When despair and grief rage in me, and inflict their heavy, threatening violence, I (re)turn to these words of poetryprayer by Adrienne Rich.
my heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed
I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,
with no extraordinary power
reconstitute the world.
So much has been, is being destroyed. Lives and possibilities and rights and relationships and communities, lost to callous greed, heartless violence, and dehumanizing fear-mongering. (As I write these words, the news headlines are screaming: “Supreme Court Upholds Trump Travel Ban, President claims vindication,” “The Billion-Dollar Business of Operating Shelters for Migrant Children,” “Chaos as parents, lawyers try to find separated children,” “Climate Change Crises Means Number of Migrants Will Double by 2050”)
My heart is moved by all I cannot save. So much is being destroyed. None of us alone can save the world. And yet, we can cast our lot together, reconstituting the world. This is the labor of liberating love, of tikkun olam, the healing salve of salvation, building the kin-dom. A collective tasking. A practice of repair. A call to stay tender, together. Incarnating love.
“Love,” writes Carter Heyward, “is a conversion to humanity—a willingness to participate with others in the healing of a broken world and broken lives. Love is the choice to experience life as a member of the human family, a partner in the dance of life, rather than as an alien in the world or as a deity above the world, aloof and apart from human flesh.”
In Gut Symmetries, Jeanette Winterson writes, “Now, more than ever…our place in the universe and the place of the universe in us, is proving to be one of active relationship. That is more than a scientist’s credo. The separateness of our lives is a sham. Physics, mathematics, music, painting, my politics, my love for you, my work, the star-dust of my body, the spirit that impels it, docks diurnal, time perpetual, the rolls, rough, tender, swamping, liberating, breathing, moving, thinking nature, human nature and the cosmos are patterned together.”
Dear ones: The separateness of our lives is a sham.
Our histories and our futures are intimately entangled, cellularly, socially, systemically. This is the truth behind the Great Commandment: Divine love and self-love and love for the other cannot be separated. When we sever chords of care, when we cease to care, we all but guarantee mutual, indiscriminate, shared destruction. When we detain, separate, segregate, intern, criminalize, deport, ban, imprison, bomb or execute another, any other, we inflict violence so pervasive and invasive none of us remain unscathed—God, stranger, friend, “enemy,” our own souls, our collective soul. Our separateness is a sham. “When one part of the body suffers, we all suffer together with it.” (1 Cor. 12:26)
Dear ones: Our body is suffering.
Rubem Alves was a Brazilian poet, philosopher, theologian who spent many years running from, living under, and in exile from a brutal (U.S. backed) military dictatorship. He resisted, refused, to become hardened by the hard realities of life, but committed himself to the continued practice of paying attention to exuberant beauty and delight, while responding to sharp and widespread suffering.
Alves claimed the concept of saudade as the foundation of his poetic and religious imagining. Saudade has no precise synonym, or translation. Saudade is a feeling close to nostalgia, but grounded in what is really real, here, now. Nostalgia is a general feeling of loss without an object, but saudade is always saudade of a particular face, scene, time. Saudade is the felt presence of an absence. Longing. Yearning. Haunting. So much has been destroyed; but all is not lost. Goodness haunting evil. Kindness haunting callousness. Resistance haunting complicity. With-ness haunting the sham of separateness.
Saudade is a cry to remember dreams and visions and hopes, as real as they are incomplete. A conversion to humanity. Kindness. Hospitality. Connecting across difference, celebrating particularities of culture and creed and finding common ground in and through care for one another. Tenderness. The kin-dom of justice and love, here and not yet, glimpsed and beyond our grasp, materializing and retreating according to our collective action and inaction. Casting our lot with those who age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power reconstitute the world. This is our collective love-practice, to which we are called.
And so, these words of poetryprayer offered by Alves, from Transparencies of Eternity:
Father…Mother…of tender eyes,
I know that you are invisible in all things.
May your name be sweet to me, the joy of my world.
Bring us the good things that give you pleasure:
a garden, fountains,
bread and wine,
hands without weapons,
bodies hugging each other…
I know you want to meet my deepest wish, the one whose name I forgot…but you never forget. Bring about your wish that I may laugh.
May your wish be enacted in our world,
as it throbs inside you.
Grant us contentment in today’s joys:
bread, water, sleep…
May we be free from anxiety.
May our eyes be as tender to others
as yours to us.
Because, if we are vicious,
we will not receive your kindness.
And help us that we may not be deceived by evil wishes.
And deliver us from the ones who carry death inside their eyes.
May it be so.