Where the Light Comes to Meet Us

Artwork by Leticia Garcia Tiwari, 2019, mixed medium.

The growing sound of wailing led me to a fawn tangled in a blackberry thicket. She had been crying out for days and was slowly dying of hunger and dehydration. Generally, when encountering injured wildlife, I do not intervene, knowing that their being left undisturbed in the wild increases their odds of survival. Mothers often leave fawns unattended in a safe place, awaiting their return. To remove such a fawn could prove fatal. However, this instance was different. The mother was absent for many days, and the fawn was dying. In the state where I live, the only other recourse for an injured or dying deer was calling an agency to shoot her. Seeing this precious fawn, I felt there had to be another way.

To understand this story, reader, you must first know who I am and how that shows up in my writing. I am a multiracial, Mexican Indigenous, Autistic woman from the OtomĂ­ people. As a neurodivergent person, I embrace the wild beauty of my nonlinear mind. I chose to tell this story in the style of many nonlinear storytelling traditions that came before me. I invite you to appreciate the episodic vignettes that follow as somatic encounters, rather than an outline of rational thought only. This is a story for the soft animal of your body as much as it is for the muscle of your mind, not that any real distinction exists between the two. My encounter with the dying fawn will ebb and flow throughout, weaving together diffuse insights.

Many faith traditions and histories run through me. I am a transplant from Pennsylvania and currently reside in Oregon. The White side of my family affectionately identifies as Pennsylvania Dutch. The Latinx side of my family identifies as Mexican with Otomí ancestry. Neither side was particularly religious, except for a couple tias (aunts) who became Catholic nuns. Once I discovered in adulthood that my abuela (grandmother) was fully Indigenous to Mexico, I became curious about Indigenous worldviews, including such values as honoring ancestors, respecting the land, and cultivating an intimate, somatic orientation to the cosmos. While I don’t know much about the history of my White family, I do remember sharing an admiration for the simplicity that Amish and Quaker colonial narratives held in our collective imagination (despite how racist and romanticized they might have been). Sometimes I wonder whether this orientation was a reverberating memory passed down from my own Quaker ancestors. The orientation toward simplicity, silence, and contemplation ultimately led me as an adult to Zen and Christian contemplative practices.

Dancing Circle of Ancestors

Belonging is at the heart of membership. Whether we desire to become members of a group depends in part on how closely we see ourselves reflected by others, and how closely that reflection supports our collective becoming in the unknown future. It is a transformative, relational encounter with the constellations of our identities as individuals and communities. It is my experience that belonging is also shaped by my ancestors who drum their stories through my cells and cry out for the relational healing they needed but never received. In this way, the rhythms of past, present, and future resonate in anticipation of collective healing and possibility. Over the years, I have weaved together a vivid tapestry of my ancestors’ faith traditions while also learning about the traditions of my brothers and sisters around the globe. I’ve read the Bhagavad Gita; the Tao Te Ching; Buddhist sutras; the Qur’an; and the Bible, including three translations of the New Testament. I’ve worked with shamans and Zen masters, and I’ve given sermons at Christian churches. These non-syncopated rhythms also reverberate through me as I enter a Quaker meeting. These rhythms are fraught with conflicting histories crying out for belonging and reconciliation. How are these rhythms received in predominantly White, middle-class Quaker meetings? Are they reflected, refracted, or refused? The answers to these questions have a stronger bearing on my interest in becoming a member than the recruitment strategies of any given meeting.

I have been in and out of Quaker churches, meetings, online groups, and retreats over the last ten years. While I am not currently attending a meeting, I practice listening as a spiritual practice and regularly contemplate Quaker writings. I almost became a member several times at meetings I attended, yet those spaces were not designed to resonate with the rhythms that drum through me. While Quaker spirituality aligns ideologically with many of the value systems I embody, the normative cultures of those spaces—especially relating to the political polarization of Quaker denominations—do not. Conservative branches that are not LGBTQ-affirming and adopt a literal reading of Scripture are not an option for me. I refuse to attend an institution that does not affirm the identities of my loved ones, and I take Scripture too seriously to limit myself to a literal lens. However, while Liberal branches are more in alignment with my beliefs and values on paper, the racialized class cultures of those spaces are politely violent and quietly exclusionary.

As an Autistic person who is stubbornly hard-wired for honesty and transparency, I react strongly to cognitive dissonance. When individuals and communities adopt behaviors that contradict who they proclaim to be and do not wrestle with those contradictions to better align with their values, a sense of righteous indignation is triggered in me. When I encounter the cognitive dissonance of liberal racism, the rhythms that run through me are silenced, and my belonging is thwarted. When I enter a Liberal Quaker meeting that proclaims they are antiracist but have to endure members obsessing over the exotic nature of my Latinx name and my partner’s Indian name, belonging is thwarted. When I attend a Quaker retreat centered on Indigenous solidarity and the BIPOC affinity group is consistently undermined and overlooked, belonging is thwarted. When a featured speaker at said retreat responds to critical questioning from a Person of Color and incorrectly assumes that Mexico is not a part of North America, belonging is thwarted. When no one corrects the speaker, belonging is thwarted. When I attend a service on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and hear the entirely White congregation singing African American spirituals without care to the cultural and political context within which those songs were created and sung, belonging is thwarted. When I attend a Quaker meeting that feels more like a liberal book club without opportunities to critically explore Scripture or the Christian roots of our history, belonging is thwarted. When the cultures of other faith traditions not native to any present members are explored in a superficial way, belonging is thwarted.

