This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.
May truth and freedom come to every nation;— Georgia Harkness, in “This is my Song”
may peace abound where strife has raged so long;
that each may seek to love and build together,
a world united, righting every wrong;
a world united in its love for freedom,
proclaiming peace together in one song.
“Patria Libre.” These words glared at me from the secondhand paper on which they were written, drawn by a young person in crayon. Even though I’m re-learning Spanish, I couldn’t remember exactly what “Patria” meant. “patriation means becoming part of a country,” I thought.
After discretely looking at the translator app on my phone, I confirmed that “Patria” meant homeland. “Patria Libre.” Free Homeland.
As part of a small group, who had gone through special invitation of the Bishop’s Office, I was down at the Border, staring geographically into Mexico when we first got there. Walking into the Respite Center where hundreds of legal asylum seekers sat, waiting their day in court, I found myself staring into the yearning eyes of people whose lives have been irrepressibly touched by America, sisters and brothers from several struggling countries.
With their parents exhausted and sleeping along the walls, children colored with crayons, most of them staying within the lines of pages torn out of scores of coloring books, some of them sorting out images, memories, of what came before their arrival to the Respite Center on the Texas side of the Border. While others from the NCCUMC group sorted aid, shared shoes, and handed out clothing, I stayed with the children drawing, one of them having drawn and colored an American Flag with thirteen red and white stripes and nearly fifty crayon stars. Within the white stripes were small amoebic images of four Latin-American countries, each a different color, along with abbreviations for four represented countries: Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. Below the American flag and its incorporated amoebic countries were two relatively enormous words. “Patria Libre.”
I had watched the picture, off and on, for over an hour, as children came and went. Like so much of these asylum seekers’ lives, the image was left behind by its creator, and so I eagerly adopted it. It haunts me.
Like an old liturgy of the Church or the historic hymn “This is my Song” by Georgia Harkness, the words of this picture found their place in my heart and soul, challenging me to think about the pouring out of these countries. It’s hard to label people from different groups, when they all come together. Seeing teaming masses of humanity, yearning to be free, has a way of cutting through the sinful lenses and labels to which we addict ourselves. Seeing ones made in the image of God in person, and seeing them as persons, challenges us to remember that the labels of groups are contrived by humanity, not by God. We say, “Hondurans, Americans, Nicaraguans,” but when we are all in the same room, we all breathe the same air, needing the same things.
Whoever drew “Patria Libre” had some idea, as a person struggling for freedom, fleeing from violence and destitution. To me, it’s so ironic, seeing the scores of asylum seekers. They seek the freedom to simply live. And yet, the inability of me and my Country to live simply takes away that freedom from so many. We are enslaved to different things, all of us seeking a “Patria Libre.”
For us as Christians, I wonder what it would mean for us to reclaim our identity as citizens of the Kingdom of God, this being our “Patria,” our homeland? What if we took seriously the preacher of Hebrews, who calls followers of Jesus “aliens in this world?” What if we prayed, “Thy Patria come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven?” What if we believed in the separation of Church and State, and that we can be members of two “Patrias,” with the Kingdom of God, at the center?
The conditional word “ei” in Greek means either “if” or “since,” and I think we could apply that conditional to ourselves, as we think about our Patria:
If we saw our Patria as Heaven, then we could work for the liberation of our Brothers and Sisters, parts of the same Heavenly Homeland.
Since we see our Patria as Heaven, now we can work for the liberation of our Brothers and Sisters, parts of the same Heavenly Homeland.
May we bear witness to the Word and work of God, on this terrestrial ball.
Pray: Oh Lord, rather than the Harvest of Empire, help me to be part of the harvest of souls that are sold out for the Kindom of God, the Kingdom of Power, thy Patria Libre. Amen.