Scripture: Luke 1:39-45 (The Visitation)
Advent is a season in our Christian system of timekeeping when we focus on the “already—not yet” quality of our faith. It’s also a time when our sacred stories measure time by what bodies need, not what empires need.
In the readings from the first week and in these readings, time is measured by women’s bodies in the process of bringing forth life. For some of us, pregnancy examples engage our physical memories; for some of us, it’s metaphorical. Whatever way we experience the pregnancy metaphors, they are in our sacred story to model agape love—a love born of generative self sacrifice, a love that is changeless despite changing circumstances.
At Sojourners in this season we are walking with Adam’s leadership into a practice of “Beloved Community.”
According to Josiah Royce whose work Dr. King studied intensively at Boston University, a Beloved Community must be able to help members form loyalties—or I’d prefer the word “fidelities.” A Beloved Community must be able to help members form loyalties.
Forming loyalties or fidelities, Royce believed, was a result of maturing and allowed for mature decisions on entering into Christ’s self-emptying love and sustaining that deep love and affection in good times and in bad.
Royce believed that as we mature and become more able to form loyalties, we become more able to find devotion to things larger than ourselves. And ultimately we are able to form a “beloved community.”
As fidelities form and mature sacrifices are made, then we begin to glimpse a beloved community forming outside ourselves.
But the beloved community is not something outside of us only.
An external beloved community can only come to mature fruition if we have a beloved community inside ourselves that is also maturing.
Royce said, “the self is a community, for the self is in part its memory, its history.”
In these readings for the second week of Advent, Mary and Elizabeth and Jesus and John are celebrating inner and outer beloved communities.
Mary and Elizabeth are showing their memories and histories in their bodies. Jesus and John are showing their present and futures in their bodies. Thus is the beloved community born within and without. Elizabeth recognizes this as “blessed.” The babies dance in greeting and recognition. The women sing their poetry to one another.
This past week we’ve listened to the Supreme Court debate where life begins, women’s right to bodily integrity and conscience, the role of the state, and exactly when a child becomes autonomous from its mother. We hold the Advent paradox that these “Solomon’s choice” debates are not the final word nor the deepest wisdom.
We also see white men congregating on the National Mall with an agenda that is an existential threat to people of color and anyone else who gets in their way as well as to a democratic way of organizing our society. These are Herod’s dogs snapping and straining their leashes.
The path we walk is full of shadows of death.
Advent is the season of “already—not yet.” The Christ light flickers and calls. Two candles shine for us now. And we say “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord’s promises to her would be fulfilled!”
To help my inner beloved community mature this Advent, I’ve been trying to spend a little time each day holding my body is stillness and safety and remembering: God loves me unconditionally. Every part of me is beautiful in God’s sight. All my selves—past and future—are God’s beloved community within. All my selves are safe and loved in the arms of God.
Breathe in. Breathe out. It’s Advent.
—Rose Marie Berger (delivered as a reflection to Sojourners staff on Dec. 7, 2021, with reading of the Visitation in Luke 1:39-45)
Advent is a season in our Christian system of timekeeping when we focus on the “already—not yet” quality of our faith. We make a wreath of greens to remind us of the cycles of the earth, of which we are part, the evergreens whose praise of their creator is unceasing. We set out the four candles so we always know which way we are headed. They are our tiny stars. We follow them through the dark, trying not to lose hold of each others’ hand.
But follow them to what?
At Sojourners in this season we are walking into a practice of “Beloved Community.” And a Beloved Community must be able to carry suffering.
Adrienne Rich, the Jewish-Baptist lesbian feminist radical activist-poet, had this to say about suffering in America in her 1968 poem “The Burning of Paper Instead of Children”:
“Some of the suffering are: it is hard to tell the truth; this is America; I cannot touch you now. In America we have only the present tense. I am in danger. You are in danger. The burning of a book arouses no sensation in me. I know it hurts to burn. There are flames of napalm in Catonsville, Maryland. I know it hurts to burn. The typewriter is overheated, my mouth is burning. I cannot touch you and this is the oppressor’s language.”