Cultural appropriation is common in Liberal Quaker spaces where identification with Christian roots is severed and members are privileged in ways that lead them to assume that taking what they desire from other faith traditions is an unquestionable right. These ruptures and refusals do not help me cultivate my relationship with the Light or that of God in each person, except through clenched teeth and a compassion that holds on by a string. It is simply painful and re-traumatizing. In such situations, it does not matter what recruitment strategy a meeting might utilize to encourage membership. Membership will never be an option for me because the rhythms I embody are silenced and thwarted.

The Twinkle in My Great-Grandmother’s Eye

There she was: a precious fawn tangled in a blackberry thicket. Fear, anxiety, and uncertainty drained from my body; I was filled with courage and conviction. I trudged through the thicket, scratching and bloodying my bare legs with every step. After freeing the fawn, I cradled her tenderly in my arms. There I sat: legs bloodied and embedded with thorns, holding a dying fawn, and without a plan or an easy solution. All I could do was offer my loving presence and witness her suffering. I listened.

The Bible is rife with stories of men climbing mountains and building temples in search of God. As privileged members of patriarchal societies, their stories give us glimpses into the foundation of religious institutions. From the beginning, religious institutions were predicated on practices of exclusion wherein only privileged members of society could participate fully in religious life. The religious lives of men entirely relied on the everyday work of women and enslaved people who were prohibited from going on spiritual pilgrimages and entering religious spaces, and instead tended to children, food production, and other forms of reproductive labor. Exclusion was so vital to the fabric of religious society that all 12 tribes of the Old Testament prohibited women from entering the temple. Their status in society precluded them from membership: they did not belong. While some religious positions were open to women over time, women were still not permitted to engage in all aspects of church life. This patriarchal pattern persists into the present moment, as many churches still deny the right of women to become priests and pastors. They can become members but only provisionally. They still do not fully belong.

God is committed to meeting marginalized people who are excluded from religious life, whether exclusion is formally codified through religious dogma or informally ensured through liberal racism. In the Bible, God meets Hagar in the wilderness where she runs to temporarily escape enslavement and servitude. God gifts Sarah with a child while she is baking bread. Jesus talks with the Samaritan woman who is drawing water from the well, and she becomes the first evangelist in recorded history. In many Zen koans, women are enlightened while doing routine housework or otherwise existing in spaces outside the temple. Even when religious institutions deny their membership, God meets marginalized people wherever they are. This assertion is not meant to romanticize or justify the marginalization of women and other groups. However, such stories demonstrate God’s commitment to meet us and also exposes the emptiness of exclusionary religious practices. They serve as a reminder that the Inward Light shines within each person wherever they may find themselves, whether in a church, meetinghouse, or doing laundry on a Sunday morning. From this perspective, God has indiscriminately loved and embraced each of us as members of a higher order that can never be defined by the walls (or Zoom links) of a church or meetinghouse.

Resting in the Light

Cradling the dying fawn, I sensed a golden Light shining through and around us. The fawn immediately grew quiet. Her breathing slowed, and she looked into my eyes with a mild curiosity. A peacefulness came over us. I heard a voice say, “Rest,” and at that exact moment, the little fawn died in my arms. I sat for some time, holding her and bathing in the luminous glow around us. I felt a euphoric kind of sadness in which, deep down, I knew that I belonged and all was well.

We will not be found in your places of worship. We find ourselves where the Light comes to meet us. We are in the wild spaces of the forest floor: holding dying fawns, witnessing and reflecting each other in the rare and fleeting remembrance of our belonging. We are holding the memory that walls do not define our belonging. This is the gift of our marginalization. It is here in this liminal space between worlds that were not created for us that we encounter the Light. It is here that we are true members. It is here that we belong.

Leticia Garcia Tiwari

Leticia Garcia Tiwari is a multiracial, Mexican Indigenous, Autistic woman from the OtomĂ­ people. She is a knitter, pet lover, Squishmallow collector, and wild contemplative who is in love with the cosmos. She founded Embody Play Therapeutics (embodyplaytherapeutics.com) and works as a disability advocate for neurodivergent teens and adults and as a consultant for the agencies that serve them.

2 thoughts on “Where the Light Comes to Meet Us

  1. I found the writing above extremely powerful and moving. I am a white, middle class, elderly lady living in South Africa. Here, we are confronted and challenged with racism every single day. In fact, I think we are privileged to live here because we have had to consider our own response to racism all the time, for many, many years now. It is a huge, ongoing challenge for us all.

  2. Please consider sharing God’s graceful forgiveness with your fellow sinners for the logs in our eyes to our own imperfections, so we sinners may all try to learn from each other by using the true equality of patiently listening to seek consensus/spiritual unity to resist the divisiveness of isolation and force. Then, we all gain by helping balance each “me” within the “we” of our imperfect communities. Despite a Unitarian perspective, if an individual cannot peacefully resolve the innocence of Indigenous heritage with the brutality of German heritage, what hope is there for our world? Please try graceful love and forgiveness as a way to help inspire and save us all. Regarding sex (LGBTQ+ or hetero, as divorce rates are similar), does God have any limits, particularly if adulterous, selfish, misleading, or disrespectful? My apologies if my own nuero-divergent thinking is too much, as also stubbornly hardwired for honesty and transparency.

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