of the persons.