Ignatius of Loyola, a 16th Century priest and theologian, commonly practiced something called imaginative prayer. Ignatius would pray by envisioning himself in gospel stories. He would imagine the Mediterranean heat, the dust on the road, the noises from the crowd. It made the gospel stories come to life for him.
This past Sunday at church, we participated in a variation of this Ignatian practice during Prayers of the People. We imagined ourselves in the shoes of women and men around the world: a citizen of Sierra Leone at an Ebola checkpoint, the parent of one of the missing students in Mexico, a homeless adolescent, the relative of a dying loved one. I can't speak for everyone, but it helped connect my heart a little more to brothers and sisters in need.
Last night, I laid awake in bed trying to imagine myself in the shoes of various men and women in Ferguson. I tried to imagine the gasp in that crowded street when it was announced there was no indictment. I tried to imagine holding a sign. I tried to imagine hearing the shattering glass and the crackling fire. I tried to imagine my feet hitting the pavement as I ran from the tear gas stinging my eyes.
But I kept getting stuck. I could imagine the chaos. I could even imagine the hurt, the fear, and the anger. Yet I could not wrap my head around what it feels like to believe that the system is stacked against you. I couldn't envision what it feels like to be judged by strangers for my skin color.
It made me realize the arrogance of ever thinking that I could offer some sort of solution, because what our African-American brothers and sisters are experiencing and have experienced is very, very real and well outside of the experience of those of us who are Caucasian. The more we talk about the media or focus our attention on looters and rioters (a group that gets more press than the larger group of peaceful protesters), the more we are dodging the heart of the matter.
And so I need to listen and listen carefully. I need to listen with humility. I need to listen with empathy. This pain is extremely deep and incredibly old. May we all listen with love. Then may we move forward with our brothers and sisters.