How To Build a Wall: A Nativity Story

Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.

Fyodor Dostoevsky,  The Brothers Karamazov


prison-heartThree days after Donald Trump won the election, there was an outpouring of love encircling him. It came from a surprising source: a women’s prison. Yes indeed. Please read on for a seasonal story that will not only thaw the winter chill but give you a blueprint for your own Love in Action in 2017.

First though, let’s be clear that the women in this story are not naïve, ungrounded dreamers having a Kumbaya moment. These are mothers, daughters, sisters, and friends who know first-hand the battering, highly personal damage that is inflicted on individuals and families by poverty, racism, violence, and an economic system that values profits over people. Their action springs from a deep well of suffering and insight.

My friend Vie Thorgren[i] was visiting a group of women at the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility, the largest women’ s prison in the country. She meets with them as a spiritual companion, and was there shortly after the election for her regular appointment. She found the women quiet; they reported that the prison had been “like a morgue…a deathly silence” for three days. Women had spent as much time as allowed on the phone, comforting their children and relatives, calming their fears, reassuring them that all will be well.

The women announced that they had reached a decision: they planned to “build a Wall of Love around President-elect Trump”. So they wrote “Mr. Trump” on a piece of paper, put it in the middle of their circle, and began their work of building The Wall. They invoked Divine Power, and prayed,

”Surround Mr. Trump with love and goodness”

“Build this wall so strong that hate and meanness can’t get through it.”

“Change anything that Mr. Trump may mean for hurt and turn it for good”

“Use our tears and our concern for our children to make powerful bricks of love and goodness.”

And there, in the terrible nothingness of a prison, a group of women claimed their power, built that wall of love and protection, and by their radical act, there is Light in the Darkness. They birthed Love into the world. This is the Nativity story that has captured my heart this year.

Love has been called “the force more powerful”—more powerful than hate, more powerful than violence. Martin Luther King observed, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

It takes getting deeply in touch with our own powerlessness to recognize the infinite power of love. Powerlessness teaches us what is essential. In this Holy Season where the Light returns and illuminates our darkness, Christians celebrate the birth of Love: Jesus, born as Nothing, as Nobody, with Nothing.

The experience of nothingness is holy. As Matthew Fox observed, “Its presence will change us in unfathomable and surprising ways.”

If we are feeling powerless, it’s a holy moment for us. In the resulting emptiness is our strength: it’s only when we are empty that we can be filled with a power greater than ourselves. Not-knowing is the point of infinite possibility. And let’s face it, the road ahead is unknown and in all probability, painful. We have not yet conceived of the responses that Love will dictate to us. What is love demanding of each of us in this critical time?

Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, referenced the Dostoevsky quote above in speaking of her own lifelong work of protest, resistance, and fierce advocacy on behalf of all who are powerless, vulnerable, unprotected, exploited. Writing at the time of her death in 1980, Gary Wills noted that “she showed us…that people who stand with and for others cannot act from a calculus of individual advantage. They must act as they do from a higher urgency, a love beyond what most of us think of as loving.”

This is how we need to ground our actions now, and these wall-building women have shown us how. They teach us what to do FIRST, before undertaking any action:  spend time in silence: reflect: connect to your compassion and empathy, and then root yourself in Love.

In these coming months and years, all of us, of every political persuasion, can learn the default of Love that these women already know; we can all birth Love into our own lives, our families, our communities.

Listen deep within yourself. Does what you are hearing on the news resonate with what you know to be consistent with Love? If it does, go with it. If it doesn’t, reject it, and find the path, the ideas, the actions, and the people that do.

Organize. Use whatever your gifts are for the good of us all. Build bridges to everyone you can. Abandon your judgment and fear. Get out of your bubble and widen your circle to embrace….to love…everyone. Have Conversations of the Heart[ii]with anyone you can find to engage who is outside the silo in which you have lived.

It won’t be easy. It will surely be harsh and dreadful. But Love is the only thing that will save us; it’s the only thing that ever has.


 [i] Vie is the Executive Director of the Center for Spirituality at Work.
[ii] For an example of one of these conversations, see the previous blogpost, Reason for Hope…No Matter Who Wins, and see the Comments for a list of the discussion questions.

4 thoughts

  1. Sharon, This blog and story is just beautiful!  Thank you for sharing your gifts of wisdom, compassion and sharing stories with us all. Thinking of you at the end of the year and Christmas and very grateful for all your support to help me get our little JUST Listening chapter going in Evansville.   What is your address?  I was going to send you a card but didn’t have it. Maryann Joyce

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