In 2015 my parents walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain. They arrived in Santiago de Compostela the morning of Pentecost after spending nearly thirty days walking-sometimes registering 15-20 miles of walking per day.
I asked my parents to reflect on that and here is what they sent me:
“We were thrilled to complete our pilgrimage and exhilarated to be in Santiago on Pentecost. At the midday worship for pilgrims we were in the packed Cathedral with hundreds of pilgrims from around the world who had also arrived in Santiago that day or in the days before Pentecost.
Tradition has it that when pilgrims arrived in Santiago they smelled so bad from days of walking without bathing that they needed to be fumigated. While they were together a giant “batafumerio” weighing 176 pounds was filled with 80 pounds of charcoal and incense and raised high above the gathered congregation where it would swing high overhead so its burning incense would literally fumigate the pilgrims, a tradition going back nearly 1000 years and still preformed to this day. So to the accompaniment of the grand organ, the batafumerio swung back and forth high overhead in the cathedral over hundreds of pilgrims. A sight and sound and smell that will stay with us forever.
The worship liturgy was in Spanish and Latin which we and probably many in this international congregation could not understand. But that did not matter. Like the first Pentecost, the language of the Spirit of God overcame our differences. We were there celebrating our safe arrival in Santiago and the welcoming love of God. We have said that we understood nothing that was spoken in that worship but at the same time, we understood everything.
I received this reflection (and video footage) early last week from my parents and I have been thinking about it all week. And then last night, as I tried to fall asleep all I could hear were sirens and all I could see when I closed my eyes were the images coming from the Kansas City Plaza, which is only a couple miles from where we live and where some of our church members live. Those gathered were fumigated with tear gas, used for the purpose of scattering and some would argue, “protecting” or “preserving order.”
I sensed early in the day yesterday based on some of the news feeds I follow that a fairly big crowd was going to gather–people were saying they’d be willing to drive 3-4 hours in order to be there to join their voices with others seeking to address racist policies in America that have seeped into everything. Color does indeed matter in so many situations. Black and brown lives and bodies are treated differently, sometimes discarded or treated “less than,” especially compared to white citizens. This happens every day in micro and macro ways. And those of us who are white may not always see it or be aware of it. So for someone who is white to say, “I’m not racist,” is not helpful. It fails to recognize what we are all saturated in. Racism is in the air we breathe, and is what is choking out so much life.
I’m trying to remind myself that in all the outrage, property damage, and looting (note that it is not always clear who is doing that and for what purpose), what remains (or what should remain) most appalling of all is the racist policies that continue to dominate so many facets and sectors of American life. And that includes the Church which includes white pastors like me who still has work to do to understand my white privilege, my place in this important work of dismantling racism within myself and within the structures I exist in.
It’s become my tradition to pour leftover juice from our Rainbow communion gatherings somewhere on church grounds. Today I’m going to walk down to the Kansas City Plaza with my chalice of leftover juice and pray while considering the wide-ranging feelings of betrayal, especially that which is experienced by people of color. And as I consider what was broken or damaged last night, I will pray that the Spirit of God will be at work breathing life into places and in peoples whose lives are literally being choked out. And that those of who are part of systems that choke lives will be cleansed by the Spirit of God too.