I remember the day I received my green card in the mail. It was a Monday. I went downstairs to check my mail as soon as I heard it was delivered and immediately booked a flight home for that Thursday. It had been over six years since I had had the ability to leave the United States and visit my home country. I had missed weddings, baptisms, and funerals. I had missed Christmases, New Year's Days, Mother’s Days, Father’s Days, birthdays, and all sorts of joyous and grievous occasions. I had missed my grandfather Salvador’s passing and funeral. I had welcomed nieces and nephews, born while I could not travel home. Spending important days apart from my family was incredibly hard. I think of that when I recognize how difficult this year is for so many.
We have much to lament: the rise of COVID-19 cases and deaths; the ongoing killings of Black and brown people in the U.S. at the hands of the state; the negligence in dealing with the great disparities that make this health crisis particularly acute in Black, Indigenous, and communities of color; the extended election season that was filled with harmful discourse and abusive behavior; careless gathering practices; and the continuous stress of living through a pandemic. We long for a special time of comfort and joy with our loved ones this holiday season — and our nation’s top health officials say that, too, is dangerous. That anticipated separation will have an impact on our souls. Our traditions will need to be mourned and reimagined.
Some have long been familiar with the concept. Many Native American people have been lifting their lament on Thanksgiving Day through a National Day of Mourning, which honors native ancestors and condemns the genocide inflicted upon them, the theft of Native American lands, and the constant erasure and attack on Native American cultures. Their lament begs us to reconsider the history we celebrate, to examine the origin of our traditions, and to reimagine a new way of being together with one another. Some are separated from their families due to immigrant detention. Behind bars and alongside other detained people, many immigrants in detention facilities often lean on prayer and songs and on each other to make it through the holidays. A visit from a family member may be completely out of the question, as they sometimes live in a different country or have not been granted a privileged immigration status and therefore cannot approach a detention facility. In the absence of family, letters and memories shared with others at detention centers sustain the spirit.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend celebrating the holidays only with the people you live with. In this recommendation, I hear a resigned invitation to make it work with what we have. Let us draw lessons from those who have long had to make it work. And in that, I offer a prayer.
A liturgy as we mourn and reimagine this holiday season
Leader: God who sees and accompanies, be near to us. The pain of this year is too much, the losses too many to bear. Look upon our broken bodies and our broken world. As we journey through this season more alone than we imagined, help us experience your presence.
People: God who sees and accompanies, be near to us.
Leader: God who sees and holds, see the eyes that cry, the arms that long to embrace. See the empty chairs beside us and the table all set. Hear the empty rooms and the quiet place. Fill this empty space with glimpses of you.
People: God who sees and holds, embrace us.
Leader: God who sees and cares, see the eyes that fail to see and the hands that steal. See the ways we have created places with no tables and no chairs. See our siblings in immigrant detention who will spend the holidays alone. Free them from this peril. Free us from the greed that motivates our detention system.
People: God who sees and cares, have mercy on us.
Leader: God who sees those who resist and values their lives as sacred, show us the ways we have contributed to the stealing of lands, the genocide of Native American people, and the attacks on Native American cultures.
People: Help us see as you see.
Leader: God who sees those who resist and values their lives as sacred, show us the ways we have failed to value and protect the lives of our Black, Indigenous, and siblings of color in the systems that administer public safety, health care, education, and the economy. Help us create new bonds of solidarity that will lead to instituting new ways to care for one another that honor the image of God in all and particularly in those in whom it has been denied.
People: Help us see as you see.
Leader: God who sees and dreams, give us your vision for beloved community where no one lacks, no one fears, and where all creation is satisfied. Give us courage to remain alive and aware to you, to people around us far and near, and to the world in this season, holding the grief of all we see along with the hope for which we wait.
People: Help us be as you are.
Leader: God who sees. Watch over this world.
All: God who sees and accompanies, be near to us.