Bearing Witness

“Let us be thankful that our sorrow lives in us as an indestructible force, only changing in form, as forces do, and passing from pain to sympathy. To have suffered much is like knowing many languages. [We] have learned to understand it all.”
~ George Eliot

“We listen so deeply to the stories of others that we begin to know their pain. To open ourselves to that which we know will be painful is an act of strength.”
~ Rev. Dr. Mark Morrison-Reed

UUCSJ immersion-learning journeys often bring participants into settings where the effects of systemic injustice are very plain to see. Sometimes, in these intense encounters, it’s hard to know what to do with our feelings.

Any time we find ourselves face-to-face with a person who is suffering we feel a powerful sympathy, and usually an immediate urge to do something to make things better. When the suffering is clearly caused by injustice, we quickly experience a whole range of other feelings: outrage and anger, shock and bewilderment, guilt and uneasiness, and sometimes a profound helplessness. For some of us, witnessing injustice will trigger memories and even trauma from injustices we ourselves have previously experienced. It’s important to pay attention to our emotions and the directions they can lead us.

  • Will we shut down in the face of our own discomfort, and turn away from what we witness?
  • Will we impulsively start up a project — take immediate action — telling ourselves we are helping, though we know little about the complexities on the ground?
  • Will we simply return to familiar turf, feeling somehow elevated by the compassion we feel?
  • For those of us who have our own trauma, how will we attend to our self-care?
  • For those of us who live primarily a life of privilege, will we be motivated to look at our own actions and lifestyles, and seek a path to change and action we can sustain over time?

This unit is designed to explore such questions, and to help us consider the ways that we might bear witness while on an immersion learning journey. The goal is to deepen our own commitment, courage, and effectiveness in justice work when we return home.

Opening Meditation
“A Prayer among Friends” by John Daniel

Among other wonders of our lives, we are alive
with one another, we walk here
in the light of this unlikely world
that isn’t ours for long.
May we spend generously
the time we are given.
May we enact our responsibilities
as thoroughly as we enjoy
our pleasures. May we see with clarity,
may we seek a vision
that serves all beings, may we honor
the mystery surpassing our sight,
and may we hold in our hands
the gift of good work
and bear it forth whole, as we
were borne forth by a power we praise
to this one Earth, this homeland of all we love.

from the collection Of Earth, Lost Horse Press, 2012

Print Friendly, PDF & Email