Tuesday, December 27, 2011

In God's Country

Hello from Jamaica Plain in Boston! I'm typing this from San Lorenzo Friary, where I'm staying with the Capuchins. Outside the rain is drilling the earth, and the wind is kicking up, but inside all is calm. Although the sky was dismally gray when our Greyhound bus pulled into South Station at four in the afternoon, it could not perturb my spirits. As one of my postulant brothers told me, "Good to be back in God's country, huh?"

Amen and alleluia, brother! I wanna testify.

Seriously, there's something about being in Boston that inspires me to try things I've never done before. Somehow this city makes me highly receptive to the working of the Holy Spirit, as if the city had a collective Christ-consciousness that mediates the presence of the Spirit for me. I don't claim to know what Jerusalem means to people of Jewish or Muslim faith, but when I read the psalms that speak with passion about the holy city, I try to think of my feelings for Boston. My faith burns brightly here, and it leads me to take healthy risks. Here, I feel the strength to love. Here, I feel the courage to speak in God's name.

So, speaking of trying things I've never done before: Tonight after prayer and dinner, I went to an Occupy Boston general assembly at Arlington Street Church. It was the first such meeting I've been to -- I never had the time or freedom to go to the Occupy Wall Street general assemblies, though I've been to Occupy rallies and marches in New York. For a couple of hours I lurked from the back of the room and observed the proceedings without speaking. (Before we judge and act, we must first observe. This I believe firmly.) Mainly I was curious to see what participatory democracy looks like. It was noisy and slow and a little trivial and sometimes disorderly, but it was working. I left in the middle of deliberations over a proposal to protect Occupy Boston's public assemblies from the predations of Level 3 sex offenders, impressed by their commitment to process and determination to counter the perception that the Occupy movement is a grave threat to public safety.

In the church hall there were about 120 people sitting or moving around. I didn't see anyone I recognized except for one transgender activist. I didn't recognize any people of faith, either, but that doesn't mean such persons weren't there. We were all ordinary people, carrying forward an extraordinary experiment in democracy in pursuit of the common good.

This may not strike you as a particularly bold step out on faith, but that's the point. I have grown into discipleship in Boston through small, imperceptible steps. Little opportunities arise constantly for stretching: my concept of where a Christian goes and what a Christian does has expanded incrementally, time and time again, since I settled here in 2005. In this city, the course of human events seems to trickle like water into my spirit and touch my soul in ways that never happened in Baltimore or New York. Of course, the people of God conspire everywhere to unharden the hearts of sinners, but the people of Boston have done wonders for me.

All right, time to retire. I may not have another post for a few days, but I will try to write if I have free time. My Beantown dance card is filling up!

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