Diverse pairs of hands along a tree trunk

March 7, 2021 | Merwyn De Mello | Today's Readings

On a cold winter’s day, I am seated in the cozy meditation nook in my bedroom at the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House in Washington, DC. I most feel the presence of God in these morning twilight hours. On this day, it feels like the Holy Spirit is reaching out, embracing me into her warm reassurance.

For the last several weeks, I have felt a creeping sense of melancholy, heaviness, hope ebbing. This day, much as I want to stay in the moment, my mind drifts back in time.

Snapshots etched into my memory create a kaleidoscope of images. It is a year since my wife, Kirstin, and I returned to the U.S. from a lengthy time in international service, spanning several cultures and countries, as peacebuilders engaged in a ministry of accompaniment.

Many faces of those I encountered on our journey rise into my consciousness. From Tanzania, of refugees in camps strung across the arid northwestern border; from Zimbabwe, of the green bombers, a youth militia indoctrinated and trained in torture techniques that they unleash on protesters against an authoritarian government; from Afghanistan, of peace volunteers across diverse ethnicities who transcend the agony of decades of war by choosing nonviolent paths; from Bangladesh, of young men and women who rise above societal stigma to live in community with and care for the social outcasts, the mentally and physically challenged.

My memory reel rolls on, now bringing forth images from my last 11 months in Washington, DC.  Standing in vigil and nonviolent protest before structures of power — the Pentagon, the White House, the Supreme Court — bearing posters that speak to the urgency of ending the scourge of war and the amassing of weaponry, that proclaim that Black lives matter and the moral need of undoing structures of racism, that mourn the executions of individuals and honor the sanctity of life of all God’s creation.

As my meditation draws to its end, I reach for Fratelli Tutti, my nook’s current companion.

Pope Francis writes, “[there] is an ‘architecture’ of peace, to which different institutions of society contribute, each according to its own area of expertise, but there is also an ‘art’ of peace that involves us all…” 

In his words I find reassurance, that in this fractured world and heart of mine, hope is not a dying ember.  

I have an image of a web of encounters and connections, where God’s people on my reel are woven together through strands of a shared human experience — of pain, suffering, joy, love. This journey of life is a collective one where we are called as neighbors to love one another, to heal one another. 

I believe that Jesus teaches us that the second of the two greatest commandments, to love our neighbor as ourselves, amplifies the first, to love God above all things. This teaching must be a compass point for our interwoven lives. 

I draw from the wisdom of traditional African philosophy of “ubuntu.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes “ubuntu” as “the essence of being human. It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours. I am human because I belong. It speaks about wholeness, it speaks about compassion...”

My heart softens and my mind feels more open and creative. I sense that I am not alone. This “ubuntu” — the strands that bind us to each other — is our collective salvation. The restoration of wholeness, our hope. 

In the unfolding morning light, I call upon “ubuntu” to heal us and our world.



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