It looked like a stack of books. It was a tsunami. Chapter after chapter waves of history and experience broke across the pages. During pandemic lockdown, my companions were authors of color. They were clear and compelling. When travel opened, I headed South.
In Montgomery, Alabama, I stood at a civic fountain. It covers an auction block. When the trans-Atlantic slave trade was abolished the inter-state trade emerged, then flourished. Struggling east coast planters sold their most valuable assets, human beings, to slave traders, who then trafficked and resold these people to sugar cane growers.
If sugar could be mass produced, it would become affordable, and the irresistible commodity would change lives. For black women, men, and children it meant enslavement that was sanctioned, perpetuated, and routinized.
St. Paul may insist: “…God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather of power and love and self-control.” But I persist: Did no one see the abuses of power? Is tearing children from mothers at the age of ten (the common practice) not the opposite of love? What perversion of self-control does it take to walk by the public pens trapping people?
Today Habakkuk is similarly raging. The prophet is fired up and swinging. We expect a prize fight. But God’s does not enter the ring. God says: “Write down the vision.” What offset command is this to one so distraught? Perhaps, the prophet’s pain, like my frustrations, is a distraction. I hear poet James Weldon Johnson’s wisdom: “Young man, young man, your arm’s too short to box with God.”
Surely, the disciples have it right. Theirs is a reasonable request: “Increase our faith.” Jesus’ reply, however, is disproportional and oblique: A seed’s worth of faith, can uproot a tree, and send it swimming. What fantastic imagery is this? Just what are we supposed to see and believe?
About twenty years ago, Tom Kiefer, a janitor at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Facility in Arizona saw adults and children forced to discard items labeled “non-essential” or “potentially lethal.” There were hairbrushes, toothpaste, toys, rosaries, hand-embroidered cloths, bibles inscribed with names and dates. These were essentials: some for the body, many for the soul.
Kiefer, a skilled photographer retrieved items. They become a collection called: Belongings: Recovering the Sacred in Objects from the Border. Through them I imagine the power it takes to unearth a family from its beloved roots and see the self-control necessary to choose a backpack’s amount of comfort.
El Paso Bishop Mark Seitz concludes: “Migrants are prophetic in their lived testimony to… faith, life and family. They wake us from our indifference, opening our eyes to the injustices… they are not just seeking a better life, but life itself.”
In today’s gospel, Jesus is not using hyperbolic speech. Jesus is not visioning at all. He names truth. Many of our sisters and brothers have been uprooted. Some by force and others by necessity. All still capable of responding to God’s command to “choose life.”
The stories we read, places we walk, images we ponder, shape our vision of others’ lives. People do write the vision down, clearly. For us to “read the vision, readily” there are faulty histories, old misconceptions, one-sided points of view in our way. These are the “non-essential” and “potentially lethal” items for us to discard.
On the final day of my trip, I was sweltering in the Louisiana heat …and from the hard truths. Atlanta, Montgomery, and Selma had been riveting and disturbing. Now, at the Whitney Plantation there is a starkness. Here there is no homage to the sugar economy. Instead, the focus is on the people who were enslaved: their history, families, the conditions of their work and living, and the consequences of extraordinary methods to survive.
I found shade on a small bench and happened to sit with Ron. He’s from ‘not too far away.’ Ron is the great-grandson of Mary Dufray. Mary and those she lived with were not free to sit in the shade, stop when weary, walk out the front gate. Being with Ron, my “boxing with God” quieted down. Mary Dufray’s vision was right beside me.
“For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late. The rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith[because of her faith], shall live.” 
 2 Timothy 1:7 (NAB)
 Habakkuk 2:2
 James Weldon Johnson, The Prodigal Son.
 Luke 17:5
 Tom Kiefer, Belongings: Recovering the Sacred in Objects from the Border, Museum of Contemporary Religious Art, St. Louis University, https://www.slu.edu/mocra/exhibitions/past-exhibitions.php.
 Bishop Mark Joseph Seitz, Sorrow and Mourning Flee Away: Pastoral Letter on Migration to the People of God in the Diocese of El Paso, 2017, Section 17.
 Deuteronomy 30:19
 Spelling of the her last name is phonetic not exact.
 Habakkuk 2:2-4 (NAB). Inserted section by the author.
Barbara W. Eckert
Barbara W. Eckert
Barbara W. Eckert is a leadership consultant for the Catholic Church and has worked in over 60 dioceses in the US, Canada, and the Caribbean. Her work with bishops, priests, deacons, seminarians, and lay persons emphasizes outcomes and skills for effective self, interpersonal, team, and organizational leadership. Eckert has led several diocesan visioning and pastoral planning efforts as well as retreats for the ordained. Her chapter “Roman Catholic Ordained Leadership,” is published in Religious Leadership: A Reference Handbook.
Eckert is a consultant for Catholic Leadership Institute, Villanova University’s Center for Church Management, and the Saint John Vianney Center. She is a board member of the Missionaries of the Poor and part of the team for Shirts Across America’s workshops on human and civil rights. She created and preached the mission Discipleship: We Are Part of a Great Story and leads retreats with a particular emphasis on Pope Francis’ call for missionary discipleship. She believes in using art, especially from diverse cultural groups, and story to increase awareness of God’s abundant presence.
Eckert holds a master’s degree in Pastoral Studies from Seattle University and is a proud “Zag” alumna of Gonzaga University. In Tacoma, Washington, she shares life, faith and learning with her husband Bill, loves to travel, create perennial gardens and be with her two sisters.
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