Guatemala 2016 | Until We All Have Faces

Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 1.49.01 PMThough I’ve never read C.S. Lewis’s book by this name (it’s in the (very large) pile!), I’ve found this phrase repeating over and over in my mind and heart and words to others over the last months. Whatever the “hot topic”- vaccines, prisoners and the justice system in our country, racial reconciliation, gun control, immigrant and refugee concerns, evolution etc. etc.- I’ve come to see that “until we all have faces” it’s a lose-lose conversation.

Let me explain.

In my work as a Pediatric Infectious Disease doctor, I have spent COUNTLESS hours doing research (clinical and laboratory) on vaccines and the process of creating, administering and following up on them. In addition, because of experience in populations without access to vaccines, and seeing the sorrow and dire effects of vaccine-preventable diseases in these populations, I am passionate about helping people feel comfortable with vaccines and understanding why they don’t. What I have learned from years of these discussions is that until I am talking to a “real” person, face-to-face, looking in their eyes and listening to their REAL concerns, which are often quite hidden, there is no hope of finding common ground. “Common ground” built outside of these face-to-face experiences is often built on shallow soil.

I spent a lot of years frustrated until I figured this out, and I’m grateful for that experience because it has shaped the way I have similar conversations (or don’t have them) around any of these types of important issues. You will rarely find me discussing politics, religion, or various hot topics of the moment online or on social media because I have found that is not where I feel called to be considering them. I am convinced that only when we put faces to real issues can we have real conversations:

Only when I sit across the table from my family member who feels passionately about his right to own any and every gun he wants, can I understand where he is coming from, what he is motivated by, where his heart is. This allows me to broaden my thinking, to see outside my world, to gain insight into the feeling behind the vicious words we hear thrown around. Gun control has a face for me now.

Only after I met my friend MMT from Burma do the conversations around refugee issues have real meaning to me. I listened as he shared his experiences of running, running, always running- from the bullets, the mortars, the military- and my heart shifted in a permanent way. Refugees have a face for me now.

After working in a local women’s prison, the issues of our broken justice system have relevance for me. While caring for their children, I began to understand that other than the details of our lives, many of which were beyond the control of either of us, those women and I are much the same. Complex issues of systemic injustice have faces for me now.

Earlier this year, we were invited to read through the Spiritual Disciplines in the Adele’s Spiritual Disciplines Handbook and note any we felt particularly drawn to. One that jumped out at me was “Unity.” I was surprised, first of all because I hadn’t thought to consider that a “discipline” and secondly because it seemed rather out of the blue. Since that time, I have seen this idea weave itself into my life and areas of focus in ways that beautifully bring truth to light.

It is where these two concepts- individual faces AND unity- come together that I am finding myself most alive these days. I truly believe it is only AS we see ISSUES with the FACES of people we know (and perhaps love or at least respect) that true peace and healing and unity can begin. If I can’t see past the issue at hand into the eyes of someone on the other side of the issue, I will never truly be able to be a person who brings light, builds bridges, restores peace.

One of the hardest places to do this is around issues where we have no access to those on the “other side.” If I am never around poverty, how can I understand it’s effects? If I am never in areas of war and violence, how can I know what it feels like to need protection? If I am never scared for my life or that of my family, how can I know what motivates some to leave all in hopes of escape, despite the certain trauma and possible death? If I never experience discrimination, how can I understand the complex emotions it brings? If my eyes haven’t seen both sides, I have to look into eyes that have seen the side I haven’t. If I don’t enter into both sides of the issue, my vision will always be blurred.

As I process through the concepts in our required reading for this summer, I am so grateful for material that brings these very things to light- whether reading of Father Rother’s sacrificial love in Love in a Fearful Land, or processing truths from Geography of Grace and Globalization, Spirituality, and Justice, I am energized to know that others before me have seen this truth and are sharing their experiences to those following behind in hopes of helping us move farther along on this path to unity.

They are helping us ALL have faces, to put faces to otherwise faceless “issues.” Only then can we hope for true unity.

Calhoun, Adele Ahlberg. Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us. 2005.
Nouwen, Henri J. M. Love in a Fearful Land: A Guatemalan Story. 2006.
Rocke, Kris, and Joel Van Dyke. Geography of Grace: Doing Theology from Below. 2012.
Groody, Daniel G. Globalization, Spirituality and Justice: Navigating the Path to Peace. 2007.

DawnBioPicDawn is a 40-something recovering control-freak who is encouraged by encouraging others. She works “super part-time” as a Pediatrician and is passionate about exploring the intersection of mental, relational, spiritual, nutritional, social, emotional and physical health to bring holistic health to people. She and her husband Pete love hiking, camping, coffee and adventures of all kinds and along with their two pups Sam and Frodo, recently moved from the beautiful Pac NW to VA. She occasionally writes about life at: