Dear Jesus: Maybe It's the Result of Human Beings Saying No

Dear Jesus, I've been wrestling still with the comparison between what I've learned of you from my own journey and what I see littered in the debris of history.

Like I wrote in my last letter to you, I see you everywhere in my story. I feel like my whole life has been nestled inside yours and that all I've done is receive -- say yes -- to all that you've implanted in me and designed my life to be.

Even the ability to say yes was given to me by you.

And it has confused me about history. I haven't known what to do with the painful, wicked realities of this world. If the truth is that you are all good things and that you choose us, we don't choose you, then why do evil things happen? Did you not choose some?

While I've been wrestling with these questions, I've also been thinking a lot about the true self and the false self, and I'm starting to think that conversation can be instructive to this conversation here.

It's my belief that each of us has a true self -- a self that conforms to that which you created when you conceived us. Because of original sin, environmental factors, and our own ongoing choices, we also have a false self. It's not the deepest truth of us, but it exists all the same and we live inside of it and from it much of our lives.

Spiritual formation is the process of being conformed into the original image you conceived for each one of us. It is the process of being conformed into the unique image of yourself that we bear.

I wrote recently that our role in that formation process is simply to say yes. You do all the work of creating conditions and issuing invitations and actually changing us, and we simply say yes to it.

Perhaps the insane chaos of this world that seeks to shatter the divine imprint in humanity's particularities is the result of human beings saying no. Turning their backs on the truth of who they are -- beautiful, glorious creations by the hand of God who are meant to mirror your own love and truth and beauty in this world -- and choosing the false self instead.

We are meant to live in harmony with you and with each other. You create the conditions for this. You set the divine imprint and invitation in each one of us. But it is our job to say yes.

And when we say no, hell erupts on earth. 

Our Father,  who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Love, Christianne

Dear Jesus: I Don't Understand History

Dear Jesus, Sometimes I look at my life and see that everything good in it comes from you.

From the moment of my first consciousness, I have been aware of you. You made yourself present to me, and I've never known my life without you in it.

You gave me a family environment that further supported a life with you. I went to church, learned the scriptures, and grew in my faith over time.

Even when my propensity toward sin and error and environmental factors led me astray from your truth and who you really are, you corrected my steps. At a certain point in time, you arrested my attention and caused my spiritual journey to take a new turn: a turn toward you and your true self.

That was a long journey, and I'm still journeying in it, but even as I look at the growth of my life since that journey began, I see your fingerprints everywhere.

My love for you was given to me by you. My spiritual awareness was implanted in me by you. My love for others is your own heart in me. My care for peace and justice and mercy and compassion and dignity and truth -- these are all your cares, further evidence of your own heart in me, given to me by you.

I did not choose you, but you chose me.

I don't know how to express with enough forcefulness that I know this to be true: that the good in me is there because of you, and I did not choose you, but you chose me.

It is because I know this to be true that I get stumped up on history.

If you choose what will be -- you implant goodness, you ordain events, you grow us up into your own heart's desire and reflection -- then why does life contain so much pain? Why is history pockmarked with such depravity? Why, even still today, does evil reign supreme?

People live and die with evil intent in their hearts and venomous actions littered in their wake.

Do you deem this to be so, too? How could you?

It is a perplexing question too great for this heart to hold sometimes. I do not understand. Will you help me understand?

Love, Christianne

Dear Dr. King: How Did You Not Despair?

Dear Dr. King, Last night I read the chapter in your autobiography about the Vietnam War. I watched you wrestle through your personal responsibility to speak about it, and I watched how you were scorned for all you did because of it. I watched your friends and colleagues asked you to back down. So many people said you were in over your head and that you should keep your focus on civil rights alone.

What's more, I saw the slow recognition in your heart that all was not as you thought it was in this country.

After so many years of toil spent turning the tide of this country and swaying the president's hand toward greater justice and humanity, in the Vietnam War you came to see just how far from justice and humanity's heart the powers of this country really were. You came to see that might and money mattered more.

How did you not despair, Dr. King? How did you not despair? After working within systems for so long and mapping out strategies that, inch by inch, drew justice nearer the light of day, how did you sustain hope when you saw the brilliant daylight was still so far from drawing near?

As I'm nearing the end of your book, I know your assassination looms close, just a few turns of the pages away, and despair creeps into my heart as I anticipate that fateful moment.

I have spent two and a half years with your autobiography, and such an immersion into the fullness of your life has taught me that you were not a man who gave a few speeches and, through the strength those speeches alone, rallied masses of people to walk and assemble and demonstrate and protest. You were not a figurehead. You did not simply have a dream.

Rather, the fullness of your life has taught me what it truly takes to turn the tide of history. It takes stamina. It takes fearlessness. It takes conviction, yes.

But it also takes strategy. It takes knowing the limits and allowances of the law. It takes long-range planning. It takes creativity. It takes tiny but well-planned, incremental steps. It takes getting down and dirty in the trenches with everyone else. It takes the strength and education of communities.

And it takes an enormity of character and integrity. It takes counting your life as not your own.

Having learned the fullness of your life and how you embodied all these things makes me feel deeply the loss of your life -- that all that strength and courage and leadership and truth and wisdom and action built into the fullness of one man's life could be snuffed out in an instant.

How do you not despair this, Dr. King? How do you not despair?

I know you would say to me that the light of Christ shines brighter still, even as the darkness gets darker. I know you would say that the depth of one's conviction can erase the care for one's own life. I know you would say that the spiritual infection at work in the world does not relent, but neither does Christ relent and nor should we.

But when I awoke this morning, it was with a heaviness of heart I could not shake. I thought about your life snuffed out in an instant. I thought about your disappointment in the powers of your country through the Vietnam War. I thought about Gandhi's assassination. I thought about the crucifixion of Jesus. I thought about all the ways the depravity of this world encroaches and leaves me feeling helpless and so small.

Thankfully, the weight of my grief and discouragement propelled me to the noonday eucharist service at my church. I sat in the pew before the service and tried to pray, but all I could do was feel my sadness. My heart felt weak, and soon the tears began rolling down my cheeks. I gave thanks for a shared liturgy that allowed the prayers of the people to sustain my weakened hope, for I was too weak to pray.

And then, through the liturgy and eucharist, I was reminded of what likely gave you hope and sustained you through the darknesses you faced -- and I found a measure of my own hope again.

In the reading of Psalm 67 -- "Let your ways be known upon the earth, your saving health among all nations. . . . May all the ends of the earth stand in awe of God" -- I was reminded that one day, all the nations of the earth will stream toward God in praise. Eventually all will see and acknowledge his glory and beauty. One day all truth will be known and honestly received.

In the epistle reading, which concerned St. Paul's conversion, I was reminded that even a most-hated man who persecuted and killed the early believers of the church can be set apart and called through grace and receive Christ in an instant. I was reminded that even in the most hopeless circumstances, God can make all things -- even the unthinkable and seemingly impossible -- possible.

And finally, in the gospel reading for the day, we were told by Jesus that we would be sent out as sheep among wolves. We were told to be wise yet innocent. We were foretold the fate of some to be handed over to the authorities, flogged, and persecuted because of Jesus and his teachings.

It was such a fitting word for what I've been thinking and feeling today. For you know these words of Christ to be true more than most, don't you, Mr. King? You were a sheep among wolves most of your life. You brought wisdom and innocence to bear on your life at one and the same time. You were dragged before the authorities on many occasions and pressed against in so many ways -- eventually, of course, you were killed -- and all of this because of the conviction of Christ you carried that would not be silenced or put down.

I needed to be reminded of these things today, Dr. King. I needed to be reminded that a power and hope greater than us lives in us and works through us and is drawing all things to a conclusion that results in celebration and joy. I needed to be reminded of the companionship of Christ through all these things.

Thank you for the life you lived that drove me, even as I despaired over it, back into the presence and arms of our Christ. Thank you for all you have taught me so far.

