The late medieval Carmelite mystics like to write about pain in prayer. Teresa of Avila is especially vivid, feeling a sword pierce her very heart in the context of inexpressible ecstasy. On a first read I found it put me off. What kind of spirituality demands such suffering as the price of such glory? I do not pretend to her heights of holiness, but I had a revelation this morning that is perhaps my version of something similar.
I arrived in the U.S. at age 18, a newly minted High School graduate, intelligent, sporting a strong faith, with about two and a half years’ experience in the country already, with family in the area I moved to, and speaking the language fluently with no accent. You would think that such an immigration effort might go smoothly, but it didn’t. For all the favorable portents, there were others at play. I had no driver’s license. I didn’t know who the football players of fame were (frankly, the game bored me) I found TV tedious. I didn’t understand the woods around me (not at all like the jungles of Ecuador) and the highest hill didn’t even make your ears pop (like the Andes Mountains.) I didn’t know what the little social cues were, like when a girl was flirting with me and when she wasn’t. Maybe most profoundly, I found run-of-the-mill Christianity shallow and provincial. It took me 10 years to forge a synthesis of my past and present. My anchor throughout was my loving, long-suffering wife, who was a few years ahead of me in the process, having come from similar circumstances in the Central African Republic when she was 13.
This morning I began to see how that synthesis has become the wellspring of what I bring to the Church and society. It lives out in a penchant for the underdog, the migrant and foreigner, and (unfortunately) a very short store of patience with people who disregard others out-of-hand for pretty much any reason at all. It fuels my passion for immigration reform and diversity in the Church. It has given sharp focus to my education. It grounds my theology of welcome and inclusion. I find it too easy to overlook the gifts of the deeply grounded life that knows a limited patch of soil down to its bedrock and up to its stars, but I tell myself, if my breadth is important, so are those who know the depths. Glory and pain, hand-in-hand, bring great riches.
“Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.”1
1 Martin Luther about his trial for heresy at the Diet of Worms, 1521.