I am delighted to contribute this keynote address for the high school track, online edition of this year’s Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice. Enjoy this piece that outlines the 2021 theme: Imagining a Path Forward: Reflection, Reckoning, and Kinship.
Do you remember March 13, 2020?
I do. I woke up that morning never dreaming it was going to be our last day in school for a year.
For you maybe it was March 6 or March 16… but do you remember *that* day?
Who were you then? No really, take a moment to remember. How old were you? What wasn’t yet true for you- but it’s true for you now. What didn’t you know yet? Who were you then? Did you ever imagine you might try chemistry class over zoom? How about the way you spent your 16th birthday? Or performed a band concert outdoors while wearing a mask? Perhaps for some of you, you never imagined your parents losing their jobs or them needing to stay away from the family for long periods because of the risk of getting you sick? Maybe some of you never imagined spending So. Much. Time. Alone. I would venture to bet you were a different person on March 13, 2020 than you are now.
Now let’s expand out a bit to the United States context- who were we then? What did we think was possible? What did we never in a million years think would happen? A cancelled and rescheduled Olympic Games? Vicious wildfires up here in Northern California that not only knocked out power, but even made one day where the sun never came out because of the thick smoke over our cities. Literally. The sun didn’t come out that day. An armed mob of mainly white Americans attacking the U.S. Capitol?
There was a time when none of that was true. We, together, are also a different people than we were on March 13, 2020.
Reflection is the first word of the title of this conference. It’s important to reflect. To look back and really remember. Oh right- there was a time when I didn’t know how to mute myself on zoom. I used to be annoyed at going to school, having to get dressed and see people. There was a time when I didn’t know how many Asian people were attacked out of the blue just for walking down the street. There was a time I didn’t know the name George Floyd.
When we look back, it becomes clear:
A lot has been revealed since March 2020.
In Ignatian spirituality, we believe that God is present in our actual lives. We believe that we can know God better by reflecting on our past and noticing where God seemed close and where God seemed far away. When you look back at the likely very rough year of 2020, when did God seem very close to you? What did that feel like? Was there a message God was sending to you?
The second element of our conference this year is reckoning. A lot has been revealed, and it can be painful to look at, but we must make ourselves look at it. We’ve got to face up to the ways in which our social systems have been set up to protect some folks and leave other folks vulnerable. This conference will help us face what has happened and to reckon with it. We will be invited to ask, “What happened? What did I have to do with that? What now?” These can be incredibly scary questions to ask because the answers can make us feel sad, angry, or ashamed. Whether it’s because we see the advantages we get because of our skin color or gender presentation- or whether it’s time for us to face up to our problem of buying too much stuff and throwing too much stuff away. These are hard conversations.
That’s where the third element of the conference comes into play – and it’s indispensable: kinship. You may already know how easy it is to isolate yourself when it comes to tough conversations. Indeed, we’ve been encouraged to isolate ourselves for such a long time now. But at the conference, see if you can find your kin – people with whom you can tell the truth. See if you hear a story that sounds like your story in the talks and workshops over the next coming days. Maybe your kin is out there and you haven’t even met them. Fostering a sense of kinship requires acknowledging our own human-ness. Each of us is human – each has things about ourselves we love and things about ourselves we do not love. Each of us is proud of certain aspects of ourselves and ashamed of others. Simply acknowledging that you have those things and I have those things is the first step toward kinship.
So, reflection. Reckoning, Kinship. These are our focus areas for the coming days. And we don’t do them alone. God is with us in all of it. After we have reflected and reckoned, this conference reminds us, it’s time to imagine a path forward. We don’t imagine it alone. In fact, we aren’t even the primary imaginers. God is the one who can see the whole vision. God sees the path forward. Our task is to get quiet and listen for the movement of God, showing us maybe only one small step.
In Ignatian spirituality, we also practice the process of discernment, that is, knowing and choosing the next right thing. It requires really careful listening for God’s voice, among many, many voices in our heads, on our phones, and in our families. This takes a lot of practice, and this conference is the perfect time to practice. Perhaps your calling might be nestled in one of these talks or workshops. Even start by noticing which ones sound good to you. Are you attracted to the sessions on climate change? Immigration? Prison reform? Prayer? God works through your desires, so pay attention to what you want.
You have a role to play in the movement forward. I don’t know what it is, but God does. And that which is yours to do just might get revealed through your participation in this virtual conference. You will hear from some of the best- on prayer and listening, on reckoning with what we have done and what we have failed to do, on taking action responsibly. So, you go with my blessing – remember who you were and who you are, take courage and face up to the serious problems in our world, and keep an eye out for your kin, those who walk with you on the path forward.