Sincerely, Christianne

Happy Birthday, Dr. King

Dear Dr. King, Every year, when the public observance of your birthday rolls around, it makes me smile. It reminds me of the many school years I shared my birthday week with you, sometimes with my special day falling on the very same day as yours, resulting in a holiday from school.

I felt a kinship with you from a young age because of this. In my mind, we always belonged together. Our lives were intertwined.

Only two years ago did your life began to make an impression on me for its own sake, though. I read a book and stumbled unsuspectingly on an idea that changed the whole course of my life. It's an idea you know very well -- that only love has the power to truly transform violence -- and the book hailed you as one of its major proponents. Now, two years later, I know you weren't merely its proponent. You were also its incarnation.

In that first year I encountered this new idea, I began to read your autobiography. There, I learned about the measure of a man required to embody such a hard and difficult truth. I learned about the bombings. The arrests. The attempts to subvert requests for justice. The cryptic phone calls. The fears. The brushes with death. And the masses of people you led through so many long and determined demonstrations of dignity.

So many aspects of your life mark me deeply now, but your faith is the brightest of them all. There is a moment in your autobiography that is forever sealed in my memory. I revisit it often in my mind. It was a turning-point moment for you, the bedrock foundation that forever sustained you in the long years of labor, conviction, promise, and hope ahead.

You know what moment I'm talking about, no doubt. Here it is in your own words:

One night toward the end of January I settled into bed late, after a strenuous day. Coretta had already fallen asleep and just as I was about to doze off the telephone rang. An angry voice said, "Listen, nigger, we've taken all we want from you; before next week you'll be sorry you ever came to Montgomery." I hung up, but I couldn't sleep. It seemed that all of my fears had come down on me at once. I had reached the saturation point.

I got out of bed and began to walk the floor. I had heard these things before, but for some reason that night it got to me. I turned over and I tried to go to sleep, but I couldn't sleep. I was frustrated, bewildered, and then I got up.

Finally I went to the kitchen and heated a pot of coffee. I was ready to give up. With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward.

I sat there and thought about a beautiful little daughter who had just been born. I'd come in night after night and see that little gentle smile. I started thinking about a dedicated and loyal wife, who was over there asleep. And she could be taken from me, or I could be taken from her.

And I got to the point that I couldn't take it any longer. I was weak. Something said to me, "You can't call on Daddy now, you can't even call on Mama. You've got to call on that somethinng in that person that your Daddy used to tell you about, that power that can make a way out of no way."

With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud. The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory: "Lord, I'm down here trying to do what's right. I think I'm right. I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But Lord, I must confess that I'm weak now, I'm faltering. I'm losing my courage. Now, I am afraid. And I can't let the people see me like this becaue if they see me weak and losing my courage, they will begin to get weak. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I've come to the point where I can't face it alone."

It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: "Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo, I will be with you. Even until the end of the world."

I tell you I've seen the lightning flash. I've heard the thunder roar. I've felt sin breakers dashing trying to conquer my soul. But I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me alone. At that moment I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced Him before. Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeeared. I was ready to face anything.

Dr. King, there is a short list of people I name as personal heroes in my life, and it's because of the entry above that you are on that list. You did so many remarkable things with your life. You paved a way where there had been no way before. And yet because of this moment you detailed above, you and I both know that it's only because of Christ that those things ever happened through your life.

You remind me, Dr. King, that Christ is our strength and sustainer through all the dark moments, hours, and years that will meet someone walking this nonviolent path. You remind me that Christ is the light shed abroad in this world's darkness, that Christ is the love radiating out from the center of our lives.

Christ is the reason I ever chose to walk this path in the first place, and your life reminds me of that. Thank you, Dr. King, for living your life in such a way that it challenges and teaches me, nearly 50 years later, how to live my own.

Happy birthday to you.

With great admiration, respect, and renewed kinship,


Letters to the Great Peacemakers: Mother Teresa

Dear Mother Teresa, Sometimes I pray to you, even though I am not Catholic.

As best I remember, these prayers began last year, when I began to pray more fervently about how God might want to use my life in the service of nonviolence. I would ask you to implore Jesus on my behalf for wisdom and an ability to recognize his plans for me. I knew that he would hear your prayers for me. I knew that he would listen and heed them.

I knew, too, that you would be sympathetic to my prayer -- you, who had been granted a vision in 1946 as you made your retreat to Darjeeling and encountered in the train station the poorest of the poor. On that night, a firm conviction planted itself in your heart that you were to work among India's poor, showing them the love of Christ and loving the face of Christ in them as you cared for them in their suffering. It was a conviction that never left you, though the road to realizing your vocation was long and arduous. You always knew, from that moment forward, what God was asking of you.

I was praying and waiting for a similar conviction in my own life last year, so I would ask you to pray for me, knowing how dear you are to Christ. You became a type of spiritual mother to me through those petitions, and I cannot thank you enough for your love for me and your prayers on my behalf.


Right now, Mother, I need your prayers again.

My interior journey for the past nine months has been full of immense tumult. Since last September, when I emerged from a summer of solitude devoted to prayer and the study of nonviolence, I have struggled to find equilibrium.

Until recently, I blamed this difficulty on the many commitments in my outer world that I seemed not to know how to juggle well. As you know, I am a contemplative creature by nature, given to a slow pace of life with plenty of time for reflection and prayer. When my pace of life increased tenfold last September, I felt like I began flailing about in unrelenting waves, choking on salt water and so near to drowning again and again.

I know it is true that I find it difficult to give my attention to too many things at once. But lately I've begun to believe that something more intentional is at work within this struggle. There seems to be a need to relearn old truths: to rediscover grace and realize anew my belovedness to God.

I believe this to be true because of the very old yet familiar circuit upon which my thoughts keep running. They are thoughts full of fear, of pressure, of anxiety. They tell me I must perform without stain or blemish. They compel me to seek approval and affirmation for every insignificant moment. They feed on insecurity, and they make me feel 19 again -- rather than the mature and rooted woman I had slowly and gladly become these last twelve years.

I don't like this reality, Mother, and I have fought with God for bringing me back to this very old place, a place I thought no longer held me, a place I know God and I had worked long and hard to overcome. But he seems to be showing me there is more to learn and overcome here, and it hurts. I feel as though my lover has wounded me. I feel like God has betrayed me.


When I read the letters you wrote to your spiritual fathers about the excruciating darkness in your soul that lasted decades of your life, I see just how far I have to go.

Although you felt abandoned by God, your response was unrelenting faithfulness and a determination toward cheerful adoration. I know your heart grew very heavy and the loneliness neared despair, yet you renewed your resolve of love and faithfulness to God again and again. You knew your darkness was his delight for reasons mysterious and beyond your comprehension. You shared in his sufferings in that place, and you felt it was your humble privilege to do so.

I am not responding that way here. As God is wounding me for my apparent good, I find myself shaking my fist, banging against his chest, crying out at his abandonment, and growing listless and despairing, often renewing an old and unswerving dependence on myself.

Here is where I need your prayers, dear Mother.

Please pray for me, that the face of Jesus would be my delight. Please pray that my love for him would grow. Pray that I would smile at him, and at others for his sake. Please pray for an increase of faith, and of strength to continue through this dark and undesired place. Please pray that I would know him to be near, even though he seems distant and cold and deaf to my pleas. Please ask for his forgiveness of my anger and unbelief, and especially my unfaithful love as I've been so quick to turn my back on him.

Mother, as you expressed in the midst of your own darkness that it would be your work in heaven to come light the lamps of those on earth who also walked in darkness, I ask that you would indeed "come, be my light." Bring that light near, that I would see the face of Christ again and come to love him well.

Yet even if I do not see his face -- if it is his will for me to believe in his love for me in this dark and difficult place -- it is my prayer that I would learn to love him with a love that doesn't require sight, as you so fervently did.

With loving humility in Christ,