From Ashes, We Will Rise
For Ash Wednesday and the Sundays of Lent, Bondings 2.0 is presenting spiritual reflections from a diverse group of students at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, who either identify as LGBTQ+ or who are involved with LGBTQ+ theological research and/or ministry. Today’s post is from Ish Ruiz, a Ph.D. student at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. His academic interests explore the intersection between social ethics, human rights, education, and marginalized groups such as LGBTQ+ people, immigrants, women, and religious minorities. A lifelong Catholic, Ish is dedicated to living out his faith through the practice of justice: he passionately envisions a Church that is open and inclusive to all.
The Ash Wednesday phrase “you are dust and to dust you shall return” has always felt a bit incomplete to me. When I reflect on this humbling reminder of the frailty of life, I am reminded that journeys do not end with a return to dust. In fact, we have all witnessed marginalized communities rise up from the ashes of injustice and oppression. Our country has seen the deaths of queer people, black people, immigrants, and countless others transformed into seeds that sow new life. The same dynamic happens with many marginalized communities and their journeys as the beloved children of God–journeys that are often marked by moments of despair and instances of hope.
The Israelites’ journey to Zion was not quick or easy. It was filled with a desert of trials. There were dark moments and they came to experience death in many forms. Nonetheless, they also experienced the constant assurance that they were the Chosen People of a God that would never abandon them.
Is the same true of our marginalized communities? Are LGBTQ+ people, immigrants, homeless people, and other disenfranchised groups aware that they a part of the Chosen People of God? Do they hear from us a message of love that affirms them as the “beloved of God”? Or are we a voice that brings death? Are we the ones that turn human life into ash? Or do we help them rise from the ashes to new life?
Last week I learned a great lesson from the LGBTQ+ community about what it means to journey from ashes to new life. I had the chance to attend the San Francisco premiere of ABC-TV’s new mini-series When We Rise (a fitting title), which portrays the lives of several key figures in the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement. This intersectional history series captures the reality of this community’s heartfelt quest for justice. Their trials and victories are a testament to the journey of all of God’s beloved Chosen People.
When the LGBTQ+ community experiences discrimination from law enforcement, the assassination of heroic political figures, indifference in the face of an epidemic that takes away their loved ones, threats to many of their legal rights, rejection from many religious groups, a devastating massacre in a gay club in Orlando, and countless other threats to their dignity, they rise from the ashes and their hearts pulse together as one.
When they see the suffering of their fellow human beings who are Muslim, immigrant, female, poor, homeless, or marginalized in other ways, they rise from the ashes with them and remind them of their dignity. These communities are the Chosen People of God – the “new “Israelites” – and we, as a Church, have much to learn from their journey as a people.
Seeking justice for all of God’s people is essential for a life lived in accordance with the Gospel. All humans deserve respect: we are all united in our common human journey. When we become indifferent to the cries of LGBTQ+ people, immigrants, racial minorities, women, and others in need, we become less human and we move farther away from the Gospel. We send a message that “ashes” are the end of the journey. We tell people: “The Resurrection of Christ is not for you.”
In a recent doctoral dissertation by Kevin Stockbridge, the term “Easter People” is used to refer to the journey of queer people who have become agents of social transformation through their witness. Their experiences of oppression-turned-into-love are a call for all to work together to experience new life. Everyone is asked to follow the footsteps of the risen Christ. We are all rising from the ashes as a human family – we are called to do it together so that everybody regardless of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, ability, and background is able to embrace the Resurrection of Christ as their own.
May this Lenten season help us renew our commitment to creating a world where love and justice rise from the ashes of hate and oppression. May it also be a time of reflection and gratitude for those whose have turned to ash so that the rest of us can continue to build the Kingdom of God. May this Lenten journey bring us closer together, reminding us that we are all together in this one struggle that unites the human race – a struggle to rise together from ashes. May this Lenten journey help us all become an “Easter people.”
We ask this through Christ, our brother. Amen.
–Ish Ruiz, Graduate Theological Union, March 1, 2017
New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers: Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders: Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv. Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader: Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS. For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.
Thank you, Ish. May we be rise from the ashes and be Easter people! And thank you NWM for this series.
Words to Accompany the Imposition of Ashes
“The Ash Wednesday phrase ‘you are dust and to dust you shall return’ has always felt a bit incomplete to me. When I reflect on this humbling reminder of the frailty of life, I am reminded that journeys do not end with a return to dust. In fact, we have all witnessed marginalized communities rise up from the ashes of injustice and oppression.”
Remember the alternative words upon imposition, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Those were the words used when I received ashes today. It is, after all, the challenge of the gospel that allows marginalized communities to rise up.