by Katie Haseltine (Excerpted from All the Things: A 30 Day Guide to Experiencing God in the Prayer of Examen)
As a freshman in college, I read the book Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools by Jonathan Kozol. The book, written in 1991, discusses the disparities in education between schools of different classes and races. It is based on Kozol’s observations of various classrooms in the public school systems of East St. Louis, Chicago, New York City, Camden, Cincinnati, and Washington, DC. I read the book in the context of a freshman seminar called “Just Desserts.” We discussed what people deserve or have a right to in American society. Most of the topics we covered I had never even considered.
We had one junior high and one high school for the entire county I grew up in. I remember one private Catholic school that went through sixth grade and one private Christian high school. Very few people I knew went to either. It never occurred to me that things could be different for other kids my age. I took for granted that if you wanted a good education, you got it, and if you wanted to go to college, you figured out a way to pay for it. The fact that some kids received less of an education or less education because of their class or race was mind-blowing to me.
I believed the author’s premise that racism existed in America, but I did not think it could infect the church. I am one of those Christians who had a definitive before and after conversion experience and, in my way of thinking then, the “after” contained none of the bad of the before. (Bless my idealistic and naive heart, right? It was such a far fall back down.)
I just assumed that Christians were different, a.k.a. not racist or classist, and that people who loved God loved everyone equally without prejudice. Somehow, I missed that the only Christians are actual humans who are both good and bad AND that the church is made of those same complicated people. (I figured it out soon enough.) Books like Divided by Faith by Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith quickly disabused me of my privileged Pollyanna notions. The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby, a more recent addition to the study of the church and racism, continues to expose the ugly truth.
When I think back to those days when I didn’t know that lovers of God could be haters of the people God made, I feel amazement and grief. I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then. AND I’m grateful to be wide awake to the realities that so many of my brothers and sisters in the faith experience as people of color. Now that I’ve seen the wounds caused by racism, I can’t look away. I’m compelled to act—for justice and for greater faith, hope, and love among people who oppress and those who are oppressed.
One of the values of the Jesuits is “becoming a person for others.” To be a person for others means responding to pain, tragedy, and suffering in the capacity of a servant in order to meet another’s needs.
Knowing and sensing God’s love is only the beginning of the spiritual journey. Spreading the love, healing, and hope you’ve found in Jesus “to the ends of the earth” is the daily walk of faith for the lover of God.
Author and theologian Frederick Buechner wrote, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Deep gladness to me is that soul knowing that I’m loved and cared for by God. When that bumps up against what is wrong in the world, I know I have something to give.
Over the years, my commitment to pursue racial justice and equity is confirmed repeatedly in the prayer of Examen. I’ve noticed that these are the stories that catch my attention, that bring tears to my eyes, that cause the anger to rise within me—over and over again. What is it that captures you? Where do you feel called to serve others? Begin to pay attention in the Examen to what causes you to feel anger, fear, or shame.
Perhaps there is fortitude you can bring to the fight for justice, companionship you can offer to those doing hard things, or welcome you can extend to those who have lost their way. Offer your tears, your emotions, and your deep gladness to God. You will be shown who needs it.
Let the Examen guide you to the fulfillment of Micah 6:8 in your own life. “But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously—take God seriously.” (MSG translation)
An Examen for These Days
Thank you that you are near to all you have made. All are made in Your image in love, with love, and because of love. Thank you that You are close to me and You love me.
Show me every place You are present and active on this earth that is groaning to be remade. Show me in everyone Your commitment to make all things new. Shine the light of truth into the darkest of places and expose every lie that holds me, your people, and your creation captive.
Let me see.
Let me see what has yet to be renewed in faith, love, and hope in every system, structure, institution, and group. Open my eyes to the ones you love who suffer injustice, oppression, and hate. Where have I ignored Your call to act on behalf of others? Where has my own comfort or privilege blinded me to the needs of and unfair practices against others?
Let me see Your heart for the victims of oppression and for those who oppress. Open my eyes to my own soul. How am I really doing? Help me talk to you, God, about the anger, sadness, fear, and hurt that lives in me as a result of the racism, division, ignorance, and apathy I witness. Let me see that You are with me in it.
Forgive me for where I have given darkness free reign—through my actions or my silence. Forgive me for my chosen ignorance and weary resignation. Forgive me for thinking that You’ve left it this way on purpose, that You’re not able or willing to help, and that You’ll never intervene. I am worn out and tired. Forgive me for forgetting that it was never my battle alone to fight—that it was never my name at stake, but Yours.
Lead me down every road that ends in peace. Lead me into faith, hope, and love. Lead me to pursue justice and equity for all You have made—and give me the strength, stamina, and vision to do so. Let me follow the lead of Jesus who chose humility and solidarity with the weak. Most of all, lead me today into Your presence to receive the faith, hope, and love I need to keep on going.