A couple of weeks ago we were in Austin, Texas for the tri-annual Episcopal Church General Convention. It’s a big affair with roughly 15,000 people attending from across the landscape of The Episcopal Church. There were a lot of important conversations, resolutions being explored, Cuba being received as a diocese of TEC, and lots of fun and Episcopal fellowship. We were there to represent the Community of Divine Love with the rest of the CAROA (Conference of Anglican Religious Orders in the Americas) members and talk with people about the monastic life and our ministry in the jails. So, there was a lot going on, but for me there was one in particular that is memorable in a unique way and I’m sure I will not soon forget, if ever.
On Sunday, July 8, roughly 1,000 people boarded nineteen charter buses, while others joined in private vehicles and we all made the hour-long trip to the Hutto Women’s Immigration Detention Center near Taylor, Texas, where I found myself standing on the road with other hearts beating for social justice. We stood there on the road outside Hutto bearing messages of compassion for our incarcerated sisters and surely in hope that our presence that day would make a difference. Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said it so well that day under the hot Texas sun: “We do not come in hatred, we do not come in bigotry, we do not come to put anyone down, we come to lift everybody up. We come in love. We come in love because we follow Jesus, and Jesus taught us love.” This is the Episcopal Church that I love.
I stood looking at the building that was about a hundred yards off with its rows of narrow vertical windows. They were familiar. Twin Towers Correctional Facility here in Los Angeles as well as many other facilities have the same design. I knew that the women were on the other side of those windows. As I fixed my attention, suddenly I saw it. There was something white moving up and down one of the windows. They were waving at us. I waved back and started yelling ‘I SEE YOU,” over and over again. Soon all of us were waving and yelling the chant of “I SEE YOU! – Te Vio! Others began chanting YOU ARE NOT ALONE,” in both English and Spanish. This holy exchange between chants of solidarity and white waving went on for a good thirty minutes before we were asked to disperse and return to our original gathering place up the road.
This experience deeply touched the hearts and energized the souls of all who were there. Little did we know that what happened next would leave us in tears. At least it did me. We learned later that evening that the women incarcerated at Hutto had telephoned the Episcopal Church. Their message was that they saw us, and that the women were huddled around those windows weeping and watching. They never left those windows until the last of us had left for our return trip. They wanted us to know that it meant everything to them that we had shown us in such a force of solidarity and they felt seen and indeed not alone that day.
To see people on the margins is everything. To be seen while ensconced in the margins is everything. I’m proud to be a part of The Episcopal Church that is taking social justice concerns seriously, but this is not just the work of well-meaning Christians. This is not just the work of those of us who are striving for justice and peace among all people and respecting the dignity of every human being. This needs to be the work of all people everywhere. These are troublesome times when people are being separated in alarming new ways. More than ever in recent history we need to see one another; and not just the women of Hutto and millions of other refugees, but also the person standing next to you; the lonely neighbor, the confused teen, the addicted sister or brother, the overwhelmed mother, the one on the other side of the political debate. We need to see each other now. We need to show that the eternal power that brings us together in solidarity as human beings is more powerful than any lesser power than wants to confuse and divide us.
That day on the road in Texas changed me. I am more aware than ever of the importance of really seeing people and of the power of love that springs from being mindful of really looking at people; of really seeing people. In doing so, I am more open to people really seeing me for who I truly am. I just know that this is what God desires for us; to be connected to one another. To really see each other. I encourage you to try it. You don’t have to be yelling form the side of the road. You can quietly say to someone: “I see you,” and see what happens next. It just might change your life.