You would have to be deaf, dumb and blind to not have noticed the current darkness in America: more black folks in our jails than were enslaved before the Civil War; Climate Catastrophe has become the norm; 30 million people still without health care; about 130 people die, every day, from opioid overdoses; there is still no clean drinking water in Flint; and for me, the darkest situation of all: migrant children are being crammed into cages on our southern border. And I could go on, but I hope you get the picture — it’s dark out here.
I want to look at just two aspects of this darkness — the opioid crisis and the crisis on our southern border — and see if rubbing the two of them together, like two sticks, can spark some imaginative fire.
Our Founders imagined an enlightened way to live that they enshrined in The Declaration of Independence and The United States Constitution. True, “All men are created equal” applied only to white male landowners in 1776. And also true, it would take almost 200 years for women, people of color and Native Americans to even be considered a part of that vision. But still, it was an amazing, imaginative beginning.
The imagined ideals in our founding documents have operated like a “horizon” for almost three hundred years. A horizon is something you walk towards, but never actually reach — yet, the “American Horizon” has given a direction and meaning to millions of people all over the world. It’s why my grandparents left their home in Italy and emigrated here. And it’s why families are walking 3,000 miles from Central America — they are walking towards the horizon, towards the imaginative idea that is “America.”
Last week, on Independence Day, a few of us went to celebrate with the Dominican Sisters of Peace at St. Catharine, Kentucky. A dear friend, Sr. Elaine DesRosiers, was born on the Fourth of July — so it was a doubly-joyous celebration! After a festive meal, we toured the Motherhouse and the beautiful grounds that surround it.
Along the way, we encountered seven women walking along the road, and we stopped to talk to them. They were six young women who are trying to recover from opioid addiction, and the woman who is guiding them towards that horizon — Bev Lee. Bev and the Dominican Sisters put their hearts together and imagined a way to help women make a transition from opioid addiction, jail and death — to freedom and a new life. Thus, One Bridge to Hope, a recovery facility for women, was created in St. Catharine’s Bertrand Hall.
“Miss Bev” (as the women called her) offered to let us tour the facility and hear the stories of the six women. It was a powerful experience that none of us will ever forget! But my main takeaway from it was this — out of the darkness, a great light was born.
There’s the challenging darkness of addiction, but also the Dominican sisters had to navigate some darkness of their own. They had to witness the closing down of St. Catharine College a few years ago. That was a great loss to the whole community. Add to that, the fact that the sisters are aging, and wondering what will become of their community in a decade or two. In the face of all that, the Dominicans are bravely imagining new ways to “preach peace” and bring light into the world.
I think we have to approach the challenge of the refugees coming to our southern border with a similar bravery — by imagining a way to turn the darkness they are fleeing into light. Closing the border and telling them to go back to where they came from, is as insane as walking barefoot on a summer day, stepping on a thorn, and having your hand say to your foot – “Hey, that’s your problem!”
We often sing hymns in church like “We Are All One Body,” and “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace.” Those hymns, like the foundational documents of our country, give us a horizon that we can walk towards. A horizon that makes life more humane and meaningful.
Like the Dominicans Sisters of Peace and Bev Lee, we can marry our hearts and our ideals – and imagine a way to turn the current challenge at our southern border into a blessing. “How?” you might ask. Well, as the great poet John Keats once said, “I am certain of nothing but the heart’s affection and the truth of Imagination.