Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Stories and the Unanswerables, and the Listening Little One

Dear community scattered,

I woke this morning to the playful movements of my baby. What a joy! Before joining workshops participants for breakfast, I narrated the sounds of rushing waters and rustling palm trees and the sweet fragrance of an orange tree grove to her/him as we walked the expansive grounds of a rural retreat center in northwest Colombia.

Field Visits: Stories and Questions. This round of visits to the five regional documentation teams is meaningful and thought-provoking. Rested and renewed since I last wrote, I’m enjoying the opportunity to listen to the anecdotes, advances and new challenges teams in the field experience. Monitoring visits mean the privilege of hearing more truths that trouble and confound. If, as we’re told, Sparkle hears my narration of the beauty of the earth, s/he also hears the difficult tales and unanswerable questions.

So many secrets, complex tales of loss and betrayal, courage and grief. Victims who are caught in a straight jacket of hate and economic dead ends become perpetrators. How do we introduce forgiveness to lives defined by cycles of loss and vengeance when external threats persist?

How do we respond to the new wave of threats and assassinations of demobilized combatants who connected to church communities, refused to rejoin the ranks and so become military targets of their former groups? How do we invite a mentally and physically armed society to lay down weapons, speak truth, repent and repair damages to the victims when peacemaking is as costly as war? The unanswerables strike the heart of faith, the root of and reason to hope and believe the “good news” of costly peacemaking.

The documentation experience in the field is varied. Despite progress in reporting, press work and advocacy, the law of silence for war victims still reigns in many cases. Fear of reprisals restricts, “and we become accomplices to the crime” one volunteer exclaims with pain in his eyes. At the same time, some victims share the relief they experience in giving voice to their tales. As we strive to improve the rigor of our interviews for precise data collection, we’re also challenged to listen with our spiritual hearts in ways that release the stories “embedded in the skin” of the silenced and inch victims to wholeness.

More than a Listening Ear and Political Advocacy? As a national documentation team, we’ve found that listening, recording and channelling stories is insufficient accompaniment. Even in a healing best-case scenario, as somewhat rosily described in the poem below, the victims are often left physically vulnerable, politically disempowered, traumatized and economically desperate. “At the end of the interview, the widow still doesn’t even have bread and panela (sugarcane drink) to give to her children!,” as one volunteer laments. Our next step for the next year is an ambitious, multifaceted accompaniment program for victims.

And now, a few disjointed notes—

Sojourners posted my reflection, “My Pregnancy and Hope Amidst Colombia’s Chaos,” and I’ve been surprised and moved by the responses it solicited. Click here to read it. The most unexpected note came from a woman who interviewed Jess for Al Jazeera a few months ago. Small world.

Click here to share in my favourite mental health break while doing computer work, the 4D ultrasound picture of our baby sucking it’s thumb. For me it goes like this: register two cases in the human rights database, flip to baby.

Prayers for Martha. Martha has been on my mind, in my heart and prayers for weeks. She’s a courageous woman in an extremely precarious situation: she refuses to cede community leadership and physical space to the forces threatening to kill her. Colombia ’s political and economic machinery backs her foes; her faith and community keep her rooted and alive, so far. As we verify information and make the necessary contacts for action plan and alert coming soon, I ask that you hold her in the Light.

Peace and hope,

Yours truly-- and the little listening one

There are stories
embedded in our skin
and words enfleshed in us,
and so may you bless us
with those who by tender touch
release the tales,
trace the lines,
free the words
one by one.
Give to us those
who will listen us
into our own language
till we are hoarse with the telling
and with the laughter
at being released
from the silences we had kept
so long.
- Jan Richardson, Night Visions



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