“In America we have only the present tense. I am in danger. You are in danger.”
In the past few weeks, we’ve fought like hell to get Julius Jones off death row in Oklahoma. Snatched from the jaws of death, Julius is still alive. But only at the whim of a white governor who stayed the execution two hours before Jones was due to be killed into a “clemency” of “life without parole” for a man likely innocent of his crimes. The “already—and not yet” of Advent.
We’ve also watched three trials play out. In Wisconsin, the question people asked was “Can a white boy travel with an illegal gun and intention to kill people at a Black Lives Matter demonstration, kill them, and get away with it?” That’s not the legal question but it was the moral question. And the answer was “yes.” Adrienne Rich says: “In America we have only the present tense. I am in danger. You are in danger.”
In Virginia, white supremacy organizations were forced into the light by a few brave individuals—including folks we know here at Sojourners. Would they be held accountable for wreaking organized domestic terror on the people of Charlottesville and the nation? The civil court said yes, they would be held accountable, to the tune of $26 million. In a country where hate is well-funded, this verdict strikes a blow.
In Georgia, white supremacist vigilantes, wrapped in the racist impunity of small-town corruption, were found guilty of the murder of Ahmad Arbery by a nearly all-white jury. The conviction hung on the hubristic video taken by one of the plantiffs. This is the “already—and not yet” of Advent.
This is the landscape of our Advent journey. The news the angel brings is always only partial.
The angel of justice sweeps her sword slowly across the field of history.
But we are here. We light our first candle. We reach out in the dark to take our neighbor’s scarred or frightened hand. We form the circle of the Beloved Community. And we walk forward saying “yes” to what God is asking of us.
Breathe in and breathe out. It’s Advent.
–Rose Marie Berger (delivered as a reflection to Sojourners staff on Nov. 30, 2021, with reading of the Annunciation in Luke 1:26-38)
“Today, all of us are living in a Great Transformation. The old is falling away. A new center is emerging. Let us draw one another close and find new ways of building that put Jesus’ foundational people at our center.” Leadership themes in Mark 9.
Paul Gene Compton, 76, of Washington, D.C., passed away on 7 May 2021 while visiting the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Washington, D.C. A rosary was held on 10 May 2021 at The Dorchester in Washington, D.C., by various members of the community and women from Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Cremation arrangements were made by Mr. Darryl Salley at Capitol Mortuary in Washington, D.C.
Paul Gene Compton was born in the Riverside section of Morgantown, Monongalia County, W.V., along the Monongahela River and close to the Pennsylvania border in the north-central part of West Virginia to Roy Compton and Xantippe Corley on August 30, 1944.
His parents were both from Philippi (Barbour County), WV, on the Tygart Valley River and married when Roy was 22 and Xantippe was 16. When they got married Roy was living in Paris, WV, and Xantippe in Weaver, WV, an unincorporated coal mining community in Randolph County. They were married by Rev. Joseph Day at the bride’s residence in Weaver, on Nov. 21, 1914.
Paul left school in the 9th grade. He moved up to New Galilee (Beaver County), PA, in “Pensatucky” where he had family in the Beaver River watershed along Jordan Run. He was living and working in that area when his military draft number came up in 1963. At age 19, Paul was drafted into the U.S. Army on Sept. 17, 1963. He was a “Vietnam-era” veteran who, “luckily” as Paul said, was sent to the Pusan Perimeter in Korea as part of the Army’s 5th Battalion, 82nd Artillery, the “Black Dragons.” He served as an expert rifleman in the general infantry Army for two years in Korea. On Aug. 8, 1965, he was given an honorable discharge. He left the Army as Private First Class (E-3). Between 1963 when Paul was drafted and 1973 when the Paris Peace Accords were signed, 65 young men from rural Beaver County, PA were killed in that war. It was not a time that he liked to talk about.
