رجعت / by Alice Su

The quickest of updates to note that I've returned to Amman, Jordan, and am at work at several projects related to migration, religion, minorities and extremism. The same topics I've focused on for years and see as increasingly important in this age of nationalism, borders, wars and walls. I'll also write more about and from the perspective of women this year inshallah. Amman is likely the only place where I'll ever be happy that most of my friends are gone, resettled to Germany, Canada and the U.S. It's also where I came to understand the goodness of discomfort, sorrow and anger at injustice, if only to move us into action against it. It's very good to be back. I've got many words and not enough time to share at the moment, but here are some from a wiser man that I have felt for the last few days:

It is tragic to see how the religious sentiment of the West has become so individualized that concepts such as ‘a contrite heart,’ have come to refer only to personal experiences of guilt and the willingness to do penance for it. The awareness of our impurity in thoughts, words and deeds can indeed put us in a remorseful mood and create in us the hope for a forgiving gesture. But if the catastrophical events of our days, the wars, mass murders, unbridled violence, crowded prisons, torture chambers, the hunger and illness of millions of people and the unnamable misery of a major part of the human race is safely kept outside the solitude of our hearts, our contrition remans no more than a pious emotion.

Can we carry the burden of reality? How can we remain open to all human tragedies and aware of the vast ocean of human suffering without becoming mentally paralyzed and depressed? How can we live a healthy and creative life when we are constantly reminded of the fate of the millions who are poor, sick, hungry and persecuted/ How can we even smile when we keep being confronted by pictures of tortures and executions?
I do not know the answer to these questions.

Maybe, for the time being, we have the accept the many fluctuations between knowing and not knowing, seeing and not seeing, feeling and not feeling, between days in which the whole world seems like a rose garden and days in which our hearts seem tied to a millstone, between moments of ecstatic joy and moments of gloomy depression, between the humble confession that the newspaper holds more than our souls can bear and the realization that it is only through facing up to the reality of our world that we can grow into our own responsibility. Maybe we have to be tolerant toward our own avoidances and denials in the conviction that we cannot force ourselves to face what we are not ready to respond to and in the hope that in one future day we will have the courage and strength to open our eyes fully and see without being destroyed. All this might be the case as long as we remember that there is no hope in denial or avoidance, neither for ourselves nor for anyone else, and that new life can only be born out of the seed planted in crushed soil. Indeed God, our Lord, ‘will not scorn this crushed and broken heart’ (Psalm 51:17).

When only our minds and hands work together we quickly become dependent on the results of our actions and tend to give up when they do not materialize. In the solitude of the heart we can truly listen to the pains of the world because there we can recognize them not as strange and unfamiliar pains, but as pains that are indeed our own. There we can see that what is most universal is most personal and that indeed nothing human is strange to us. There we can feel that the cruel reality of history is indeed the reality of the human heart, our own included, and that to protest asks, first of all, for a confession of our own participation in the human condition. There we can indeed respond.

The movement from loneliness to solitude, therefore, is not a movement of a growing withdrawal from, but rather a movement toward, a deeper engagement in the burning issues of our time. The movement from loneliness to solitude is a movement that allows us to perceive interruptions as occasions for a conversion of heart, which makes our responsibilities a vocation instead of a burden, and which creates the inner space where a compassionate solidarity with our fellow human beings becomes possible. The movement from loneliness to solitude is a movement by which we reach out to our innermost being to find there our great healing powers, not as a unique property to be defended but as a gift to be shared with all human beings.
— Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out, published in 1975, words for today.