Look into their Faces

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Surely life is more than waiting at the center of a wheel of fortune that spins and stops repeatedly to point out countless causes and concerns. Finish one task and then hang on as the wheel spins and points out the next one. Will it be immigration, prison reform, nuclear disarmament, climate change, indigenous rights, racism and white privilege, or . . . ? This inner image of a spinning wheel reflects how my life can feel these days – juggling and shuttling among various tasks and commitments.

Last summer, my Quaker meeting began supporting a small family of immigrants who seemed to be in need of sanctuary.. During our first year as members of the Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition, after joining in July 2014, we had provided sanctuary twice, briefly each time. The following year, no one in the Metro Denver Area had needed sanctuary. Active accompaniment and support had helped several immigrants win stays of deportation. Then late last summer, we learned that Ingrid Encalada Latorre had received an order for deportation, even though she had served probation and paid the fines for her offense of using a purchased document to work and support her family. With that, she and her two small boys became intertwined with the life of Mountain View Meeting in Denver.

One Saturday afternoon in October, I was returning home from a workshop in the mountains outside Denver. I turned my phone back on, and all the text messages I had missed during the workshop appeared and altered the course of my week. Ingrid had not been granted a postponement for her court appearance, and we did not know where her lawyer was. We needed to rally supporters to attend a hearing that Monday morning, lawyer or no.

So Monday, thirty of us wearing yellow – Ingrid’s favorite color – crowded into the courtroom to show support. A hapless stand-in attorney tried to explain that Ingrid’s proper legal team was not available. Neither was Ingrid for that matter, out of fear of being detained by immigration. It was only our visible presence that kept the judge from dismissing out-of-hand Ingrid’s motion to re-open her case. Now her legal strategy faced a steeper uphill climb, with the need to prove the incompetence of her appeal counsel. She would need even more money for legal fees. ICE denied her application for a stay of her deportation order. The urgency of her family’s need for sanctuary was mounting daily.

Then came the apocalyptic surprise of the presidential election. The morning after, several of us found ourselves standing outside the regional ICE office, accompanying an immigrant to his check-in. As we waited there together, we reflected that we were standing at Ground Zero in the struggle to protect immigrant rights.

Even with that turn of events, it was still difficult for Ingrid to decide to actually enter sanctuary. She hesitated, as she had many family issues to consider and juggle, and many different legal threads to untangle. But over her head hung the imminent threat of a final order for deportation. We stood by, ready. By the end of November, Ingrid finally entered sanctuary with us.

We held community events to welcome Ingrid and her one-year-old son into our meetinghouse, first privately among coalition members and then a week later in full view of the local press. With a few words, a song, and a symbolic ceremony in which we all held onto ribbons radiating outward from Ingrid, we bound our future together with hers – a community in sanctuary.

Talking with one reporter after another, I kept trying to express one concrete answer to their many questions about our involvement with sanctuary: Just look into the faces of this mother and child. That is all the answer you need. Over the Christmas holidays, I could not see an image of the Madonna and Child without thinking of Ingrid and Anibal. The Messiah could be anyone, anywhere, all of us together.

One evening near Christmas, while taking a walk, I puzzled over the way that the daily efforts of keeping our sanctuary going had filled my life. A phrase from Wittgenstein came to mind: “How small a thought it takes to fill a whole life.” So that was it – just settle down into it, like the proverbial Quaker seed. A week later, on New Year’s Day, I spoke of this proverb during meeting for worship. Then another Friend spoke of the need for resistance and the need for love to carry us. With that word, love, the bottom fell out of whatever I had said. That was the word I had been missing: love. Its absence was like the remonstrance in Paul – without love, all your words are as a sounding brass or tinkling cymbals. Love is the medium that guides our Quaker testimonies.

Part of the work of sanctuary is continually coming up with new actions to keep the story alive and present in the public eye, and hopefully in the eyes of immigration officials who can grant our guest the discretion of a stay. In mid-January, we staged a noontime rally on the 16th Street Mall in Denver. We marched around the mall with yellow ribbons that symbolized our hope for Ingrid and her family. At the end of the march, we gathered, and each of us spoke a single word to describe our purpose that day. My word was “love.” Sanctuary is an act of love.

So often I operate from an analytic perspective, slicing and dicing, looking for an edge or a wedge that can cleave the diamond. But love takes us beyond dualism. It embraces all that exists. We are all floating on a sea of love. It carries us from task to task, bouncing us gently across all concerns – nothing major, just showing up, being present, caring for those who are placed in our hands.

I am becoming less concerned about being in control and more interested in the word “kenosis,” self-emptying. Not “empty” in the sense of being exhausted – although there are moments when I realize I can’t read another paragraph or think another coherent thought – but I mean “empty” in the sense of clearing space in which we can be free together. Love flows in that space. Even if just a small trickle at times, love draws on the energy of the heart, trusts in the fullness of the inner fountain. Love flows.

As spring days lengthen, so do the days in sanctuary. How long, O Lord? It is a tedious waiting game. Ingrid’s court date draws closer. We all feel anxious about what will happen. We are standing out on a ledge. Our faith is not in the law, but in the workings of grace. We pray that Light will work its way through tiny crevices to warm the hardest of hearts. ~~~

David Poundstone is a member of Mountain View Meeting in Denver, CO (IMYM).