Savoring God’s Abundance
As someone who works at a comedor, or a dining room, for recently deported migrants in Nogales, Mexico, I’m particularly struck by the phrase in Acts “They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart.” It resonates with me because every day we welcome people to our comedor who have been in detention or jail in the US for months, most of whom were held simply for the crime of crossing a border without proper authorization. They have been eating small portions of unfamiliar and flavorless food for months. And their eyes grow wide as they receive their plates of beans, chicken, and rice to which they add heaping spoonfuls of spicy salsa and which they scoop up with fresh, hot tortillas. As they finish, some exclaim to me “this is the best meal I’ve ever had.”
That savoring and appreciation of God’s abundance is what I and we are invited into this Easter season. Just as the Apostles cherished their newfound community life, may we see our journeys of faith and the way that God manifests himself with fresh eyes in this time. I hope to eat my next plate of beans and tortillas with a gusto similar to those who have gone without for so many months. For the invitation is to a mentality of abundance and not scarcity.
As we practice this discipline of cherishing it is not because we are ignorant of suffering, evil, and darkness. Just last week, amongst the twenty or so new arrivals to our comedor, one was a man who was deported from Las Vegas 10 years ago. He had lived there for 5 years and his deportation separated him from his wife and his then 2-year-old daughter. For 10 years, he has stayed in constant contact with his wife and daughter and loved them from a distance. Even though his daughter is a US citizen, she is too young to travel alone, and they don’t know anyone able to travel with her to Mexico. So he crossed the border to try to reunite with them, was put in jail for 30 days, and was deported to Nogales, Mexico. Even as he cherished his meal, he was conscious that he still ate it far from his beloved daughter.
The darkness of evil and despair can be strong enough to obscure evidence of God’s goodness. In the Gospel reading, I imagine Thomas with a heavy heart of mourning and desolation after the man he hoped and believed was the Messiah died so brutally. Perhaps it isn’t that he defiantly refuses to believe that Jesus has appeared to the disciples. He just cannot bring himself to hope, when the evidence of Jesus’ suffering and death is so obvious. He misses the ways in which God does manifest himself, in the hope and joy in the disciples’ eyes, who were transformed by that encounter.
I can certainly empathize with Thomas. In the day in and day out of work at the border, as I encounter men separated from their children and moms struggling to find safety for their family, but unable to seek protection in the US, it can feel like darkness is closing in. Yet the firm ground we stand on is the promise of the Psalm: “for he is good, his love is everlasting.” If we choose to begin with that principle, then perhaps we can choose to live into what Henri Nouwen calls “the discipline of joy.”
That means a constant attentiveness to the goodness of his presence, especially where it is most difficult to see. It means allowing myself to be inspired by the spirit of Cecilia, a Guatemalan woman who fled death threats and sought safety in the United States, yet was returned to Mexico to wait for over a year of immigration court dates. I see God’s power in her determination to fight for safety for her 2-year-old and 11-month-old children. God is present in her relentless hopefulness despite the circumstances. Perhaps that is part of what Jesus means as he teaches Thomas: that we must believe in order to begin to see.
When we start with the premise of God’s good and everlasting love, we suddenly notice the generosity of human beings around us. We start to soak in the beauty of his creation, hear more clearly the song of birds. And a simple plate of rice, beans, and chicken takes on a glorious flavor.
And once we work to see God, then through this belief that we may have life in his name. A life that invites others, especially those clouded by despair, to see light in the darkness.
Since 2015, Joanna Williams has been the Director of Education and Advocacy at the Kino Border Initiative (KBI), a binational Catholic and Jesuit ministry in Nogales, Arizona and Sonora that works to promote humane and just migration policy. In her role, she works to ensure that the migrants who arrive to KBI’s aid center are heard by US communities, including schools and parishes, and by policymakers.
Joanna graduated with a Bachelor's in Science from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, where she researched the role of the Latino Church in creating social change. She was also confirmed into the Catholic Church her senior year at Georgetown. In 2019 she received a Master's in Public Policy from Arizona State University. Over the course of more than a decade, she has journeyed with migrants in a variety of contexts. She volunteered at a shelter in Tierra Blanca, Veracruz that served primarily Central American migrants travelling north on trains. In 2013 and 2014 she conducted Fulbright research in central Mexico on the reintegration of deported and return migrants. In 2014 and 2015 she worked as a coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Border Litigation Project.
Photo Credit: Paul Jones, Georgetown University
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