One stitch at a time

Iranian hand embroidery

My new friend, Leila, brought me a gift from Iran a few weeks ago – a beautiful table cover of Northern Iranian hand embroidery. With its varicolored wool thread intricately stitched into paisley and leaf designs, it must have taken dozens of painstaking, exacting hours. And yet the finished product exudes joy and peace. I will never know the person who created it, but I marvel at the patience involved.

Leila is a young Iranian woman who started coming last spring to the yoga classes I’ve been attending for ten years now.  Leila’s yoga mat has taken up residence beside mine. Since my knowledge of Farsi is non-existent and her understanding of English is limited, we communicate mostly with smiles, gestures and hugs. One of the employees at the rec center, also Iranian, sometimes translates for us. When I told the class that Mark had died, Leila did not at first understand, but when the meaning of what I had said became clear, tears streamed down her face. The empathy in her hug was unmistakable. She is a gentle, caring soul.

At the beginning of January, Leila and her husband went back to Iran to visit their parents. Leila was so excited to see her family. But upon returning to the U.S., because of our new president’s executive order on immigrants and refugees, Leila was detained. Leila’s husband is an American citizen and was allowed to reenter the country, but Leila, who is a lawful U.S. resident, was taken aside to be questioned and her green card was taken from her. She was all alone, terrified, without counsel. Her husband wasn’t even allowed to be with her. Leila was held for six hours before she was allowed to go through. She was so traumatized it was days before she could return to yoga class.

Leila was detained solely because people from Iran, a predominantly Muslim country, are automatically presumed to pose a threat to U.S. security. But gentle, caring Leila is no more a threat than I.

This executive order is deeply disturbing, as are so many of the new administration’s actions and appointments. It seems there is hardly a Unitarian Universalist principle or basic tenet of our U.S. democracy that has not been compromised. Yet I am heartened and uplifted by the way people across the religious and political spectrum are responding with prayer vigils, protests, petitions, marches, etc. I honestly believe that the weight of the resistance is making a difference, motivating our representatives to think twice before rubber stamping the actions of the administration or ceding defeat prematurely.

But resistance can be exhausting! Just keeping up with the news can become a major preoccupation that takes a huge emotional toll. One cannot possibly participate in every action, respond to every call to protest. And yet it is hard not to feel the desire and the need to respond. If these first few weeks of the new administration are any indication, though, I fear that we are in for a long siege. We cannot afford to burn ourselves out in the first few months. We have to find the ways to sustain our efforts over the long haul.

We must each exercise discernment about how and when we will act, choosing carefully, marshaling our time and energy. And we must remember the vital link between social action and spiritual discipline. We each need to cultivate those practices that feed our spirits and replenish our souls and thus renew the wellsprings of energy and commitment from which we can act.

What we need now is perhaps not unlike the patience required to produce a beautiful example of Northern Iranian hand embroidery, one stitch at a time. May our spiritual practices be as disciplined so that we will have the stamina to persist. May they be of such a depth that they yield acts of similar dedication in the service of joy and peace.

In faith and affection,