I have called you each by name; you are mine.
We are over halfway through this Lenten journey. Each day we move deeper into God’s uncomfortable call of loving each other without border, closer to the pain of the cross, and nearer to the redeeming grace that is shown at Easter. Part of any Lenten journey is reflection; both of ourselves and our community. It is a time for prayer and remembering. It is a time to talk about death.
My last post was a story about water for life. But today, I will not be talking about living, but about dying. I will be talking about the death of husbands, sisters, daughters, grandfathers. I will be talking about the pain of leaving someone behind in the desert; of looking into your son’s eyes and knowing that he will not make it through the next night’s walk. I will be talking about warm, salty tears that only serve to dehydrate you more. Not everyone makes it through the desert, but everyone has a name.
Out of every story told to me on the border in Arizona, the one of the most moving and powerful was the prayer vigil in Douglas. It is a weekly event that is organized by an interfaith group known as “Healing our Borders” as part of their mission to remember and pray for those who have died crossing the border through Cochise county. Since it happens on the US side of the border, Team Mexico was allowed to participate in the prayer vigil.
It was around 5pm or so on February 14th that we gathered in the McDonalds parking lot. We huddled together in the wind while we waited. Once everything and everyone arrived, we grabbed an old shopping cart –specifically saved for this purpose—and filled it with crosses. Each cross had a name and two dates. A birthday and a deathday. After we loaded up the shopping cart, the process for the vigil was explained to us. We would begin by grabbing a handful of crosses and forming a line. Moving toward the border, we would read aloud the names and hold up the cross. Once the line passed us, we set down our cross onto the curb and moved to the front of the line to read another name and hold up that cross.
A handful of the names:
Luisa Garcia – August 19th, 1958
Alejandro Lopez – March 11th, 1976
Maria de la Conception Reyes – November 12th, 1951
Juan Carlos Martinez – January 6, 1982
Carmen de Leon – July 31st, 2001
Pedro Hernandez – June 7, 1987
Desconocido* – Sept ‘86
Desconocida with her infant daughter – February ‘79
Desconocido – January ‘61
200 more names
(Desconocido, for those of you who don’t know, means unknown)
As we read those names aloud, we called into presence their spirits. The spirit of who they were as a person, who their family is or was, who their friends were, their desires, the spirit of their life. Each name and date hold meaning beyond just words and numbers, they represent people with stories and families of their own. Their death is a tragedy, as are all deaths. As I read aloud those names, I couldn’t help but picture people from my own community and how important to me they are. I also tried to imagine what it would be like to not have them in my life anymore. Each of these people has a community that aches to see them again. Perhaps you would be willing to try an individual prayer vigil; read aloud the names listed above and think about who they might have been and call into presence the spirit of their life.
The hardest part for me is thinking about the unknown. When I read “Desconocido” for the first time, I was taken aback. Who was this person, how do we know their age, what about their family? These and many questions went through my head. The answers were just as scary as the question: we don’t know. There are families in Mexico that have no idea what happened to their father, who seemingly just disappeared into the desert. The woman who was walking with her infant daughter might have a husband living in the US who will never see his wife or daughter again, and will never know what happened to them. The desert claims these unknown lives as well as other unfound bodies that have been disappeared into the sand. These “Desconocidos” only made my heart cry out for justice even more.
God calls us each by name. We are named when we are born and when we are baptized. It is part of the promise that we are all abundantly loved; and in the naming of one another, we are claimed as children of God. The people on those crosses may or may not have been baptized by water, but during each of these prayer vigils, they are baptized by sand and called by name one last time and named as part of God’s creation.