“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me….”
These are the words of Jesus (Matthew 25:35), and yet in light of recent events, somehow they seem so foreign. How can a country that is made up mostly of immigrants deny those who seek the refuge that their ancestors once sought? How can a mandate drafted by those who claim to follow Jesus (wrongly) prioritize Christians and yet completely neglect Christ? And how can pastors and priests step up to the pulpit and not utter a word about the injustice being done to the least of these?
“God is merciful and gracious
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”
This weekend in Seattle where I live, 13 people were detained at Sea-Tac airport in connection with President Trump’s executive order banning immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim countries. Some of these people have family waiting for them in Seattle. At least two of them are already scheduled to be deported. Each of them has been unfairly profiled and rejected. Each of them is a child of God.
“Whichever way you turn there is the face of God.”
The Cow 2:111
In the words of Jesus, they are the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger; they are Christ. And yet as in the story we commemorated not long ago (do we remember its words?), we have sent them away, declaring there is no room in the inn—declaring there is no room in our hearts, in our homes.
“Love your neighbor
as you love yourself.”
Instead the Christ child was born out back in a stable. Perhaps today it would have been an alley; the dingy, neglected corners of the world where we place our refuse, hidden from sight. The union of human and Divine, heaven and earth broke into this world on the fringes. Do we still not have eyes to see—ears to hear—that there it still dwells?
“You have but to remember
and you will see the light.”
The Heights 7:201
The pilgrim knows this—knows that you sometimes have to cross borders to truly encounter the living God. The pilgrim knows you have to look outside of yourself to find the truth that burns within. The pilgrim knows that both the stranger inside us and outside our door—no matter how foreign—often becomes a teacher, a guide, a friend.
“Whoever saves a human life
shall be regarded as though they had saved all humankind.”
The Table 5:32
The pilgrim is a wanderer, moving from one place to the next in search of the Divine. One foot in front of the other, she walks the path of the seeker, looking for Home, looking for Life. So often she is the stranger in a foreign land; will she now recognize the stranger when they come to her door?
“Blessed are the clear in heart
for they see the living presence.”
These immigrants, they are pilgrims too—searching for hope, searching for love, searching for peace. These refugees have been uprooted, forced to journey on a treacherous path far from home. The time is now, pilgrim; the stranger is here—trembling in our cities, waiting in our airports, mourning in seven countries of our world for a hope that now seems lost. How will you respond?
“God created us as one soul
and as one soul God will bring us back to life.”
If you are called to be a pilgrim, practice welcoming the stranger this week. Contact your senators and representatives, speak out on injustice at your church, join one of the rallies forming far and wide, or provide for a refugee family in your community. Listen closely to what the stranger within is calling you to, too.
You can also welcome the stranger by educating yourself and others. Like each of the ancient traditions, the religion of Islam is built on love and peace. Learn from its wisdom by reading the Quran or some of its famous mystics, like Rumi or Hafiz (also written as Hafez). I also recommend Praying with the Earth: A Prayerbook for Peace by John Philip Newell, a collection of prayers and wisdom from the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions, and where I pulled the Bible and Quran quotes listed above (there’s an excellent collection of chants to accompany it, too, many of which we’ll be singing on our upcoming Iona Pilgrimage).