As we prepare for Justice GA in Phoenix, Unitarian Universalists need to attend to how we engage as partners with those whose lives are most impacted by the social and legal effects of U.S. policy, law, and attitudes regarding migrants. This week, Janice Marie Johnson, UUA Multicultural Growth Director, offers her reflection on partnership.-Ed.
The Latin American Theology of Accompaniment offers an important glimpse into the spiritual practice of being in partnership. I first heard this term just a couple of days ago when I participated in worship led by Rev. Jackie Clements at Finding Our Way Home 2012, the annual gathering for religious professionals of color.
We learned that the idea of accompaniment was put forth by Roberto S. Goizueta in the book Caminemos con Jesus: Toward a Hispanic/Latino Theology of Accompaniment (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Press, 1995). We considered how the verb ‘acompañar’ in Spanish is different in complexity, texture and weight from the verb ‘to accompany’ in English which can be used to refer to going to the grocery store with someone. At our retreat someone said, “’it’s like being joined at the hip.”
Fr. Kurt Messick notes that the Theology of Accompaniment
has many implications, including a recognition of the value of human beings regardless of gender … as well as a recognition of the importance of theological themes all through life: in the home, in the workplace, in the social arena. It is our task, regardless of our starting point, to walk with, or accompany, these people. To walk with the poor does not simply mean a geographic relocation. It means becoming intensely aware of their conditions — body, mind, spirit, hope, future — and how these things differ from mainstream Western culture. It also has a call to the development of interior life, as a means of strengthening the identity of those from whom culture often robs or ignores.
Dominican Jim Barnett, O.P. speaks and writes about what such a theology looks like in practice.
When I think of “partnership,” I think of Puente Arizona, part of the global movement for migrant justice and human rights promoting justice, non-violence, interdependence and human dignity. Puente Arizona works to empower the community and build bridges by working collaboratively with various organizations and individuals. This organization has institutionalized a profound understanding of the difference between providing services to the disenfranchised and breaking bread with siblings along life’s journeys.
UU President Peter Morales reminds us that
one of the great challenges for our congregations is to learn to express our core values of compassion, spiritual depth, freedom, justice and peace in new ways. This is much more than an organizational need. This is about living fully in relationship with our neighbors.
I recently spent a week in Playa del Carmen (Playa), Mexico, taking a one-week intensive, interactive course in beginner’s Spanish. I was inspired to jump-start my Spanish to help prepare myself spiritually, psychologically, culturally, and theologically to be fully present at Justice GA.
What I received in those few days was far greater than an extraordinary week at Soléxico: Language and Culture Centers. In addition to being at ease as I begin to communicate in Spanish, I received many unexpected gifts. I learned much about the intersection of the Mayan and Caribbean cultures; ate wonderful seafood; attended Spanish cooking class and made guacamole and Mexican salad from scratch; learned about cenotes (grottoes) and visited an extraordinary one; was introduced to Choc-Mool, the Mayan rain god; and so forth.
Nuances of culture informed the experience. Playa recognizes, values, and promotes the contributions of the diverse cultural heritages and ancestries of all of its peoples. Partnership requires us to learn, time and time again, to best enter into another’s multicultural sphere.
The Rev. Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley offered words that speak to how we may best enter into another’s multicultural sphere:
Our first task in approaching another people,
another culture is to take off our shoes,
for the place we are approaching is holy.
Else we find ourselves treading on another’s dream.
More serious still, we may forget that God was there before our arrival.
The spiritual practice of being in partnership calls each of us into account to move beyond “othering,” beyond tolerating, beyond embracing. It calls us to honor our siblings as the unique and precious beings that each of us is – in spite of class, race, ethnicity, ability, and all else that would divide us.
Accompaniment is a choice. I plan to better embrace and embody this thought-provoking theology. It resonates profoundly with me as the spiritual practice of being in partnership. Please join me.
Janice Marie Johnson, Multicultural Growth Director, is part of the UUA Multicultural Growth and Witness Staff Group.