I have been spending way too much time on the internet, reading about Paris and about Syrian refugees. It’s taken me away from my usual work, which may or may not be a bad thing.
I have to tell you, I think it’s important that the U.S. take in as many refugees as we can – from Syria, Mexico and Central America, and from anywhere else where people have been cast out of their homes and set adrift with nothing. It is important for the refugees – yes, of course it is. But more profoundly it is important for us, for the soul of our country. We need to take in the refugees. If we do not take them in we will no longer be ourselves; we will have drifted into the fiery soul sickness of living at a distance from our true nature.
After all, we are the melting pot, the country of refugees. For over a century we have been defined by the words of Emma Lazarus which are engraved on a bronze plaque in the Statue of Liberty. Remember this part of the poem?
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
A friend of mine told me that not too long ago she gave a large sum of money to a young couple she had recently befriended to help them with a month’s mortgage. A close family member was furious. “You don’t know anything about them,” he said. “They could be meth addicts. Con artists. And how is you giving them money going to help them in the long run? ‘Don’t give them fish; teach them how to fish!’”
Here is what she decided she needed to say to him. “You’re right. I don’t know who they are, not really, though I’m hoping that over time we’ll get to know each other well. It’s true I could be wrong about them. I could be fooled. But that’s not the important thing. What matters here is that I know who I am – who I am in relationship with God. I am a person who helps people in trouble. If I let my fear keep me from being who I am, what have I got? Nothing. It would cut me off from God. I’d rather lose all my money, my house, everything, than have that happen.”
In today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew, after saying that to enter the kingdom of heaven you must change and become like a child, Jesus implores us, “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than to have two hands or two feet and to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the hell of fire.”
With my Missouri Synod Lutheran background the idea of “the hell of fire” is tricky at best. But I’m guessing that it’s an image of being cut off entirely from one’s true self and from God. As a Christian, I know that my identity is all wrapped up in my oneness with God, and that at my core I stand in God’s presence. The steady pulse of that awareness is my compass. Without it I would not only be entirely lost, I would be in an agony of soul-sickness. Is there anything that I would not give up to keep that from happening? My home, my money, a hand, a foot – even an eye – all these things are expendable.
Saying that, I cringe from the possibility of having to make such a sacrifice. I pray that it never becomes necessary. Hopefully things won’t go so poorly. I know that taking in refugees will sometimes be dangerous – life threatening even. But most of the time, I’ll bet you, it will turn out quite well. Instead of loss or harm there will be opportunity: new friends, new innovations and ideas, new perspectives, hope, and joy. But even where the worst happens it is not so bad. God is with us, always, even into death. Unless we ourselves turn away.
Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer who lives in Fort Collins, CO. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.
“Sl-shadow” by Pascual De Ruvo – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons