By David Ramos
At a recent event in New York City I had the privilege of speaking to a young Latina Ph.D. candidate. She shared with me some of the challenges and difficulties of being Latina in the academy, we both bemoaned the dearth of “communidad” in the academy and how lamentably, those who are pursuing an academic calling are misunderstood by many within our own circles—both religious and cultural. As we spoke about the dire need for sacred safe spaces she explained to me how different communities played different functions in her life, and how utterly difficult it was to find people to bridge the varying worlds of faith, scholarship, social justice, being Hispanic and a woman.
As I listened I began to appreciate all the more and even shared with her the role that the Latino Leadership Circle (LLC) was playing in my life. The LLC has been a lifeline, a fountain of water in the desert, an authentic sacred space we created where we can allow ourselves to be ourselves in a world of multiple interests demanding our attention. Originally created as a place where leaders can come and bleed, it has become much more throughout the years—a support group, a theological reflection group, an indigenous “wanna-be” think tank, a cultural repository of collective memories, a “sort-of” church away from church, a place of much love, laughter and even sorrow. In a very “post-mod” kind of way we have unconsciously and consciously resisted definition, with no titles, no hierarchy, no budget, just a commitment to one another and a commitment to honesty and transparency—at least as much as folk are willing to muster.
While the group seems to be moving towards a new advent it is our willingness to own our brokenness that has led to our wholeness, our ability to share our weakness that has led to our strength, the willingness to share our sorrow that has led to joy, the daring and often painful attempts to break out of our solitude that has led to authentic community. We gather with an often heavy past with dark as well as precious memories, with turbulent pressing matters, with anxious and exciting longings for our future. It is in the presence of the “other” that I experience my humanity, it is when I am allowed to be human, and loved in-spite of myself, that I can experience reflections of divine love; it is in the community of love that I am called to move, live and operate to my highest spiritual possibilities. Dietrich Bonheoffer spoke about living, “Life Together.” What a concept, to be radically human in order to experience the radical God! Do we dare to bear our soul to one another, naked, imperfect, angry, selfish, and sinful, but also loving, kind, giving, empathetic, passionate, and forgiving? One must pay for the farm in order to get the treasure (Matthew 13:44).
How do we move beyond superficial religious routine and layers upon layers of entrenched personas? As leaders and as Latinos we have had to create personas (in the Jungian sense) in order to operate effectively and efficiently in zero-sum environments. If we are not careful, these very constructs of self, separate us from our true identity, and we become alienated from our true essence. It is in the presence of the loving other that we are reminded of who we are, where in an unguarded safe and even playful environment, we are free to be who we are and explore who we can become. This exercise in community can be frightening but it is worth the work.
In the end my sister and brother—I need you. I need you to be there for me. I need you to help me. I need you to speak truth to me in loving ways that I can understand and ways that can be useful for me. I need you when I laugh and when I cry. I need you when I rise but more importantly when I fall. I need you to be my cheerleader, my coach, my friend, my teacher, and my guide and maybe one day…..you’ll need me. It is in your presence, in the pumice of friction and cleansing lather that I exfoliate my soul. Do we dare to take the risks of relationship? In terms of community, this is Christianity for me, and short of this, everything else seems like a garish impersonation and an anemic substitute.