This past week I have been blissfully writing and recharging at the Kenyon Institute’s Beyond Walls Spiritual Writing Program. We have focused on four broad genres of writing, including Midrash, the personal essay, the Op-Ed, and the blog. Every session has been insightful, and through the prompts and practices, I have found myself in tears more than once. The healing and learning we can do for ourselves through writing is nothing short of amazing.
I have been struggling for a while to use my voice in a way that is helpful and not harmful. Every day my Facebook feed is filled with violent, destructive articles and pictures that demonstrate just how unjust (and downright painful) this world can be. Liberating the marginalized from this system feels impossible. My mind and heart ache with emotion, with empathy and a calling to reach out and rise up. I want to validate the anger, fear, and unspeakable pain so many feel. Is adding my voice harmful, is it stifling to those who historically have never had a voice? Most definitely, I believe.
In our session centered around the Op-Ed, we played a game. Our facilitator posed the question, “If you knew the cure for cancer, would you tell the room full of cancer patients before you?” Most everyone responded that they would. “Absolutely not,” I thought. The systems and institutions would still fail these patients, would demand payment after unpaid bills, would privilege insurance, citizenship, able-bodied, and urban dwellers. What good is a cure when it is inaccessible?
The world has always been broken. I am acutely aware of this as I consume article after blog after facebook status stating how this is true, what the problem is. I see some forms of solutions- what allies can do, how to provide self-care, who to call when threatened. But the large vision of equality or peace in a world in which racism and sexism and oppression don’t exist at all doesn’t seem to be an option. I have been longing for a picture of this utopia and fallen short, perhaps because I believed once that my goal as a Zen Buddhist was to attempt to end the suffering of all human beings in order to end my own. As I see it now, the world will always include suffering. My objective is to create slivers of joy in a time of unbearable pain.
Last night we all traced our foot on a blank piece of paper. We filled the foot with words, describing how we feel “stuck.” I wrote about feeling trapped in silence, but that I know silence to be siding with oppression. Justice needs voices and words. We each drafted a question that would help us escape our “stuckness.”
This morning I shared my question with two new colleagues, both women Episcopal Priests. They paused. One answered, “When I talk with people who I know have thoughts and ideas but don’t feel they can speak, I ask them questions. I ask them to respond.” The other said, “This sounds like something Jesus wondered about.”
As she explained her answer, I realized that the Jesus I knew as a young Catholic is not the only side to the teacher. I always knew Jesus to be a humble son of a carpenter, gentle, someone who spent time with the people others ignored or cast out. But Jesus was also a very influential leader by the time he died. He built a strong, active ministry that brought people together across classes and tribes. He spoke with authority and commitment. In his work, he included the poor, the hungry, the lepers, society’s “ills” because people listened to him. Jesus was the voice when the voiceless needed sound.
I do not believe myself to be a prophet or Messiah. I am a teacher and am moved by the sacredness in every single person. The struggle to know when and how to speak my truths will stay with me as I hold Jesus’ famous beatitudes in my heart. Blessed are the voiceless.