Upon returning stateside, Paul returned to Beaver County, PA, to the New Galilee-Darlington areas to work in the steel mills and factories. Jones and Laughlin, Babcock and Wilcox, and Crucible all had steel mills in Beaver County. The glass factories, such as Flint Glass, Phoenix Glass, and Fry Glass, were also major employers in Beaver County. More than 35,000 Beaver County residents made their living from steel from the 1950s-1970s. That trend reached its plateau in the late 1970s, when more than 60 percent of the total local workforce was tied to the industry. Jones & Laughlin Steel Co. in Aliquippa, American Bridge Co. in Ambridge, Crucible Steel in Midland, and Babcock & Wilcox Steel in Beaver Falls, Koppel and Ambridge made up the majority of those jobs.
When the bottom fell out of big steel in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it hit Beaver County like a cannonball to the stomach. Paul was forced to find work elsewhere and came to Washington, D.C., where he worked a variety of jobs. Paul lived and worked around the Columbia Heights-Adams Morgan area. He lived at Cliffbourne Place NW, then 18th and Calvert NW, and eventually in 1999 Paul moved to 2724 11th Street NW, a small apartment building with 20 other families. Paul worked at the famous Millie & Al’s pizza joint in Adams Morgan. Then, in 2004, started his own business, Compton’s Painting & Plastering, until 2020. He was a known face in the neighborhood with his white van always waving to neighbors as he drove around.
In 2003, he met Velbeth Ivan Cruz at 2724 11th Street NW and her son Miguel “Michael” Ivan Aguilera, who was four at the time. As Velbeth says, “In the afternoons, Paul was always at the window of his apartment waiting for the children to come from school to give them sweets. I would pick up Michael at the building where he was watched over while I was at work and Paul and I would talk. On an April afternoon with the air smelling of flowers, Paul asked me about always seeing me alone with my son. I told him yes, Mr. Compton. He said, ‘I’m alone and I’m looking for a wife.’ I smiled and was startled! God was allowing me to have a family again.”
Paul and Velbeth were married on April 17, 2003, in Arlington, Va. When they married, Paul told Velbeth that in the mountains of West Virginia there were bears and they ate people. One day, Paul took Velbeth and Miguel to meet his family in Morgantown, WV. On an afternoon with spectacular weather he drove Velbeth and Mike up to the mountains near the house of Paul’s sister NuNu. Velbeth, fearing getting lost, was thinking about what Paul had told her about the bear. So she took kernels of corn with her. While Paul drove them up a path through the forest, Velbeth threw kernels of corn, in case something happened to them, they could find their way back. This day was Velbeth’s first trip to the mountains. She was scared to death and her young son did not know much about the dangers in the mountains. Both Velbeth and Miguel are very grateful to God for Paul. He was a loving, respectful man. He was always there for them. He always called Velbeth ‘Mami.’
“Señor Paul,” as he was known to many of his neighbors, was an avid sports fan. He loved watching the LSU Tigers play football (“Hold that tiger!”) and was a card-carrying member of the Steelers Nation. He loved watching old Western movies, telling jokes, and playing cards. He loved ice cream! He was “Tio Pablo” to several generations of children at 2724 11th Street NW and a strong member of the 2724 11th Street NW Tenants Association. “Mr. Paul” minced no words when it came to the slumlord who owns that building and he fought every day to get the money he and his neighbors deserved.
He was preceded in death by his parents Roy Compton and Zantippie Corley Compton; his sisters Evelyn “Nunu” Compton Sweetnich (Nunu died at age 95 on Jan. 6, 2020, and was a seamstress for Morgan Shirt Factory for 30 years), Ercelene Compton Newhouse, and Betty Compton Pieri; and his brothers Albert Compton, James “Red” Compton, and Larry Compton.
Paul Gene Compton is survived by his wife Velbeth Ivan Cruz Compton, his son Miguel “Michael” Ivan Aguilera, and extended family around Morgantown, WV, and Darlington, PA, as well as many friends and neighbors in Washington, D.C. who miss him dearly. Now God has called Paul to be at God’s side and Paul will be an Angel in heaven. Rest in peace Paul Compton, you will always be in the heart of your wife and your son Miguel.–Rose Marie Berger
NEW! The Advancing Nonviolence STUDY GUIDE is now available here.
