Rev. Jill Cowie
To Be A Witness in the Borderlands
Posted on February 27th, 2017

​In his book "Reimagining Christianity," Episcopal Priest Alan Jones writes:
"The realm of God is concerned with the restoration of lost harmonies,
with the healing of fractured integrities,
with the creation of new spaces within the soul.
One way of understanding the realm of God
is to think of it is a code word for mending the creation and for enlarging the space in which it can flourish."
 I spent a week of October last year on the Arizona/ Mexico border on a Border Witness Trip. When I left I wasn't sure what was meant by the word "witness." But now I know it has to do with restoring lost harmonies, mending creation, and creating space where it can flourish.   We visited the desert marked by the footprints of thousands seeking freedom from the hunger and violence of their countries. Not all make it.  Over 6,000 people have died along the US. Mexico borders since they started trying to count in 2001, and those that are doing the counting say that in truth the actual number is that times ten.    Of those captured, many are taken to the federal courthouse in Tucson bound in chains. We witnessed them being process sometimes in groups of 70, each mumbling "soy culpable" (guilty), and given six month prison sentences.  We are one of very few countries that criminalize migration.  We met others who were released after prison back in Mexico. Most of them had lived in the States for over 10 years, some had small businesses, all had U.S. born children. 
​To witness means to no longer to be a bystander- to fully see the humanity of one who is oppressed- a humanity often veiled by an interweaving web of laws, perceptions, biases, that make the oppression seem normal. To witness means to deconstruct that normal and see with new eyes. It takes effort and a willingness to question, to probe, to feel your heart break open and hold all the pain. To witness is to see our own government breaking international law by imposing a border control policy that costs thousands of lives. (Inter-American Court, 2003). To witness, is to follow the lead of those oppressed, to let their strength, courage, and conviction fill your broken heart. Only in solidarity, can we move together, stop by step to reclaim the higher law of human worth and dignity. 
To witness means to believe that love is stronger and more resilient that the forces that oppose it.  We witnessed so many wonderful people working on the side of love. On our last day, my colleague, Victoria Safford offered this prayer.  I share it with you now in hope and solidarity that we  help our nation heal fractured integrities and live into the realm of God.
Spirit of life and love
moving in the wind and over all waters
shining in sunlight and starlight
rustling in wild autumn grasses,
spirit that murmurs over the darkening desert,
 great spirit,
moving in all things and in the breath of each of us, gather us in.
 Our open eyes hold images we will not,
must not forget
images of brokenness and beauty unspeakable cruelty,
unspeakable courage.
Our open ears hold stories we will not
must not
songs of brokenness and beauty unspeakable sorrow unspeakable hope
must not, will not forget:
Our open hearts hold all of this: shards of brokenness
shimmers of beauty, struggles and joy
the evidence of evil - which our own eyes have seen,
and we also are culpable; the testimony of compassion – which our own ears have heard,
and we also are capable of love.
We are made for this, our hearts are made for this: to hold it all,
to hold the unspeakable –and to speak it,
to find within us, and among us, a faith sufficient to speak truth to power. By grace and by our will, may we find the power to speak. Now begins our journey.
May we carry with us as we go all that we have seen and heard, all the truth we know by heart.

“I believe the world is beautiful
And that my veins don’t end in me
but in the unanimous blood of those who struggle for life,
little things
landscape and bread
the poetry of everyone.”
Words of Roque Dalton, poet of El Salvador (adapted)   

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