The Sacred Heartbeat at the Border

The border community of El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, México | Photo courtesy of Karin Baard

As I walked up to the United States border from the city of Juárez, Mexico I passed by at least one hundred people sitting against the side of the concrete bridge, which serves as a port of entry. Many of them were waiting to claim asylum and had been denied entry. They looked exhausted. Some had children lying in their laps, trying with little success to avoid the heat of the sun.

I had come to the El Paso and Cuidad Juárez communities as a part of a new Border Pilgrimage project initiated by HEARTBEAT. Ten of us had convened to witness, protest, pray, accompany, learn, and take action through volunteer relief efforts. Our intention was to enter the story of the border region, expand our understanding, and respond to the needs of the people passing through.

As I got closer to the border boundary line I saw a Customs Border Protection Officer (CPB) wearing a black balaclava ski mask and sunglasses while carrying an assault rifle. No part of his face could be seen. I had crossed at this point the day before and only noticed CBP officers with the usual pistol and ball cap – their faces fully visible. The mask and AR-15 weaponry were a clear escalation of intimidation tactics. I looked from the drained and weary people propping themselves on the side of the bridge to the darkly masked and heavily armed CPB officer. The display of brute force amidst such vulnerability and desperation was baffling.

Photo courtesy of Democracy Now!


Our group also attended a protest in Tornillo, TX where 2,349 children are being held in a detention camp. These children are trying to connect with family members in the United States. We learned that the children are brought to the encampment in the dark of night so that they are less likely to escape and to prevent excess media coverage. Inspectors and elected officials are being denied entry. Staff in the camp are not properly screened to work with children. There is no running water – all of it must be trucked in from the outside. Generators provide all of the electricity. The children are not in school.

The least our group felt we could do was to stand outside the fence of the camp to denounce the current Administration’s immigration policy and demand that these children be processed and cared for.We carried signs that said:

‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor’
‘Cage Free Kids’
‘Children should be LOVED up not locked up!’
‘Let Our Children Go!’

Our group helped gain media attention and that night we saw ourselves on the evening news. The next day the protest was on the front page of the El Paso Times. Helping to raise awareness for the detention of children was a small success in the face of a tragic humanitarian crisis.

Our Border Pilgrimage group connected with Heartbeat partner, The Annunciation House. Leading up to our trip our group campaigned to raise $7,000 for this organization, which provides desperately needed supplies for the people making the journey. While at the Annunciation House we cooked meals, cleaned bathrooms, and drove recently arrived immigrants to the airport as they traveled to connect with family or friends who awaited them. We also volunteered at Casa del Migrante in Cuidad Juárez where we met families grappling with knowing how to proceed. They worried about trying to cross the border and whether they would be separated from their children – but they also knew they could not return to the violence and poverty back home in Honduras. The anguish was excruciating.

May the migrant become our friend, that we may remember our shared birth in you.

John Philip often tells the story of the last supper where, in the Celtic memory, the disciple John lays his head on the chest of Jesus. It is said that he then heard the heartbeat of God. John Philip teaches that this heartbeat pulses through all things and is a symbol of our essential sacredness. This feels especially poignant at this time, considering the migrants who are currently lined up along our southern border. These people who are our siblings and neighbors have this sacred heartbeat. Instead of seeing them this way, the current Administration treats them with inhumanity: denies their legal rights, closes the border, fortifies the border wall, and launches tear gas at women and small children. These actions are reprehensible. It should be our privilege to welcome them into our community and find a way forward together.

Mother flees to safety after U.S. Border Patrol fires tear gas near Tijuana, México | Photo credit: Kim Kyung-Hoon

During our Border Pilgrimage, we adapted one of John Philip’s prayers as a mantra for our group:

May [the migrant] become our friend, O God,
that we may share earth’s goodness.
May [the migrant] become our friend, O God,
that our children may meet and marry.
May [the migrant] become our friend, O God,
that we may remember our shared birth in you.
May we grow in grace
may we grow in gratitude
may we grow in wisdom
that [the migrant] may become our friend.

Adapted from Praying with the Earth: A Prayerbook for Peace by John Philip Newell

Next year we hope to bring more Heartbeat groups to the border community to learn, raise awareness, protest, pray, volunteer and raise funds for respite care. I hope you will consider joining us.

Ben Lindwall is the Executive Director of HEARTBEAT. He and his family are based in Portland, Oregon. Ben is a certified spiritual director and has been leading spiritually oriented trips for over fifteen years. He made the pilgrimage to the Isle of Iona in Scotland in 2011 and has since been mentored by John Philip and Ali Newell.

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