The new study guide is developed by the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative education committee and includes video clips, study questions, and other resources. It’s available as a free, downloadable PDF. Perfect for the classroom or adult learning!
Learn more about the original book below.
Advancing Nonviolence and Just Peace in the Church and the World is the fruit of a global, participatory process facilitated from 2017-2018 by the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative (CNI), a project of Pax Christi International, to deepen Catholic understanding of and commitment to Gospel nonviolence.
Edited by: Rose Marie Berger, Ken Butigan, Judy Coode, Marie Dennis
This book includes biblical, theological, ethical, pastoral and strategic resources that might serve as a contribution to Catholic thought on nonviolence.
It details how:
- Nonviolence is a core Gospel value, constitutive of the life of faith.
- Nonviolence is essential to transforming violence and injustice
- Nonviolence is a universal ethic
- Nonviolence is a necessary foundation for culture of peace.
Published by: Pax Christi International
Advancing Nonviolence and Just Peace in the Church and World is now available from a U.S. distributor. Place your order!
Rose Marie Berger, Jean Stokan, and Scott Wright join Pax Christi USA director Johnny Zokovich to discuss “The Power of Nonviolence – Action and Resistance.”
Rose Marie Berger is senior editor of Sojourners magazine and a co-editor of Advancing Nonviolence and Just Peace; Jean Stokan is a member of the Institute Justice Team for the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas and former Pax Christi USA Policy Director; and Scott Wright is director of the Columban Center for Outreach and Advocacy.
This 1:17 hour video is a great primer on active nonviolence today–and includes the 11-minute Pax Christi video on nonviolence that played at the Vatican in December 2020.
You are invited to “The Power of Nonviolence – Action and Resistance” webinar on Wednesday, 14 April 2021, from 3:00-4:00 p.m. (EST). This Zoom event is part four of Pax Christi USA’s study circles on the book Advancing Nonviolence and Just Peace in the Church and the World. Register here or watch the watch the livestream on Pax Christi USA’s YouTube page.
In preparation for this session, read Advancing Nonviolence Part III: The Practice and Power of Nonviolence. Panelists will include Rose Marie Berger, senior editor of Sojourners magazine and one of the co-editors of Advancing Nonviolence; Jean Stokan, a member of the Institute Justice Team for the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas; and Scott Wright, director of the Columban Center for Outreach and Advocacy. The panel discussion with Rose, Jean, and Scott will be followed by breakout sessions for small group discussion.
If you purchase Advancing Nonviolence here, you can use PCM15 to receive a 15% discount.
With gratitude to the students of Bellerive FCJ Catholic College in Liverpool, UK for this presentation. And with gratitude for the youth and religious leading Myanmar’s Civil Disobedience Movement for dignity and freedom.
I knew Sr. Dianna through her advocacy work and through regular gatherings for Mass at the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., where she lived for 25 years. I came to know her more closely during her fast for justice in the mid-1990s when I wrote an article with Julie Polter for Sojourners out of that experience.
In 2007, poet Joseph Ross and I organized a poetry reading and poetry anthology to accompany an exhibit of paintings by Colombian artist Botero in D.C. We were so grateful to Sr. Dianna for writing the forward to Cut Loose the Body: Anthology of Poems on Torture and Fernando Botero’s Abu Ghraib paintings. She wrote:
“To our feelings of betrayal, fear and isolation, must we also carry the insistent sense of hopelessness our torturers would force up on us? No, we need not. Oh no, we will not. We who have survived this crime against humanity have, indeed, learned to speak for ourselves and to be understood …”
As I reflect on Sr. Dianna’s life and death I keep thinking: Dianna is what resurrection looks like in public. She came out of the belly of death in Guatemala with her scars intact, and she dealt with her wounds every single day. Somehow, she turned her experiences of death into the power of resurrection that saved the lives of thousands of people. And through that slow process of resurrection she came to know a God called Mercy.
Forgive me and us Dianna for all the ways we hurt you and didn’t understand. We in turn “forgive” you for making us uncomfortable when you were bold enough to claim your healing in public. You are our saint of nonviolent witness. Presente!–Rose Marie Berger